The inauguration of ‘Oman Across Ages Museum’ in the Wilayat of Manah is yet another reminder of the historical importance of Oman’s strategic position at the centre of trade, the entreport to diverse civilisations, and the repository of cultures and languages.
More significantly, the museum points to the future as much as to Oman’s past.
Recently, there has been a lot of work done on the role of museums to assert national identity, and instil a sense of pride and ownership of history.
This is done by creating awareness of a pre-historic past, but also by celebrating shared customs, traditions as well as tangible and intangible cultures.
“From addressing key social issues to transforming how we see the future, the humble museum has the power to reflect and shape our society,” says Rebecca Carlsson in MuseumNext, an online community of museum goers.
From learning about the past to bringing communities together, museums have a more central role today than ever before. This is because we live in exciting, but troubling times when conflicting narratives of the present, but also the past, keep vying for our attention.
Using evidence-based history will help to better understand and contextualise our past.
Museums also bring to attention the fleeting role that humans have played in the past. Set against millions of years of geographical activity, humans are really fresh entrants.
Knowing this will make it more possible to understand our role in protecting an earth that is much bigger than us.
Technology and digitalisation have re-conceptualised the role of museums and their purpose.
From being a passive exhibition of old objects with little significance to the amateur observer, museums have now become spaces for communication, interaction, engagement and critical thinking. Interactive maps, digital pottery and virtual painting of classics are just ways in which visitors can engage with artefacts and spend longer hours in a museum. All this allows young minds to wander and discover facets of the past which might interest them in the future.
Telling a story is always an art, and museums have found creative ways of doing so. After all, museums are places which tell the common story of a shared past.
Stories make us care about the past and its role in our future because we see the past as belonging to specific individuals, not just a random group of people we cannot identify with.
These stories are a part of our intangible heritage. They may not be forts, castles, uniforms or weapons but they are something deeper and more connective. Language, music, dance, forms of knowledge like building of a falaj are all part of a community, and museums protect, as well as disseminate such knowledge.
It may be a tired maxim that history is who we are and why we are, but it bears repeating.
In a world that is constantly looking forward, a backward glance will help to ground us, remind us of our origins, and help us look ahead in empathy and humility.