Methods for museums to explore class differences explored in new research

Image: Museum of London rotunda view © Museum of London

The report from the Museum of London, Arts Council England and King’s College London shares research built from oral history interviews taken during the pandemic.

A report created out of a project of the Museum of London and DCMS has set out new recommendations for museums to best research, document and collect the socio-economic inequalities and class differences in Britain.

The report, ‘Inequality, Class and the Pandemic’, was taken during the height of the Covid pandemic and is part of the Curating London programme, funded by Arts Council England.

The project is collaboratively developed by the Museum of London, and the Department of Culture, Media and Creative Industries, and King’s College London.

The research draws on a small sample of oral history interviews from people in working-class jobs, such as supermarket workers, cleaners, carers, bartenders, teaching assistants and food delivery couriers.

The Museum of London said the research has revealed a “complex and nuanced image of working-class communities”, “which we believe museums in the UK and elsewhere should attend to more closely.”

The report suggests that: “Museums, due to their public function and catalyst role in informing and enabling debates on social issues, are especially well-placed to research, document and collect objects and stories concerned with Britain’s ever increasing socio-economic inequalities and class differences.”

It argues that the exploration of inequality and class differences “should be pursued more widely across the sector, including by more generalist museums and large national institutions.

“We urge museums of every kind to embrace their social responsibility in this area, and come up with imaginative and institutionally relevant ways to address working-class stories drawing on the distinctive opportunities afforded by their collection, institutional history, locality and current and potential audiences.”

Museums, Class and the Pandemic

It suggests museums should attend the topic of socio-economic issues “not only through dedicated public programmes, curatorial projects and exhibition displays but also through more wide organisational change.”

In an Afterward, Michelle McGrath, founder of working-class museum workers network Museum as Muck writes: “As a working class woman brought up in London, now navigating a career as a museum professional, I welcome this research.

“This project captures the voice of those who have been historically excluded from museum collections and hopefully is just the springboard for documenting voices of the marginalised.”

The report, available via the Museum of London website, precedes a panel discussion to coincide with the launch of the report on 11 January 2023.

Authors Domenico Sergi (Museum of London) and Serena Iervolino (King’s College London) will be joined by Michelle McGrath (founder, Museum as Muck) and Søren Bak-Jensen (Director, Workers Museum, Copenhagen).