Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Museum of Childhood

July 23, 2008 (Site Visit)

As I have a personal interest in Children's Literature, I decided to visit the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh. It was founded in 1955 by Joseph Patrick Murray, and it is devoted to the history of childhood through displays relating to all of the aspects of the lives of children in the past. It was the first museum of childhood in the world, and it consists of five galleries filled with glass cases which are crammed full of objects relating to every aspect of children's lives. Although I didn't like their display methods very well after many of the other exhibits we saw in class, it was still worth a visit.

Some of the items in the galleries included toys of all kinds, silverware, prams, and models of children dressed in period clothing playing with larger toys. There were cards with text on the bottom of displays as well as some in the cases themselves. There were displays of food and drink, school items, and working children. They had 'working' coin-operated games and even a pianola (which amused me, as I studied them in one of my music classes). The museum did have a couple of interactive exhibits, such as puppets that children could play with in gallery 2. That gallery also housed marionettes, musical and optical toys, all makes and models of toy trains and soldiers, costumes, doll houses, miniature shops, jacks, hoops, and marbles. Some of the description cards only listed item details (such as the one by the toy soldiers reading 'Royal Scots Greys and Dragoons c1910'), but others had historical information such as the one near the simple outdoor toys. That card discussed the practice of children once being allowed to play in the streets unsupervised as well as games that required no objects but only imagination. This section also had crayons and paper for kids to play with and a memory book that they could write in. Another interactive part of the exhibit were question and answer flip boards.

Yet another area had dolls of all kinds dating from the 17th century -wax dolls, wooden dolls, rag dolls, etc. Some information cards discussed how the dolls were made, and others included books with famous character dolls like Raggedy Ann. Rag dolls were originally for poor children who couldn't afford wooden or china dolls, but they became popular in their own right. This exhibit also had an 'international' section with dolls from Japan, China, India, Africa, and the Americas. They interspersed the dolls with some pictures of children from various eras.

Another section had more interactive toys like rifles, rollerskates, and construction toys (even Legos). It also had miniature instruments and paint boxes as well as a video area that showed videos of children playing, cartoons, and short films. My favorite part was probably the book display, which included fairy tales, Beatrix Potter books, and a first edition of the Just So Stories. Although none of the books were available to read, some of the board games could be played, and they had some period clothing and a mirror for children to dress up in.

The last area had displays of playrooms in different areas with binders of information outside of each one.

They definitely had many interesting objects, but I think they museum could benefit from employing some of the techniques that were used in the John Murray Archive exhibit, especially the interactive cases.

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