A tale of two exhibits 

Hoxne Pepper Pot

I recently visited the National Museum of Australia with my family. Apart from general pottering around, we visited two exhibits. The first was ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’ and it was the main reason for our visit. The second exhibit was an award-winning interactive adventure game for children known as ‘Kspace’.

A History of the World in 100 Objects

This exhibit has come to Australia from the British Museum. I remember listening to the associated radio series as a podcast a couple of years ago.

It is very straightforward. 100 objects are displayed which are intended to represent the history of the world. Each one has a standard museum information card next to it. Although beautifully displayed, that’s essentially it.

My daughters took more interest in some objects than others. There was a Roman sarcophagus from Britain that was decorated with the biblical story of Jonah. I found myself explaining this story to my eldest child and why its message of forgiveness might have been the reason that it was selected.

An astrolabe also caught her eye. The answer to the question ‘what is it?’ is tricky for an astrolabe. I explained that it did many things but, like the map of the world that we have on the wall at home, this was also a map, only this was a map of the night sky. Both daughters were struck by the gruesome details of mummification that came to light due to a mummy that had a spatula stuck inside its skull.

I don’t know how much of this my girls will remember. They certainly found it interesting but I won’t be setting a quiz. My feeling is that these stories might be forgotten but will trigger some recognition if my daughters come across them again and that, slowly, a picture will emerge. It’s a long-term process to build a sense of world history in a child.


The first thing you have to do at Kspace is ‘build’ your time-travelling robot. You do this by selecting body parts and colours on a screen before having your photo taken for the face. It takes about five minutes.

You then go into a booth where you control your robot as it progresses through a video game. Sometimes you work individually and sometimes as a family. The game was set on the Sydney Harbour bridge at the time it was being built. Tasks included collecting rivets in a Super-Mario-style platform game and jumping from girder to girder in order to pass through patches of blue light.

My girls don’t play these kinds of video game at home – they prefer Minecraft. So they found the whole experience pretty frustrating. It struck me as a classic example of what Dan Willingham means when he cautions us that ‘memory is the residue of thought‘. In order to make an engaging game environment, the developers have created an experience from which children will learn no history at all.

Is it worth it for the ‘engagement’? Will reluctant historians come away from Kspace with a passion for history? I doubt it. 


3 thoughts on “A tale of two exhibits 

  1. I think this goes to the heart of it. What do historians love about history? It’s the stories, facts, reality. Stripping this away in order to engage more children has actually resulted in a situation where it has taken all the joy out of it for would be historians and not made those who were never going to be any more enlightened about the past. Vacuous teaching is just that.

  2. I also have a problem with the assumption of what motivates children. As teachers we are supposed to differentiate and personalise learning for children by people who would make grand assumptions implying that ALL CHILDREN ARE INTERESTED IN EXACTLY THE SAME THINGS! I cannot remember a time when I was not interested in exotic monuments, plays on words and poetry. When I was in school nobody talked about kinaesthetic learning and drama techniques to motivate participation in history and geography, and I am so glad about it because I loved just looking at pretty pictures and being told stories about it.

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