Five former pupils from Hutchesons’ Grammar in Glasgow are set to have papers published in an academic journal after taking part in a school project looking at the philosophical questions raised by museums.
For example, the Elgin marbles – a collection of ancient Greek sculptures from the Athenian Acropolis – are housed at the British Museum in London. But Greece has repeatedly demanded their return, and displays replicas in the Acropolis Museum, alongside the antiquities that remain in Athens.
So when is repatriation of museum objects such as the Elgin marbles appropriate and when is it not? Should sacred objects be displayed in museums and, if so, what happens when members of the public wish to practice religious devotions in close proximity to them?
The S4 and S5 pupils visited more than half a dozen museums in Glasgow, supported by the school’s head of philosophy and religion, Dr Philip Tonner, and academics from the University of Glasgow. Ultimately, they homed in on the representation of mental health in museums and the identity of museum objects – for example, if you take a chair and put it in a display box, is it still a chair or is it sculpture?
They presented their findings at the Royal Institute of Philosophy annual conference and will soon have their papers published in the Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements.
According to Leon Robinson – one of the University of Glasgow academics who supported the pupils in their research – the museum project proves that it is possible to engage young people in “serious and disciplined scholarship”.
The pupils gave “seasoned researchers in the field a glimpse of familiar topics through fresh pairs of eyes”, he says.
The five pupils who took part were Glen Melville, Scott Adams, Lucy McCracken, Jessica Palmer and Claire Richmond. Two of them are now studying philosophy at university.