Sunday, April 05, 2009

Museum of Agriculture and Food

Yesterday I went to the Science Museum - in the first place to see the 'Japan Car' exhibition and then since I was there, to take in the 'Wallace and Gromit' exhibition. I like Nick Park's animations and was hoping that there would be some mock-ups of Wallace's daft inventions. In fact the exhibition was terrible - not much in it at all, apart from a few of the little rooms from the films. The 'Japan Car' exhibition was not much better; considering it was subtitled "Design for the Crowded Planet" it didn't have much by way of interesting innovation about sustainable transport - just some cars, really, which I suppose should not have been a surprise. Apart from the fact that some of them were small, one was fuel cell and one was electric, not much to detain me.

So having schlepped across London, I thought I'd at least take in the Agriculture gallery. I am reading the Fontana Economic History of Europe, and am in the middle of the brilliant chapter about technology. Although it's very well written it has no diagrams, so I don't really appreciate some of the points it makes about ploughshares, mouldboards, and whipple shafts. I rather hoped that the Science Museum gallery would help.

But it was a real disappointment. None of the exhibits look like they have been touched since the 1950s. There are some shabby dioramas of tractors and harrows, with yellowing caption boards. There are a few little models of tractors and 'native' ploughs, though not much by way of explanation. And the overall story, in so far as there is one, is about the 'agricultural revolution' of the eighteenth century in England, and then the advent of diesel and petrol tractors in the twentieth century. Nothing about the neolithic revolution, irrigation and hydraulic civilisations, or medieval agriculture.

So why isn't there a decent museum of agriculture and food? There's enough to put in it, and it's clear that people are interested in that sort of thing right now - look at the food programmes on telly, the Victorian Farm programme, the interest in home growing. And until there is one, perhaps it would be worth starting a virtual museum of agriculture?

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