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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Museum of mankind

Beyond what the internet offers, museums provide a tangible connection to history
The UK’s National Heritage Memorial Fund offered a grant of more than £780,000 to the Charles Dickens Museum in London to save the desk where Dickens wrote Great Expectations. Sang Tan / AP Photo
The UK’s National Heritage Memorial Fund offered a grant of more than £780,000 to the Charles Dickens Museum in London to save the desk where Dickens wrote Great Expectations. Sang Tan / AP Photo

To understand who we are, we need to have a physical connection with the past. Museums, places of worship and pilgrimages have traditionally served that role. In the internet age, we have yet to create a virtual museum that can properly replace a real one. When the UK’s National Heritage Memorial Fund recently offered a grant of more than £780,000 to the Charles Dickens Museum in London to save the desk where Dickens wrote Great Expectations, it was a reminder of the constant attempt to renew the physical link to the past.

The world wide web and digital collections cannot replace our need for a place where everything is physical and every encounter is solid. When an extremist group like ISIL destroys Nimrud, a 3,000-year-old Assyrian city in Iraq, it is assaulting all of humankind. Not only is it attempting to erase millennia of culture, but to obliterate mankind’s shared memory, along with the heritage of minorities that have coexisted in the region for thousands of years.

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