Readersforum's Blog

November 11, 2012

Can paper survive the digital age?

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:31 am

Money, laws, tickets, newspapers, not to mention its many uses in art … despite the digital revolution, our world is still built on paper. Ian Sansom reflects on an enduring addiction to the white stuff.

I want to make a modest proposal. I want to propose the foundation of a National Paper Museum. It’s a back-of-the-envelope notion, a paper-fed pipe-dream. But it’s not impossible. Museums are made of paper anyway, founded on blueprints and letters to the Times, and fuelled by ancient documents and handwritten catalogue entries. In the mid-19th century, Richard Owen, superintendent of natural history at the British Museum, decided that his area of specialisation needed its own space, and so he set about making his argument – on paper, in letters and in campaigns.

In 1858, more than 100 naturalists signed a letter to the chancellor of the exchequer, complaining about the display of natural history in the British Museum. Thomas Huxley and Charles Darwin put together a petition. Owen published a booklet, On the Extent and Aims of a National Museum of Natural History. Money was raised. A competition was announced for the building of a new museum. Plans were submitted. Francis Fowke won the contest, on the strength of his perspective drawing. Interiors were sketched and designed. Plans became reality, and the new British Museum (Natural History) – what we know now simply as the Natural History Museum, one of the jewels in the crown of Albertopolis – finally opened to the public on Easter Monday 1881. We have a Science Museum, and a museum of the decorative arts. We have galleries aplenty and exhibitions everywhere. But we lack a national monument to the stuff that’s made it all possible.

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