An article in the Art Newspaper caught my attention with a “case study” in user experience. A lack of familiarity with the cultural context necessitated a much more vigorous and extensive investigation of museum visitors’ response to a planned exhibit than was assumed needed. Was this an exhibit, say, on the textiles of ancient Mali? Nope. The article’s subtitle reads: “How the Victoria & Albert Museum’s new Medieval and Renaissance galleries have dealt with our ignorance of Christianity.” Some eye-opening facts about the knowledge of Christian symbols and figures are told.
“In the UK, the decline is even more marked. According to research conducted in 2005 by the Christian Research English Church Census, only 6.3% of the population go to church on Sunday. In the Mori poll of 2003, only 56% of the population could name one of the Christian gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John).”
Nevertheless, the museum succeeded in presenting the artifacts well by addressing this new reality without dumbing down the exhibits. For instance, they communicated some concepts through context. Something tells me that the situation is even more dire for ancient history/archaeology. People in the US may still be better acquainted with Christian iconography but when it comes to, as an example, Mesopotamia or ancient Rome, they know probably less. Remember that tons of Americans can’t even locate Iraq on a world map. Popular TV programming (Discovery Channel, National Geographic TV, etc.) may lavish great attention on history and archaeology but it is more often misleading if not altogether fantasy than based on solid scholarship.