Valuing different perspectives

Karen Ingham,  Variance  (2012), photograph inspired by UCL's Galton collection. 

Karen Ingham, Variance (2012), photograph inspired by UCL's Galton collection. 

How can our collections be used as a means of offering students a richer learning experience? This was one of the questions posed at last week's University Museums Group conference held at the University of Birmingham. Tom Kador of UCL spoke enthusiastically about how their collections provided opportunities for an increasingly diverse student body to interrogate objects from a variety of different perspectives. He specifically mentioned the controversial Galton collection, which gave students a chance to engage with Britain's colonial past.

Maria Economou from Glasgow's Hunterian Museum was less sanguine, but she too spoke of the need for university museum curators to answer the question ‘Why should an increasingly culturally diverse student body take an interest in the collections put together by dead white males?’ She wanted to encourage students to develop a critical approach to the collections, drawing links between objects and exploring these.  

Remembering comments by some of the students who visited the Archives last year, I'm left wondering how our own collections might be interrogated in similar ways. For example, we have a number of posters produced by the Empire Marketing Board as well as early twentieth-century advertisements featuring racially stereotyped characters from different nations. Does anyone have experience of using similar material with students?