Perse Studio

Independent-learning super-curriculum projects: reading, research and ideas shared by Perse students

Is visiting a museum a better way of learning about the past than reading books?

By India G, Year 7

“It’s all very well reading books, but have you ever considered that you will never get a sense of shape and size…what about the feel and smell? (Wikipedia) is just the world’s interpretation of history. In a museum or past site it is up to you to interpret it.”

At our recent Speech Day, India treated us to highlights and some conclusions from her Year 7 mini-investigation, which focused on whether visiting a museum or historical site is a better way of learning about the past than reading books; here is her investigation in full.

In this essay, I will be looking to explain how visiting a museum or an ancient site depicts history better than reading a book or looking it up on a webpage. In particular – I will be focusing on the Romans and the Greeks as these are especially interesting, and in my opinion, more factual. We can learn a lot from visiting sites, but we can learn so much more from older sites/museums that historians have been able to research for longer. I will be writing about the Romans and the Greeks individually, having looked at webpages and books on them, as well as visiting two different sites – including Rome. Each of these classical ages have so much to share – but where can you dig up that knowledge best?

With the Romans – as I read through the books and searched the webpages; it became clear to me that they were good, but the information was not always the same according to different sources and not always exact. So, how do you know what information to believe? It is all very well reading books, but, have you ever considered that you will never get a sense of shape and size from just reading. Yes – there may be measurements, but what about the feel or the smell? You just don’t get a real perspective for these things. Many of the books and particularly the webpages, I found, had maps and diagrams about how the Romans invaded England in 43AD and how they aimed to be more successful than Julius Caesar some years before. All of the information was based on invasions and battles, there was not enough-if any-on daily Roman life, which, to me, was and is much more interesting. Some people might argue that all the information that you gain from museums is in books, but where do the pictures and some of the information come from? The museum. I also thought that a suitable book for all ages to read is one that isn’t too long. If a book was going to try to fit in all the information that a museum does, it would be miles long! The books and webpages did have information on them, but don’t just believe one book, do a bit of research yourself!

Can you think of one place that tells you most about the Romans? My answer would be Rome. Where can you find more information than their hometown itself? There are buildings, traditions, archaeological sites, documents, diaries and even more yet to find. Main attractions in Rome are not funfairs, but ancient buildings such as the Colosseum or the Pantheon. People will also visit places such as a park. This will give them a chance to almost walk back in time. I visited a park with many statues, fountains and even an amphitheatre.  When I came out it brought me back to earth with a bump! If you have never visited Rome, you may be surprised to know that it is not a modern city. It still has cobbled roads, hundreds of squares, and street names carved into stone. Walking down any street, there would be at least one work of art with a crowd around too. As we know, the Roman Empire reign lasted for just over 500 years, (27 BC – AD 476) and Rome really shows that. There is some of the older Roman art mixed in with their original city. When I went to the Vatican City, I was walking away from it, St Peter’s Basilica was still in sight and I saw a newer Roman castle next to it. No-where can tell you more about the Romans than their hometown because they were probably born there and they were named by historians after their own home town.

Moving on to the Greeks, who have as much to share as the Romans but the public just struggle to see it clearly. As I read through the webpages, it was obvious that even the simplest information was not explained properly, or was frankly, incorrect. There is so much information to gain about the Greeks, but a webpage is most definitely the wrong place to look. Now – the books. These certainly gave more information than a webpage, but just check you know if the information is right. Look in a few books, or search it. If all the answers are the same, then it’s probably right. There is no harm in taking time to check something particularly when there are many possible answers. If you didn’t, how would you know which answer was right? The Greeks are well known for their violent approach to most things, particularly battle and that is what books mostly show us. Many books have very little, if anything, on Greek daily life and ways. Like the Romans, there were a lot of maps in the books and on the webpages, but there wasn’t organised information. It was all scattered about and clearly not in chronological order. There is only so much you can learn from a book and only on one subject. There may be books titled “The Greeks” which would have an all-round subject with less information.  But alternatively a book with one topic such as “War with the Greeks” that has more detail but only about one topic…

When I visited the British Museum for information about the Greeks, I was shocked at the quantity of artefacts and the information that came with them. With each artefact, came a brief history of where they came from and importance to history. For example, there was this show case with an altar and some religious statues. By the side of this case was a picture of how these were found. They were found arranged with the altar in the middle and the statues in a semi-circle around. The museum had more daily life artefacts and information than I have ever seen before. The sizes ranged from massive pots to small intricate flasks. Their style of art were completely different to what we have today, their earliest coins were 10cm across the diameter and farming used different methods that were sometimes effective but sometimes not and can be ruthless. These are now frowned on by the modern age. There is a whole room in the British Museum dedicated to the Greek gods and, although almost completely destroyed with age, statues of some of their important gods. They include Athena, Zeus, Poseidon, Hermes and Hades. The British Museum contains small and simple facts that change the meaning of the Greeks. For example the Greeks only settled on the coasts of places. I think this is because Greece is mostly surrounded by water around and they would have felt more at home that way. The museum showed more than any book could ever give.

There is plenty of information in books, webpages and sites, but what do you think has the most precise, interesting, senses and different information? I think the past/ancient site. You can get a sense of size, smell, touch and shape at a museum that you just cannot get when you are stuck at home reading a book. You do not have to go to a museum, but anything; a castle, monument or even a village that you know is Roman. Anything that tells history because it was used by the ancient people is more precise than anything you can find online or in a book. Someone once told me that there are only 7 original non-fiction books in the world. I do not know whether this number is correct or not, but the logic is there. Most non-fiction authors nowadays will be researching there topic on the web or looking in other books. Related books often contain the same information, but not all have relevant information and not all have all the correct topics. All of the Romans spoke Latin and this is where English originates from. Because our language originates from Latin and we have dedicated historians, who are able to translate it, is therefore giving us the keys to understanding more history (particularly official documents).  A museum has the time and room to show and explain these documents that are in Latin, and share with the public the keys too. A book or webpage would maybe have a picture and a caption saying that there was an official document written in Latin – the Romans native language etc, but wouldn’t have room on the page to fully translate it. If the author were going to translate is correctly they would need many more pages. The museum/past site will actually have the document which gives the historians and viewers alike a better overall understanding of it. I therefore conclude that a museum or past site that has documents, artefacts and explanations is a better source of historic information because they have the resources to accurately give, explain and tell.

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