Merriam-Webster defines a museum as an institution “devoted to the procurement, care, study, and display of objects of lasting interest or value”. Traditionally, museums have been a place to further one’s knowledge about a topic, person, place, or era – or to exhibit artifacts of artistic, scientific, cultural or historical significance. Either way, people visited museums after attaining considerable knowledge about the topic of interest by reading books and other works. Museums were the last step in the knowledge ladder; the ultimate embodiment, the final personification, the last destination, the place where learnt words came to life and fantasies became reality.
But recently, just like all other aspects of modern educational system, museums have also gone through revolutionary transformations. As societies are advancing towards the visions of “Education by Fun” and “Learning by Doing”, museums are playing a vital role in achievement of their goals. Museum has been transformed from a mere display of artifacts, or paintings and photographs for the selected knowledgeable audience, to an institution that educates masses by exciting exhibitions and proper annotations.
In addition to their educational contribution, museums also serve as periscope into history, culture or social life of a city or area. Thus, touristic importance of museums is undisputable. Most modern city museums in Europe serve as the first introduction for visitors to the city. They not only exhibit the history of the city, its origins, its culture, and its social life; but also portray the economic, industrial and educational activities of the city.
I happened to visit the Peshawar Museum recently. Housed in an architectural gem dating back to 1906-07 and surrounded by a lush garden, it was an impressive sight early in the morning. Being an avid visitor of all types of museums, my first stop in a new city has usually been a city museum. It familiarises me with the city, gives an overview of its history and its culture, and paints the initial impression of the place I am visiting and the people I will meet.
Bearing the examples of Amsterdam History Museum, Aalesund Museum, Schonbrunn Palace of Vienna etc. in my mind I stepped into the Peshawar Museum. It is rightly advertised as the largest collection of Gandhara artifacts in the world, but that is what it pretty much is. It is clean, well-lit and well-maintained, but it misses the basic purpose of a modern museum. It does not narrate the story of Gandhara. It does not take me to a journey with Buddha. It does not give me an eye into the life of a peasant living in Gandhara era. It does not make me visualise the invading armies of Alexander and Babur. The Sikh Kingdom, the British Raj, the 1935 Qissa Khwani Massacre, the post-independence Peshawar; none of these historical aspects of this important trade city are highlighted.
Being the name-bearer museum of the city, and provided it has four sections showcasing different historical eras of the Peshawar Valley, I expected it to be my first history lesson about Peshawar. Even if it was meant only to showcase the Gandhara era and culture, still it lacked the context and enough content for an articulated display.
The government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is investing a lot in education as well as tourism sectors. Also the Directorate of Archeology and Museums has done great job in maintaining the museum and promoting it by providing high-definition virtual tour into it (http://www.kparchaeology.com/virtual_tours/Virtual_Tour_Peshawar/index.html). It shows the seriousness of the provincial governing machinery in promoting tourism sector of the province. Results are visible and encouraging. Statistics show that KP has seen 25% rise in the number of tourists visiting the province. The increasing influx of visitors will definitely appreciate a better informed museum about the city, the area, the valley, and the province.
The will is there (provincial tourism policy of 2015), the resources are there (the building, the governmental archives for information and photos, the archaeological and history research work in universities), and the model is there (modern museums around the world). What remains is just to put it to work and present the history, the culture and the traditions of the Peshawar Valley in an informative and fun way. What remains is to process and annotate the data and present it as information.