A Great Museum
I posted the other day about the problem of our lack of a narrative into which we fit different historical events and pesonalities. Well, on cue, yesterday I saw one answer. We went to visit The Troppen Museum — a museum in Amsterdam that is in some ways like the Museum of Natural History in New York — it deals with different peoples and cultures around the world.
But it combines a distinct awareness of Holland’s colonial past with the most modern design, display, and the result is a museum that feels like the very best next step in building a historical narrative. It does not avoid anything — an exhibit on Surinam is about sugar and slavery, an exhibit about Indonesia, once a Dutch colony, brilliantly includes displays showing the Dutch colonials as odd species to be examined — as once natural history museums treated people from outside of Europe.
The wonder of the museum was not just in the themes, but in the tone. Everything felt light, fresh, modern — approachable. The museum is neither bathed in guilt or filled with academic terms of blame or deconstruction, it is straightforward, imaginative — the whole large middle floor is devoted to children’s activities, curious about the world.
Seeing the Troppen Museum gave me hope. It told me that we can add together our new understandings of the darker sides of the past with a wholly modern, bright, fresh approach that invites all to be curious. I have never seen a museum like it in America, I hope we have many in the future. So, now, how can we have the same approach in a book?