museum guide


The Miniature Imaginary Museum of the Enlightenment

by Janette Bright

2012.42.1 - Spirit of the Enlightenment: In the age of the Enlightenment it was believed that “The Great Mover” created the world and like a clockmaker, set the world in motion like a machine. Was this proof of God's existence, because now everything needed proof to be believed?

For an introduction to the age of Enlightenment - a visit to the British Museum Enlightenment galleries is a good starting point. It was one of the inspirations for my project.

An entertaining and interesting book on the subject is The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes (Harper Press, 2008).

2012.42.2 - Tabula Rasa: The philosophical idea that everyone is born as a “clean slate” and all knowledge is built on what we perceive or experience. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's novel Emilé, and the idea of the tabula rasa led to two men in the 18th century taking two girls from the foundling hospital to train them up as “perfect women” - luckily their experiment failed.

There is a museum to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the home where he lived from 1756 when he left Paris until 1762. It was here he wrote Emilé. The Jean-Jacques Rousseau Museum is in Montmorency in France.

For information on the Foundling Hospital visit the Foundling Museum in London.

2012.42.3 - Encyclopedié: The French Philosophés believed that by gathering together and publishing all human knowledge it would improve understanding and create a happier society. There were at least numerous enormous volumes, and of course they were only available to the wealthy. In our modern world all we need is a connection to the internet – Smartphones and QR codes mean we can literally have the world in our hands – even access to a translated version of the Encyclopedié created by Diderot and d'Alermbert.

For an online translation of the Enclycopedie -

Or for everything else try a search engine such as Google -

2012.42.4 – Sir Isaac: Newton is probably as famous for his scientific experiments as he is for his apple tree! By discovering laws that explained the nature of the world many believed that reason and rational thought was all you needed.

Isaac Newton's birthplace is now a National Trust property - and you can even visit the famous apple tree.

2012.42.5 - What is Beauty?: Edmund Burke wrote a treatise to explain beauty and the sublime, suggesting that beauty evoked the feeling of love and sublime the feeling of fear. In order to create something in between “the picturesque” was described as something that evoked a feeling of calm.

To learn more about beauty, the sublime and the picturesque, where better than to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum in London - follow this link for an article from the museum website on the subject -

2012.42.6 - Men for Sugar: Slavery, and the idea that men could be exchanged for bags of sugar is thought to be one of the abhorrent trades of the 18th century. Women were particularly active in the campaign to abolish slavery – Hannah More was one of its more famous women campaigners.

There are several museums that have galleries that tell of the shameful history of slavery in England including the Docklands Museum and the National Maritime Museum, both in London. In Liverpool there is the International Slavery Museum.

For more information on Hannah More there is a short biopgraphy at the Twickenham Museum website.

2012.42.7 - Women in Boxes: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was a lady of letters who campaigned, despite opposition, for immunisation against small pox. She was probably also the first women to witness the private lives of Islamic women. When bathing with some Turkish women they were horrified to see her in a corset, thinking English men tied up their women in boxes to keep them under control.

A short biography of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu can also be found at the Twickenham Museum website.

2012.42.8 - Liberty and Cake: An important element of the Enlightenment was the idea of liberty and nothing said liberty better than the French Revolution. Unfortunately here liberty turned to anarchism and death. Marie Antoinette's crime was being married to a weak king, being naive and being foreign - for this she lost her life. It was propaganda that was her greatest enemy and highly unlikely she ever uttered the words “let them eat cake”.

To find out more about the French Revolution one recommended book is that by Simon Schama - Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. Unfortunately there is little in Paris relating to the revolution - The Place de La Concorde was the scene of many executions, including that of the King and Queen, and the Bastille is no more but the stones from its walls were used in the construction of the Pont de la Concorde bridge. The Musée Carnavalet tells the history of Paris and also has items connecting to Rousseau.

To find out more about Marie Antoinette - try Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser. You could also visit her home at Versailles, but be warned there are often long queues. In complete contrast you can also visit the cell where she spent the last few days of her life at the Concergerie in Paris.

2012.42.9 - Walking the Streets of the Poor: Thomas Chalmers moved from rural Scotland to the slums of Glasgow and used his knowledge of maths to create detailed accounts of the living conditions of the poor. It was an example of using science for humanitarian reform.

