Engaging audiences with difficult pasts: the Voices of ’68 Project at the Ulster Museum, Belfast

Black, G. ORCID: 0000-0002-8541-1225 and Reynolds, C. ORCID: 0000-0002-3704-8425, 2019. Engaging audiences with difficult pasts: the Voices of ’68 Project at the Ulster Museum, Belfast. Curator: The Museum Journal. ISSN 0011-3069

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Can history museums influence the relationship between divided communities? This paper explores why an initially modest collaboration between the authors and the Ulster Museum on the non‐violent Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement of 1968/69, eventually had substantial impact beyond the museum’s walls. Having placed the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement within the context of both the international protests of 1968 and the specific environment of Northern Ireland, particularly the virtual civil war known as the Troubles, the paper turns to the role of museums in responding to the legacy of this past, and the evolving practice of the Ulster Museum, as background to the project. The latter began as a limited intervention within an existing display, based on oral histories and underpinned by the theory of ‘agonism’, proposing that divided communities must learn to live with difference. It eventually included exhibitions, workshops, school study days, curricular materials and online provision. It has directly influenced the Northern Ireland GCSE History Curriculum and been held up as an example of good practice within the province’s peace process. The paper discusses why the project succeeded – location within a national museum; credibility with protagonists, academics, communities and audiences; starting small; a willingness to take risks and share control; multiple perspectives; and an acceptance that not everyone will be satisfied. With a version of the Voices of 68 exhibition now installed in the Museum’s permanent gallery, the next challenges are longitudinal studies on its impact and assessing the approach’s relevance to other museums working in post‐conflict societies.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Curator: The Museum Journal
Creators: Black, G. and Reynolds, C.
Publisher: Wiley
Date: 17 November 2019
ISSN: 0011-3069
Rights: This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution‐Non Commercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.
Divisions: Schools > School of Arts and Humanities
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 03 Dec 2019 11:38
Last Modified: 03 Dec 2019 11:38
URI: https://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/38721

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