I AM sure that we are all very pleased that the National Museum of Scotland (NMS) is in the top ten of UK visitor attractions, with 1,893,521 visitors last year (your report, 12 March). I hope that this is not just the result of novelty, and that numbers will be sustained in future years.
Neil Sinclair (Letters, 15 March) strikes a note of warning, however. The Highland Clearances are not the only aspect of Scottish heritage that is let down by Scotland’s national museum. Until it closed for its recent refurbishment, the NMS displayed what The Scotsman once described (25 August 1895) as “one of the finest national collections in existence of the minerals of any single country.” When the NMS reopened last year, this great collection had disappeared, consigned to storage in the National Museums Collections Centre at Granton.
At a time when interest in Scotland’s geology, minerals and natural resources can hardly be greater, is it not strange that NMS prefers generic displays such as “Restless Earth” and “Earth in Space?” Why, one wonders, was the magnificent Scottish geological and mineralogical collection not even used as the core of the new displays?
A primary purpose of a national museum is to display the best and most relevant of what its country has to offer. The Highland Clearances and Scottish geology are two examples of key Scottish heritage that NMS is ignoring. There will be more.
I fear that, once the novelty of the new museum has worn off, people will begin to realise that the NMS is not as good as it thinks, and visitor numbers will drop off.
On the other hand, as long as people come through the door, maybe to escape the weather and use the cafés, does it really matter what is put on display?
As A trustee of the National Museums of Scotland in the late 1980s and 1990s, when what is now the National Museum of Scotland was being lobbied for, and then its displays created, I can assure your readers that neither trustees nor staff were driven by any political intent.
As to the criticism about lack of the story of the Clearances, we recognised from the start we could not offer a comprehensive history of Scotland. We could not do much on either the Clearances or the Enlightenment, simply because a museum can present only those parts of the story which can be illustrated by the objects it possesses, and these subjects, by their nature, have few objects. There is no point in a museum which is simply “a book on the wall”.
If you want to learn the whole history of Scotland, then read some of the great number of excellent textbooks that have been published since 1969 and Professor TC Smout’s ground-breaking work A History of the Scottish People.
If you want to understand, and feel the force of, the Clearances, it is best, as your correspondent indicates, to visit some of the many clearance sites throughout the Highlands and Islands.
Incidentally, as Professor Tom Devine has pointed out, there were clearances in the Lowlands as well, but on a different time-scale, to different destinations, and for different reasons.
If anyone wants to read all 60,000 words and 14 appendices, of my Masters (MPhil) research dissertation on this subject, it is on the Edinburgh University website.