There is a short biopgraphy on Thomas Chalmers at this website about the history of Glasgow - The Glasgow Story.

2012.42.10 - Natural Philosophy Displayed: One of Joseph Wright of Derby's most famous paintings is of a natural philosopher (what we would now call a scientist) putting on a display to show the wonders of science – An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump. The image is dramatic but shows how who families would be brought together to see such a theatrical show. In reality it is unlikely that an exotic bird, possibly the family pet, would be used in such an experiment but it is a reminder that science was as much about theatre as it was knowledge.

To see a copy of Wright of Derby's painting - or visit it in the National Gallery in London. The page also includes a pod cast, discussing the painting.

Derby Museum and Art Gallery now has a Joseph Wright Gallery, with the largest collection of his work in a public gallery -

2012.42.11 - The Book of Rules: There were rules for painting and rules for poetry and rules for drama – many based on the ideals of the ancient Greeks and Romans who were thought to have created the greatest human societies. It was believed that if you followed the rules you had the formula for perfection.

Sir John Soanes was a great student of Greek and Roman architecture - his house became a museum, bequeathed to the nation and includes his great collection of architectural artefacts many of which he used in his designs for building such at the Bank of England.

2012.42.12 - Buttons for Caroline: Caroline Herschel became an astronomer by accident. Originally from Germany she joined her brother in England thinking she had a musical career, but when William became fascinated by the stars she became his assistant. While he was away she discovered her first comet. She was was the first woman to receive a gold medal from the Royal Society, and also one of very few women to be paid for scientific work in the eighteenth century. Always practical she was also William's housekeeper until he married. Never keen on her celebrity status but an inspiration to other women in particular novelist, Fanny Burney.

To learn more about Caroline Herschel, this article from the Royal Society (the one that gave her the gold medal) gives a brief biography -

2012.42.13 - Lucky for Some?: With the belief in reason and rational thought all ideas of superstition should have been swept away. Yet for many they must have clung on to lucky charms or why would they still exist today?

Edward Lovett (1852-1933) was a folklorist who collected objects relating to amulets, charms and superstitions. In 2011/12 the Wellcome Collection used some of these in their exhibition Miracles and Charms. Lovett also wrote a book Magic in Modern London. For more information try this link - The article comes from the website of the Pitt Rivers Museum, which also holds many objects of a similar nature and was a major inspiration in the creation of this Miniature Imaginary Museum of the Enlightenment -

2012.42.14 - The Importance of Letters: The eighteenth century was the great era of publishing. Even if you could not read you probably knew someone who could read out loud the latest news. Newsletters, magazines, books, novels, pamphlets – all flourished in the eighteenth century. For girls, particularly the poor, it was not believed necessary for them to learn to write and yet stitching samplers ready for a life in service and the marking of linen meant that most would know their letters. Wealthy women were even advised not to let it be known if they became too clever as it could spoil their marriage prospects.

Luckily women are now encouraged to be as clever as they like - there are many places to study and to all different levels but the inspiration for my museum came about from a course with the Open University so I give their link here -

2012.42.15 - Nature in Lace: William Cowper was a poet and co-author of the Olney hymns. Olney, famous for its lace making was where he met John Newton, an ex-slaver now Evangelical preacher – the hymns were written with ordinary people in mind. Cowper wrote many works inspired by nature seeing it as proof of God's existence and an ordered world – he was a great favourite of the author Jane Austen.

To learn more about Cowper and Newton, there is a museum in Olney, Buckinghamshire -

In order represent Cowper, his connection to Olney and love of nature a primrose made of bobbin lace seemed an obvious choice. To find out more about bobbin lace a good place to start is the Lace Guild. There are lace groups across the country - lace is difficult to learn from a book and lace groups or classes are the best way to learn more if you wish to create your own lace creations.

2012.42.16 - The Silent Monitor: In New Lanark, Robert Owen tried to create a better system of industrialisation. He wanted to improve the health, education and well-being of his workers. The silent monitor, made of wood, was one way of encouraging good working practice – each side colour coded to indicate how well an individual was doing. Some of his methods were controversial and it was even suggested that he turned his workers into robots but he believed Utilitarianism would create a better world.

To learn more about New Lanark and Robert Owen - New Lanark is now protected as a World Heritage Site. Visit their shop if you want your own "silent monitor" replica.









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