A Message from our Chair: Finding a Voice

Your bi-monthly update from our Chair, Lucy Walker

The Museum of Cambridge is finding its voice, and also opening its metaphorical windows so that we can hear the voices of many people past and present.

This last year has forced many people and organisations to question what we can do, how we want to live in the future – which we all know is not going to be the same as the past.

While the museum collections remain the same, we have decided that when the museum can reopen it is time to take them out and have a look – think again about what they mean, encourage people into the museum to see and reinterpret, explore new narratives and listen to old and new voices and stories.

Enid Porter, our most famous post-Second World War curator, was a pioneer of oral histories, especially focusing on stories from people who remembered the old ways.  The museum itself was founded in 1936 to curate objects from relatively recent times because people felt that society was rapidly changing, and they might otherwise be totally lost.  The thinking was not to arrest the change, but to at least preserve a collection of things from a world which was disappearing fast.  That sense of rapid change is something we probably all recognise.

Our exciting challenge is to look again at our displays, open the boxes in our stores and the filing cabinets with old postcards and photographs, and explore what these things convey to us today.  They will of course convey a changed world, and this will evoke memories and possibly nostalgia.  They will reveal urban and rural landscapes where we questioningly look for features we can still recognise.  They will also reveal stories we knew nothing about, which we can talk about and bring depth and resonance to.  Perhaps they will also reflect changing attitudes and beliefs, and invite us to question what we took for granted or did not really understand. 

We will be able to explore topical issues such as climate and environmental change, class and gender roles, perhaps even local economies and the impact of Empire and colonies – to look again at our collections in order to reflect their own world back at us – giving it greater resonance and depth.  This past year has encouraged us to question a lot about our lives and now seems a good time to look at the material culture, customs and practices, and landscapes of the relatively recent past, to help us put the present in perspective.

This post was written by Lucy Walker, Chair of the Board at the Museum of Cambridge.

A Message from our Chair: Finding a Voice