British Museum says too many Asian names on labels can be confusing

British Museum says too many Asian names on labels can be confusing

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A curator from the British Museum has claimed they “have to be careful about using too many” Asian names on exhibit labels, as they can be confusing to teenagers.

The museum was taking part in #AskACurator on Twitter, in which staff at museums around the world answer questions.

Responding to a tweet from the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences in Sydney asking “How do you go about designing exhibition labels and information that are accessible to a wider range of people?”, the British Museum’s official account answered: “Curators write the labels based on their specialist knowledge and they are edited by our Interpretation department. We aim to be understandable by 16 year olds. Sometimes Asian names can be confusing, so we have to be careful about using too many.”

The British Museum tweets referring to Asian names

The British Museum tweets referring to Asian names. Photograph: Twitter/British Museum

The tweets, which appear to have been written by the keeper of the Asia department, led to an angry response from other Twitter users:

Dave Cochrane
(@lowdownmandem)

This is a gigantic own goal. I strongly suggest you revise your approach here.


September 13, 2017

ravenwolf68
(@ravenwolf68)

What are you saying to those of us – and especially the kids – with Asian names doing this? Think long & hard about this.


September 13, 2017

Amanda Lillywhite
(@AJLillywhite)

Longer labels? Technology such as touch screens, audio recordings? So many ways round this. Don’t blame the 16 year olds!


September 13, 2017

The museum attempted to clarify the comments, saying: “We are limited by the length of labels. Dynasties & gods have different names in various Asian languages. We want to focus on the stories.” It gave the example that “the Buddhist bodhisattva of mercy is known as Avalokitesvara in India, Guanyin in China, Kwanum in Korea and Kannon in Japan.”

This was not seen as a satisfactory answer by some:

Ashley Borges
(@ashtweeets)

No! That IS the story! It’s fascinating that the same thing is know by such different names.


September 13, 2017

Bisha K Ali
(@bishakali)

hun you just fit this info into a tweet though


September 13, 2017

But others defended the museum’s approach:

Anthony Bonnici
(@Anthony_Bonnici)

This seems a perfectly sensible approach. The BM acts as a starting point to learn about other cultures


September 13, 2017

Sonja Greer
(@Rudjedet)

In fairness, there are a lot more restrictions in making exhibitions/labels than most people realise.


September 13, 2017

People who have worked on producing information text for museums joined in to give further insight into the process:

Discussion of exhibition label curation



Discussion of exhibition label curation Photograph: Twitter/Andrew Garvey/Wade Jones

After the statements had begun to be viewed as controversial, the museum issued a further clarification on its Twitter account:

British Museum
(@britishmuseum)

Apologies, we would just like to add some further clarification here: pic.twitter.com/t9xnJ8rJ3S


September 13, 2017



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