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Museums and Dinosaurs: Understanding the Role of Museums and Heritage Sites as a Mode of Social and Political Reform

Celie Hanson

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Museums and Dinosaurs: Understanding the Role of Museums and Heritage Sites as a Mode of Social and Political Reform

About Prof. Ross Wilson and this TKS episode:

Prof. Ross Wilson is the Director of Liberal Arts in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Nottingham. His current research focuses on modern history and heritage, looking specifically at museums, media and memory in contemporary society. In this episode of The Know Show Podcast, he explores how individuals and communities form a sense of place in both the past and the present. He discusses his recent research, drawing on the way dinosaurs and museums can be used to understand how people make sense of the world, highlighting their role in social and political reform. 

 

A brief synopsis:

Prof. Ross Wilson begins by highlighting the way he became interested in his research area. He has a unique perspective, having been an archaeologist, an anthropologist and having now become a historian. He explains his interest in place, being a way to explore and interrogate the diversity and variety of human communities. Ross discusses the way he looks at multiple understandings and scales of place across time. For example, he draws on different museums, boroughs of New York, the Western Front of the First World War, heritage parks, and the way dinosaurs are represented to try and comprehend what place really means.

He expands further on this research on dinosaurs, concluding that the extinction of dinosaurs gives us a chance to reflect on the damage we do to our planet in the present day. 

I would say that I am a historian of place because I like the way we understand, examine, and challenge how our society is organised by looking at how we construct a sense of place, idea, community, and identity.

Prof. Ross Wilson

 

Ross goes on to describe his work on the history of health and safety in the UK and US. This feels ever more pertinent in the times we are living in, and he examines how the idea of health and safety in the workplace has shifted from being the governments responsibility, to corporations and now to individual employees themselves. He believes that different social, political, economic or technological crises determined these shifts in responsibility, which have not always been fair and equal. They have worked towards removing responsibility from governments and corporations. 

The discussion then moves towards his recent book, Museums and the Act of Witnessing. He questions the way people experience visiting a physical place where oppression, genocide, and conflicts have taken place. He asks how people respond to these places, and what drives them to visit in the first place. He also explores the way experiencing these spaces might change how individuals live and act towards each other. He shows that history is important in shaping the way people understand the present, the way experiencing place influences this, and thus the way we need to interrogate the historical narratives we are provided. 

By looking at the examples of the past, we can start to think about how these points of history made our society. And if we bear witness to them in particular ways, we can think of how we can challenge those structures of inequality today.

Prof. Ross Wilson

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TKS take home points:

In this TKS episode, we acknowledge the concept of place as a deterministic factor in how we live, think and act. Prof. Ross Wilson uses museums and heritage sites as a way to understand our cultural and social interactions better, stating that by witnessing them, we become engaged in the past and take it forward as a part of our present. He makes it clear that we need to be attentive to this, to grasp how places become sites of social and political reform. 

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