The People's History Museum, Manchester

Monday 14 March 2016

My second museum stop in Manchester was the People's History Museum. The museum is devoted to charting the struggle for democracy and equality in Britain, and centres around the premise that 'there have always been ideas worth fighting for'. Anyone who knows me (or who follows my Twitter) knows that equality and human rights issues are something I'm extremely passionate about, so a visit here whilst I was in Manchester was a no-brainer.

The museum collection was begun in the 1960s, with a group of activists deciding to preserve items relating to Britain's labour history and the working classes. Originally housed in London, the collection was rescued by Manchester City Council and others after funding threatened the London site's future. The museum fills a gap which is often clearly visible in the museum and heritage sector: collections tend to focus around objects used by or designed for a wealthier elite. It sometimes feels as if the direct relation of objects to the rest of the people who used them is stifled for visitors. Whilst I love looking at beautiful objects made of fine materials, appreciating their craftsmanship and their importance in the history of design or art, I want to see more of the history of people - and not the aristocrats. Most objects find their value and their purpose in use; their function is the basis of their production. Things do not have to be worth money to be valuable or to have their stories told. Humans tend to be a race of great collectors, no matter their circumstance, and the objects we amass help build our history.

The People's History Museum collection is filled with objects which shine a light on the experiences of normal people, and the ways that those people have fought for equality. I was impressed by such an open approach to history, and an honest acknowledgement that whilst society is more equal than it was, inequality remains and there is much yet to fight for. The unrivalled collection of trade union and political banners are a huge highlight of the displays; the museum holds over 400 in total, including that of the Liverpool Tinplate Workers of 1821, thought to be the oldest trade union banner existing. Campaign posters spanning decades illustrate the varying political and social climates of the eras - my favourite is the hilarious(ly awful) Conservative Party election campaign poster from 1987, 'Labour Camp'. I was also a fan of the 'Suffragette's Home' poster - portraying the truly terrifying consequences of rights for women...

It was interesting to learn that the museum also has a permanent space set aside for events submitted by the public - anyone can put forward their idea for the space as long as their proposal has a strong link to the collections or themes of the museum. It's a really great way of involving people with their histories, and is a good opportunity for the museum to support new and engaging perspectives. A lot of museums could learn from this model!

FIND THE PEOPLE'S HISTORY MUSEUM AT: Left Bank, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3ER

No comments:

Post a Comment