Cultures with antiquities being curated in foreign countries should be given better access to their heritage

Claire Nicholas, University of Exeter, UK

It is suggested that museum websites could do more to engage with the nations represented by the artefacts in the museums’ collections, as curating artefacts from foreign countries for the benefit of education and science might result in the donating cultures feeling alienated from their heritage. Three surveys were conducted to test this hypothesis, taking Egypt as a case study, and thanks are extended to all participants for their help with this research.

The paper looks at how museums need to adapt to a changing environment and discusses usage of museum websites and their online collections. Comments received from the public in Survey 1 include a lot of support for using museum websites and their online collections, however there are also many criticisms. The issue of language is addressed. Survey 2 involved examining 81 websites of museums outside Egypt believed to contain Ancient Egyptian artefacts in their collections but of these only six offered translations in Arabic on their websites. On this basis, less than 8% of museums with Ancient Egyptian collections are able to easily communicate with the population whose heritage has been removed from their country. Survey 3 considers which form of Arabic should be used – the classic form, or colloquial Egyptian – with the outcome being the former.

The conclusions are:

1. The number of museums with Ancient Egyptian collections and a translation in Arabic on their websites needs to be significantly increased, which would not only increase the number of visitors to websites but also enhance Egyptians’ engagement, understanding and learning of the objects in the online collections;
2. Museums should plan to have these changes in place within five years;
3. Effecting this change fits with the UK’s Museum Association’s proposals in their ‘Museums 2020 Discussion Paper’

This study complements research and proposals already conducted by the UK’s Museums Association, by offering recommendations on how specific audiences could, and should, be enticed to become virtual visitors to museums which they otherwise would not be able to attend. It also looks at published works promoting how museums should adapt to the digital world, or changes in general affecting museum attendance, all of which assume language between the museums and their audiences is not an issue.


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