Our tour guide, Jon Cotton, was one of the curators for the pre-history portion of the museum, and he was quick to point out that pre-history is more than the Romans, Saxons and Vikings, and it most certainly is not the times of the dinosaurs. Mr. Cotton encouraged us to think of the inhabitants of pre-historic London as intelligent and creative individuals who were able to survive in conditions that most of us could not even imagine.
The pre-history portion of the Museum of London is designed to make visitors think of four major elements, they are the Thames River, Climate, People, and Legacy. The Thames River is the reason that ancient and contemporary people flock to London, and it was represented by a blue lights glowing through the glass cases that held the pre-historic artifacts, many which were dredged from the river over time.
Climate change and the atmosphere were responsible for many of the population patterns in the London area, and the details were described in the exhibit captions. The concept of "ancient people as individuals" was illustrated by the human remains that were spatially grouped with objects that exemplified their individual trades or passions. There were humans who made weapons and tools out of flint and rocks as well as glass beads and various other items. The legacy was described as, "the history beneath our feet" and one example of it was the digital diorama which creatively depicts a pre-historic settlement that is now the site of Heathrow Airport.
Although the pre-historic portion of of the Museum of London was the focus of our lecture, there were many other exhibits available in the museum. I spent time wandering through the London as a Roman settlement exhibit, the Great Fire of 1666 exhibit, and the Plague and Medieval era exhibits. However, nothing could prepare me for the exhibit on Britain's involvement in the movement to end Apartheid in South Africa, during the late 1980's. There were posters that urged British citizens to boycott South African goods, not including South African cricket teams, and a large benefit concert in Wembley stadium featuring Stevie Wonder.
I read what South African and British scholars had to say about the daily degradation of living in such a system and the fury at the loss of the movement's leaders to false imprisonment, beatings and executions. There was even a video with headphones so that museum visitors could listen to a speech from Nelson Mandela, after he was released from prison in 1990. The impact of this exhibit was two fold for me. For one, I am amazed at what was happening in the world during my lifetime.
When we spend so much time learning about ancient history, we may forget how fresh many of the world's wounds truly are. Secondly, I am genuinely impressed by the international pressure that the United Kingdom was willing to put on a country for human rights violations, I don't see that type of resolve with the international human rights issues that we face today. I valued my visit to the museum because it enormously enhanced my learning, sitting in a classroom is one thing, but walking within, reading and talking about, listening to, and touching the material is quite another.