Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Director of the People's History Museum responds

Today, Luddite Bicentenary, Luddites 200 Organising Forum & Huddersfield Anarchist League received a response to our letter and action at the People's History Museum last Saturday from the Director, Katy Archer. It's reproduced below. We will have a response in due course.

Thank you for your recent letter regarding the inclusion of the Luddites in the People’s History Museum. I am sorry that you felt it necessary to send and publish a letter of complaint without first speaking with me or other members of the museum team to clarify our position on the subject.

We are in no way saying that we consider the Luddites to be unimportant or that they were not part of working class history. The People’s History Museum is the national museum of democracy and our role is to engage, inspire and inform all audiences by showing that ‘there have always been ideas worth fighting for’. In order to tell the national story of the development of democracy in Britain over the past two hundred years with the space we have available, we are unable to include all elements of this story in detail and there are a large number of events, individuals and groups which we have not been able to include in our exhibitions.

When recently redeveloping the museum (which reopened in early 2010), we intentionally took a collections based approach to our exhibitions, aiming to showcase as much as possible of our unique and designated collections. With only two items in our collection (one of which is actually on permanent display in the galleries) with any connection to the Luddites it would have been impossible to explain such a complex theme without more objects. As many Luddites were members of trade societies (such as croppers) we were able to cover those in more detail because we have fuller collections related to such societies.

As we are unable to tell a full and comprehensive story due to the constraints of space, resources and collections, as all museums are, we also refer people to other museums such as the Tolson Museum in Huddersfield or the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, where they can find out more about the subject.

I can assure you that the exclusion of the Luddites, or any other group, has not been done intentionally by the museum. Both EP Thompson and Eric Hobsbawm have been supporters of the museum in many ways over the years and we do not reject either of their approaches at all.

You are of course correct that the Luddites do not make a specific appearance on our timeline in the museum’s reception area. Again, it would have been impossible for us to create a timeline of the development of democracy over the past two hundred years without having to make some difficult decisions about what to include. We decided to include the ‘Industrial Revolution’ on the timeline rather than cover the whole period in detail as other industrial museums cover the subject more comprehensively than we do.

As part of our process of reviewing and updating the museum’s exhibitions and content, we will of course bear your comments in mind for both the exhibition galleries and the timeline.

With regard to an event to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the uprisings in 2012, we are in fact already exploring the opportunity to host a performance next year of Mikron Theatre’s show ‘Can You Keep a Secret? The Rise & Fall of the Yorkshire Luddites’. As the museum is an independent, registered charity, this will be dependent on funding, as will our ability to make any changes or developments to the museum in the future. If you would be willing to work with the museum to fundraise for, and organise, an event and performance of ‘Can You Keep a Secret?’ in 2012, I would be very interested in working with you on that.

I hope that this letter has answered your concerns. I hear that the Manchester and Salford Anarchist Bookfair was a great success on Saturday 3 December and I’m very glad to hear that you got so many visitors. We hope to be able to host another Bookfair again next year.

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