Interview with Katharine Hoare

Katharine Hoare is part of the Schools and Young Audiences Team at the British Museum and was involved in developing the schools and young audiences programme for the Museum’s 2007 season. In this interview she talks about the activities set in place and the benefits that this work has brought to the Museum. Conducting the interview with Katharine Hoare are Geoff Cubitt and Helen Weinstein, identified as KH, GC and HW respectively.

HW: Could you describe what you decided to do, what outreach programmes and education programmes to go with this season?

KH: In terms of schools and young audiences we decided to have a slightly different focus for these two audiences. We decided that for schools our best audience would be secondary level because we were looking not just to deliver history but also to open up the debate in terms of citizenship which is statutory at key stage 3 and 4. We therefore selected a local partner secondary school in Camden called Acland Burghley and we worked with year 8 pupils. For the wider family audience we worked through a model of family events which we've been using for several years now. We had a big event across Easter which drew on La Bouche and A New World, to tie in with Trade and Identity. We called it Atlantic Encounters, and we looked at how people met each other across the Atlantic, the nature of these meetings, and the consequences of those meetings. What we were also then able to do was to draw in material from permanent galleries to support A New World and also to use the Aztec Galleries as a another example of the meeting, the interface between European and non-European peoples and the usually disastrous consequences. I was aware that both A New World and La Bouche de Roi are temporary exhibitions so I also wanted to make sure that people had a way that when they visited the Museum, they had a bigger concept of not just one historic point, which once the exhibitions have gone they can no longer engage with, but a process of encounter, of exploitation, of economic interfacing which they can then read across onto different encounters throughout the ages.

HW: Could you give us one of the examples as to what one of the days might have looked like?

KH: We operated through the Great Court, the exhibitions and also the galleries. So for example for the Aztec encounter we had some Aztec re enactors, who we've done a lot of work with previously, who came in and did a re-enactment about the ancient Aztecs before the arrival of the Spanish. After that families were then encouraged to go to the Mexican Galleries to look at the material culture that supported what they had seen and heard. For La Bouche de Roi we had information to support families going to into La Bouche de Roi because La Bouche is very experiential. It’s very much about how do we as humans talk about this between ourselves rather than the Museum telling us what to think. So what we did was we added in another layer of information for families which meant when they went on an un-facilitated visit to the exhibition they had ways of looking at it and ways of starting to understand the material culture because that's the first thing children especially key into.

HW: So you did those kinds of leaflets and brochures that people could pick up when they came in?

KH: Yes, we had a La Bouche de Roi area in the Great Court when you came in which had the information and people who could talk about the exhibition. Families were then encouraged to go up independently because it was in Room 35, so it was very easily accessible from the Great Court. Then on the other side of the Great Court we had the activities which supported the New World encounter. We had Tudor dancing and after the Tudor dancing, you went into the exhibition as if you were a Tudor person, going in hearing John White's interpretation of what he saw when they first arrived in America. We also had facilitated visits for Camden play schemes in the exhibition, which was really good. We had one group who we often work with called TAP, the Temporary Accommodation Project. What was so nice for the children from the group was that the programme was all about travelling to a new place and encountering new people, and they were then able to start talking about some of their own personal recent journeys. With TAP they might have been in the country for six months, they might have been in the country for one week, so it was just a good way to get them thinking about their own experience and then reading that back into another example that humans have been through.

GC: Was that something that you intentionally brought about?

KH: Yes it was. It was something that came out more strongly in the schools project, it might have been something that families were engaging in with themselves on an individual basis, but that was difficult to measure, we could only measure through facilitated encounters which was through the play schemes and through the school experience, the secondary school project.

HW: Could you next go through community consultation and after that teacher consultation, about what kind of dialogues did you have to help you think through and make decision about what would be the kind of activities that would work?

KH: The community consolation ran thorough Emma Clark who was our community officer at that time. Emma invited in people from the local Afro-Caribbean and African community for an opportunity to hear about what we were planning so they could comment back. She then recorded all that and sent it on to the rest of the group so that everyone could share it. She wrote up a position paper afterwards that drew on that and said this is where we should be going, these are the messages we should be looking at and these are the dangers.

GC: What kinds of practical difference did that consultation make?

KH: I think it influenced the Museum decision to have a Trade and Identity season, to actually look beyond the historical events around the slave trade and start to open up the processes of economic interactions between different peoples, what happens when cultures meet, and the Diaspora as well, how and why people move, whether its a Diaspora you choose to take apart in, or whether its a Diaspora you’re forced to take part in. That was very much a feature of the secondary schools project.

HW: What have you learnt by putting on this set of programmes both professionally and personally? What have been the highs and the lows?

KH: I suppose one of the highs was when one the Acland Burghley pupils said, ‘so Miss there's no point to racism because we're all the same.’ I was going, yes! It’s nice to be able to use Museum collections to gently challenge people's preconceptions, and I think whenever you challenge someone else's preconceptions you challenge your own as well. Because there's always this danger that if you see yourself as very liberal then you see whatever you say as being the right thing to say, ‘people ought to listen to me because I 'm a good person and I don’t believe in oppression and racism.’ You’ve actually got to say no, that’s not how I justify this message. So its an opportunity to look at what you think, but also look at what your audience needs which is something we do with all our programming.

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