Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.

Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.
Image by Cameron Lyall, GNU license Wikimedia

21 July 2011

Transport Museums

One of the things I still wanted to comment upon was the distinction, not simply between the different kinds of museum spaces that we’ve visited recently, but between two different kinds of museum spaces that endeavor to provide a similar message. Specifically, I’m talking about the London Transportation Museum

and the Riverside Museum in Glasgow, both of which are generally classified as “transportation” museums. Both also attempt to focus on a broad audience, mostly grade-school children, and are a focus of the city’s tourism, to different extents.

The London Transportation Museum was more expensive, smaller, and offers visitors a more specific narrative through the museum space. Costing 10 pounds, and located in the heart of the London museum district, it guides museum-goers through historic London, from the top floors of the museum to the bottom. The tour starts with London in the 18th century, and generally consists of trams and horse-drawn carriages, before moving down a floor and focusing on intra-city and light, inter-city rail. There are also two manned booths, with “period” actors who interact with you as you learn about the different technologies. Some information booths are interactive and multimedia, though most are standard, printed plaques. The bottom floors focus on modern cabs, buses, cars, and subway systems, though there are also side mentions of how the transportation networks functioned during the major wars of the 20th century. It’s also interesting to note that part of the bottom floor is dedicated to understanding the problems of the modern city regarding congestion, pollution, and cost – part of this space even has artists’ rendering of what transportation systems could emerge next as major players.

The Glasgow Riverside museum, by contrast, has a much less directed narrative, is free, and much larger. The transportation collection focuses much more on the “West,” rather than on the city or the local metropolitan area, and the way that Glasgow-specific transportation is integrated is much more direct. The Riverside offers a much more “see what you feel like” trajectory through the museum space, though many of the exhibits include games and interactive elements, including some much larger re-created spaces for museum-goers. The museum offers much more in the way of distributed forms of transportation and attendant cultural and material contexts. The Riverside museum is of course much newer, which may account for much of the scope of the collection.

From a pedagogical standpoint, each museum takes on a different approach to educating the public about the history and scope of transportation in respective areas. The London museum directs visitors through space and encourages engagement with only a specific set of possible understandings of the city’s transport history. The Riverside Museum allows visitors room to find their own narratives through the museum, focusing on their specific interests rather than a story that is being told. I don’t know if either is better, as each probably suits a different kind of learner, though the Riverside had a many more visitors and a much louder, more engaged public. I don’t know, however, if this engagement led to more learning. Personally, I like the Riverside more, because of their focus on bicycles and the inclusion of Colin McRae’s 1995 WRC championship-winning Subaru Impreza.

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