Museum, Media, Message

By Eilean Hooper-Greenhill | Go to book overview

6

Early museums and nineteenth-century media

Rosemary Flanders

In Britain in the nineteenth century the creation of a new museum culture, from South Kensington to Glasgow, inevitably gave rise to a new communicative relationship between museums and their civic audience.

The general public was gripped by the emergence of these centres of learning. Museum evolution was closely tied to the concept of civic pride and a motivated Victorian public was receptive to—indeed, at times positively craved—information about developments. One natural and key link between museums and their audience was newspaper and journal coverage, which spread the message of cultural expansion. Journals devoted much space to the fortunes of institutions, from learned editorials to gossipy titbits. Museums and art galleries were a ‘media event’, new, vibrant and challenging, and the role of newspapers in reporting this ‘event’ cannot be ignored. This communication process was not always uncritical: journalistic or editorial advice was offered on matters of taste and administrative prudence, sometimes to the point of waging a campaign. Museums became increasingly central to the debate about all things cultural and a public record of this role is to be found in the press. It is important to note that museums were actively participating in this means of communication, supplying up-to-date information for publication. Regular museum going by the general public was a relatively new pastime and the facilities and their visitor numbers were of great interest. Statistics featured large in the press and with astounding speed.

This chapter takes for granted a general understanding of the development of museum culture in the nineteenth century and of Victorian socio-cultural concepts and concentrates on the actual way in which issues concerned with museums and art galleries were reported in a cross-section of newspapers and journals. For the purposes of this study it is necessary to limit consideration to a small range of institutions and a small selection of newspapers. The latter includes two regional papers published in Liverpool—The Daily Post (first published in 1855) and The Daily Courier (in that format from 1863)—The Times (published in London from 1788) and three weekly journals—The Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Science and Art (from 1817; hereafter called Lit. Gaz.), The Athenaeum Journal of Literature, Science and the Fine Arts (from 1828; hereafter called Athenaeum) and The Illustrated London News (from 1842; hereafter called ILN).

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