Taking Liberties, British Library

I know the British Library is an august institution of which we should all be proud, not least now it’s housed in shiny blandness at St Pancras. I also know that magna carta did not die in vain I also also know that this photo taken in 2007 (see large here) is potentially illegal thanks to yet another civil liberty encroaching law.

But more importantly I know that Taking Liberties is a tedious waste of space. Draining the life out of any discussion of civil liberties by showing a procession of documents but without really explaining any of the controversy or fights surrounding them. There’s too much here as well – covering centuries without useful contexts and wrapping it all in interactive votes designed to make you feel you have an opinion that counts — the answers to the questions, multiple choice, are themselves essay length so only the worthy will respond.

Only at the very, very end with a small exhibit about ‘free speech versus causing offence’ does it begin to feel challenging, thought provoking even. But the display focuses on the Oz trial without a dodgy Danish cartoon in sight – the safe option is taken and steady boredom maintained.


7 thoughts on “Taking Liberties, British Library”

  1. Maybe the exhibition doesn’t feature the Jyllands-Posten cartoons because the title is ‘Britain’s struggle’ blah blah blah, and Denmark is not as far as I know part of Britain. Just a wild guess.

  2. A good point, Rob and I’m not suggesting we annexe Denmark to make British Library exhibitions more interesting. There was, and is, a debate about whether British publications should report the cartoons or show them – and I have a memory that some at least were eventually printed – and whether or not protests that have hooded men on the streets of London demanding death to those who insult the prophet should be allowed.
    Surely that could be at least quite interesting …

  3. The exhibition made my blood boil with it’s bland disney approach to liberties that were fought and won with blood. They made it seem like each chapter in history was a ‘debate’ about rights and repsonsibilities rather than a straightforward battle for right and wrong. Even on Slavery, women’s votes etc

    It’s hard to say what I found most offensive about it but my top 3 were –

    1. Peterloo – which said ‘some people call it the peterloo massacre’ -NO! Hoisotry records it as a massacre. It also said government sent the army to arrest this man and in the ensuing chaos 11 people died. Well no, they were ordered to charge the crowd sabres drawn and 11 people were murdered.

    2. The bit about “Britain has a tradition of exporting democracy to other countries”….I nearly choked. It then went on about some downsides to our ‘colonial adventures’ – yeah like bloody slavery for one!!

    3. Have your say. The irony was not lost on me that the way we could ‘have our say’ was by wearing some sort of bar-coded electronic tag. It was like I had been allocated some ‘freedom credits’ that I could spend by having my say on x issue and y issue. I seriously fear this is where democracy is heading – like the bloody x factor.

    Man the barricades comrades!


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