How museums are teaching young people to like classic literature

F or numerous enthusiasts of classic literature, opportunities to devour the works of undiscovered authors can be enough to make their eyes illuminate. For those who aren’t as keen on the genre, the appeal of these titles is a little less obvious. In fact, it’s one of the reasons museum specialists are facing issues when it concerns motivating new generations to check out such works.

Engaging young people is an obstacle for museums, and the traditional technique that literary heritage museums take when dealing with traditional authors is becoming an issue. This is due to the fact that such museums generally concentrate on providing the biographical story, personal results or archival collection of an author. Pertinent and fascinating perhaps to those already knowledgeable about an author’s works, however perhaps less successful at engaging would-be readers. The language of some of these authors can also be a barrier to new readers, as can the trouble of checking out a “classic”– which might be seen as irrelevant to, or out of touch with, the modern world.

As the neighborhood learning and engagement officer at Wirksworth Heritage Centre in Derbyshire, my function is to engage audiences of any ages with the local history of Wirksworth. A crucial element to Wirksworth’s heritage is its literary connections to authors (consisting of George Eliot, DH Lawrence and Daniel Defoe) and the motivation they drew from individuals and landscape of Wirksworth. My PhD research thinks about how literary heritage is presented in museums throughout the nation. I have a specific interest in Nottingham, which was awarded the Unesco City of Literature title in 2015 due to its abundant literary heritage, however likewise has a few of the most affordable literacy levels in the country.

Since Covid-19, discovering new ways to share our literary heritage both inside and outside of museum walls has actually become extremely important. So how should museums show that these authors remain appropriate in the 21st century? Literary heritage museums are doing this in an entire host of methods, however here are three examples of approaches I think are particularly effective.

1. Retelling stories

From the Austen Project to the many graphic novel retellings, not to mention the classic novels reimagined as text, retelling stories with a modern twist is a well-trodden (if not constantly well-reviewed) path. It’s also a technique of interpretation that literary heritage museums are beginning to accept.

Utilizing new and creative formats can get rid of a few of the barriers to young people wishing to experience these stories, and can influence them to try the “real thing”. As part of my own curatorial deal with Dorking Museum, I wrote a book entitled Forster in 50 to accompany the exhibit of the same name. The book will supply visitors with an introduction of five of Forster’s books in just 50 words, with illustrations, offering more of an available intro to EM Forster’s work.

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2. Using innovation to draw audiences in

Innovation and literature might have looked like an inequality once upon a time, but increasingly more museums are using different technologies to engage audiences with their collections. Prior to its closure in 2016, the DH Lawrence Heritage Centre presented the 1915 censorship trial of Lawrence’s The Rainbow through a series of Twitter posts in its exhibition No Right to Exist? The Rainbow and Other Books Which Shocked. This condensed the complexities of the trial into a series of 140-character posts, allowing more youthful audiences to explore the debate in a familiar format and go on to consider what we consider outrageous in literature today.

My own work has consisted of the co-production of “Strolling with Lawrence”, a digital walking tour of Nottingham composed from Lawrence’s perspective, which enables the listener to connect the author with the city they see today. Using a creative story which is listened to instead of read offers a format that’s simpler to understand, eliminating some of the barriers created by big amounts of text.

3. Working together with imaginative partners

Working with imaginative partners such as artists and writers can help museums to reach new audiences, supplying more friendly information for more youthful generations in specific. Graphic novels and comic books are extremely handy in this regard. I’m dealing with Wirksworth Heritage Centre’s writer in residence Helen Greetham, who’s currently producing a graphic unique about the literary heritage of George Eliot in Wirksworth.

A comparable job is underway in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, working with youths to produce their own Lawrence-inspired graphic stories. The Eastwood Comics job intends to engage “700 more young people (who) will learn about the author and his birthplace by taking part in activities influenced by the young writers’ research”. Here, participation in innovative tasks and reading brand-new stories assist new generations to connect with Lawrence’s heritage in more meaningful ways than throwing up information about the author.

The pandemic has actually provided an unprecedented challenge to the heritage sector, however the closure of our sites doesn’t indicate we can’t continue to connect people to our history. These brand-new and innovative methods which museums have engaged and inspired younger generations can continue no matter whether physical buildings are open. In the months ahead, I hope more structures take comparable approaches.

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