Motivation for creating the Museum of Scotland, and the educational effectiveness of its history content for the visiting public - NMS Research Repository
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Doctoral thesis

Motivation for creating the Museum of Scotland, and the educational effectiveness of its history content for the visiting public

Abstract

My aim was to investigate the motivation for creating the Museum of Scotland, and the educational effectiveness of its history content for the visiting public,. Part One examines the creation and purpose of the Museum of Scotland. What was its origin? Why have a Museum of Scotland at all? What was the motivation of the Trustees and staff who campaigned and raised funds for it, and created the displays? (This Part draws mostly on primary sources such as unpublished Trustee, Advisory Board, and Committee reports, minutes and papers, letters; and Hansard). Part Two summarises the views of academic authorities and museum practitioners on the role of museums in education and learning. Their writings parallel the change in thinking in NMS, described in Part One, from primarily just collection and conservation of objects, to a vision of displaying to the public the ‘Wealth’ of historical and cultural heritage that had been collected. (This Part is almost entirely based on secondary sources – published books and articles). Part Three analyses how far the displays, as actually mounted, embody the vision of the creators. What do visitors get from the labels, interpretation, audio guides, guided tours, and interactives? (This is based partly on personal observation of the displays, influenced by published authorities on display techniques, partly on personal discussions with several curators, and partly on access to an important, unpublished primary source – the minutes and papers of the Exhibition Review Committee which monitored the creation of the displays). Part Four discusses attempts to evaluate visitor reaction. This Part analyses reports on unpublished visitor surveys of ‘Special Exhibitions’ by the National Museums of Scotland, Glasgow Museums Service, Merseyside Museums and Galleries, and the Imperial War Museum (North). It also contains a completely new visitor survey of the Museum of Scotland displays, geared specifically to Generic Learning Outcomes. It was organised and undertaken by this researcher, with help from several NMS volunteer guides, who conducted some of the interviews. It was supplemented by discussions with visitors in ‘mini groups’ and by feedback from two history teachers about visits by their students. The overall conclusion is that visitors did indeed learn from good, object-based displays, but many visitors, even native Scots, had disappointingly little understanding of Scottish history before their visit.

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