University chancellor Dame Mary Archer draws capacity crowd for public lecture in Buckingham

The drawing room of the University of Buckingham's vice-chancellor was full for Dame Mary's Fireside Chat

Thursday, 7th October 2021, 10:08 am
Updated Thursday, 7th October 2021, 10:10 am

Dame Mary Archer, the University of Buckingham's Chancellor and wife of the novelist and former politician Jeffrey Archer, was the speaker in a free public talk hosted by university vice-chancellor James Tooley.

Speaking to a capacity audience of more than 40 local residents, students and staff in the drawing room of the vice-chancellor's residence - with some people having to sit on the floor - Dame Mary spoke about why museums are so vital and what the future holds for the Science Museum.

Dame Mary is chair of the Science Museum Group and was a trustee from 1990 to 2000.

Dame Mary Archer at the Fireside Talk

Her talk on Wednesday, October 6 - the latest public lecture in Prof Tooley's Fireside Chat series, held at his Church Street home, Ondaatje Hall - was entitled Museums: Looking at the Future Through the Lens of the Past.

Dame Mary spoke about why museums had come into being, what they can offer and how they must change with the times to remain relevant.

"The present is a legacy of the past," she said.

She pointed out: "Some of the best exhibits at the Science Museum came from the skip."

Dame Mary, seated next to vice-chancellor James Tooley

Dame Mary said about 90 per cent of items in the museum's collection are not even on show, as the museum saw its role as collecting and keeping artefacts from each age for the future even though only certain ones are on display at any given time.

One of the ways science brought out new developments was through accidents, Dame Mary said, and not all breakthroughs are due to proactive experiments.

"One of the things museums do is tell stories - the tremendous story of what went before which led to where we are now," she said.

Dame Mary spoke about the challenges of making people understand the past.

"It's difficult for people living in the now to understand the way things were," she explained, especially in the digital age.

The Science Museum is currently working on a Covid collection for future generations. It is also examining whether it feels it should take any action in relation to any links with those associated with the slave trade, in the light of decisions by other organisations.

Expressing her personal feelings on the issue, Dame Mary said: "People should be judged by their own time, not by your time."

She also told the audience that all sorts of interesting people had been brought together at events at the museum, including a joint session by Bill Gates and Will.I.Am.