Reviews / Comptes rendus - Peter Neill and Barbara Ehrenwald Krohn, eds., Great Maritime Museums of the World

Reviews / Comptes rendus

Peter Neill and Barbara Ehrenwald Krohn, eds., Great Maritime Museums of the World

Niels W. Jannasch
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
Neill, Peter and Barbara Ehrenwald Krohn, eds., Great Maritime Museums of the World.New York: Balsam Press, Inc., 1991. 304 pp., 309 illus. Cloth $50.00, ISBN 0-917 439-12-0 (Balsam), 0-8109-3362-4 (Abrams).

1 In his introduction, editor Peter Neill holds forth with historical jingoism of sorts before separating the various aspects of maritime history into eight themes: fishing and farming; voyages of exploration; maritime technology; navigation and science; naval warfare; ports and trade; migration; and the community of the sea. At the same time, he briefly reviews how these themes are dealt with by the chosen museums:

Australian Maritime National Museum, Sydney, Australia
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada
Vancouver Maritime Museum, British Columbia, Canada
Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde, Denmark
Musée du Bateau, Douarnenez, France
Musée de la Marine, Paris, France
Musée de la Pêche, Concarneau, France
Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum, Bremerhaven, Germany
Yokohama Maritime Museum, Yokohama, Japan
Nederlands Schhepvaart Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Maritime Museum Prins Hendrik, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Norsk SjØfartsmuseum, Oslo, Norway
Museu de Marinha, Lisbon, Portugal
Barcelona Maritime Museum, Barcelona, Spain
National Maritime Museum, Stockholm, Sweden
Vasa Museum, Stockholm, Sweden
The Iron Screw Steamship The Great Britain, Bristol, U.K.
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, U.K.
Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool, U.K.
Hawaii Maritime Centre, Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A.
San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.
South Street Seaport Museum, New York, N.Y., U.S.A.

The bulk of the book is taken up by case histories and brief descriptions of these institutions by their Directors or Curators. I can visualize the authors sweating over the short articles whose length does not give them a chance to tell the full story of their museums, their ambitions, frustrations and the "behind the scenes" labours carried out by a faithful staff. As a result, these well-written articles are actually no more than expanded propaganda pieces as found in museum brochures and leaflets.

2 And then what makes a maritime museum great? Is a museum judged by the space it occupies — for example, the Australian Maritime Museum with its gorgeous quarters but limited collections — or does a museum make the grade if it is well enough endowed to take part in this publishing venture? I know of many more museums that equal or exceed the criteria of the editors, such as the Sjöfartsmuseet in Göteborg, Sweden, the Fiskeri-og Sjöfartsmuseet in Esbjerg, Denmark, the Maritime Museum in Singapore, the Museo Naval de la Nacion in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Polish Maritime Museum in Gdansk, Poland, and many others — every one of them a great museum in its own setting, with splendid collections and doing good work.

3 It would have been helpful, especially to MHR readers, if the editors had, at least, included a list of all existing maritime museums, their addresses, and brief descriptions of their holdings and main interests: the result would have been a quite useful reference book rather than the present unsatisfactory overview.

4 Great Maritime Museums of the World makes a fine coffee-table book; with its excellent colour reproductions of museum exteriors and interiors, artifacts and museum ships this is a beautiful book. Solid binding and high-quality, glossy stock add to its attractiveness. I find it difficult to recommend the volume to any serious student of material history, however.