As a storyteller working in the heritage sector, it’s really important I understand why history, and in particular, heritage projects that engage local communities, are valuable, as this informs how I work with others who share my passion to remember, celebrate and learn from what’s gone before.
By understanding the ‘why’, I can ensure that history isn’t just regurgitated from the history books but interpreted as something meaningful and relevant to a range of audiences.
Whilst this topic surely deserves a whole PhD thesis, I’ve tried to distil my answer into five core reasons, as follows:
- History provides communities with a sense of pride in place. Heritage projects capture what may be in living memory now, in order to pass down to future generations before its lost. It’s important to celebrate not only the places which have come and gone, or which have been protected because of their historic importance, but also the values which are embodied in the local history which may be intrinsically linked to that community’s identity. A great example of this was my work with primary school pupils in Coalville, Leicester, who learnt about the men who’d fallen in WWI and whose names were inspired on the memorial clock tower there as part of the Memorial Clocktower Project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. What a buzz seeing these youngsters become the custodians of their local heritage through their compelling presentations to ‘Save the Clock Tower’ inspired by what they’d learnt.
- History provides a salient reminder of why we must be stamp out discrimination in all its forms. Whilst I’m not personally in favour of toppling statues, I do believe that history can be revisited to ensure it is spoken about truthfully. The telling of the industrial revolution and the philanthropy of those that prospered needs to be told alongside the now unthinkable slave trade. Where possible stories should be told through the voice of those affected, which is why the accounts of survivors at the National Holocaust Museum are so incredibly powerful.
- History inspires creativity and innovation in future generations. Whether it’s learning about the awe-inspiring history of industrial innovation at the Derby Museum of Making or hearing about the invention of the pioneering water-powered frame for cotton manufacture (through a film of the inventor Richard Arkwright himself, no less!) at Cromford Mills, museums inspire the scientists, designers and medical pioneers of tomorrow.
- History teaches us about sacrifice and justice. It was wonderful to hear the National Justice Museum in Nottingham put under the spotlight on BBC Radio 6 – describing how the courtroom and cells, and extensive collection help bring the concepts of law and justice to life for visitors. Personally, I have just finished an education resource for the Mill Waters heritage site which includes details of the Luddite leader, Jeremiah Brandreth, who was active in Nottinghamshire in the early 1800s and who lost his head for sedition and standing up for the rights of the working man.
- Last but not least – history entertains …and if it doesn’t, you may be doing it wrong! I can still remember the thrill of travelling around the Jorvik Viking Centre as a girl on a rather clunky motorised car on wheels – taking in the sounds and smells of the Viking village that had been recreated there. For my young niece and nephew, (Lottie and Ralph, pictured), a visit to the National Emergency Services Museum in Sheffield is just the best day out EVER!
I would love to hear your thoughts on why museums and heritage projects are so valuable.
To find out more about how I can help your heritage organisation or project please take a look at my leaflet here.