Freya Insoll reviews Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum and gives an insight into the expansive range of artefacts it has to offer.
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum (more commonly known as RAMM) is Exeter’s largest and arguably most impressive museum. As a student with a love of all things historical and an even greater love of time-consuming displacement activities, it presents itself as somewhat of a riddle that I’d managed to make it to third year without paying a visit to Exeter’s finest museological institution. Thus, it was with great haste that I utilised the visit of an equally gallery loving friend to make the 30-minute trudge down to RAMM; and what a gloriously worthwhile trudge it was.
RAMM prides itself on the concept of ‘collecting and respecting’; acknowledging that while the museum may have a fantastic and highly eclectic collection of objects from around the world, many of them were collected without the original collector giving much thought to the origins and cultural importance of said items. The promotion of this message makes for a highly engaging and uniquely displayed collection, culturally sensitive objects such as outfits of mourning or human remains are not simply depicted as exotic curiosities but are explored as items of a lived experience.
“culturally sensitive objects… are not simply depicted as exotic curiosities but are explored as items of a lived experience.”
This ethos is best displayed in the World Cultures collection, a veritable haven for those with a particular interest in ethnography. The collection is broken down into four larger subsections of items from the Pacific; Africa; the Americas and Asia, with a smaller collection of items from the ‘Near East’. The World Cultures collection contains items as varied as a mummified Egyptian falcon, a carved Japanese grain of wheat, a Congolese trader’s outfit and colourful 19th century Iranian playing cards – truly providing visitors with a whistle-stop world tour (without the price tag).
While the World Cultures gallery may have been a personal favourite, I was equally impressed with RAMM’s abundant (and occasionally bizarre) collection of taxidermy. Potentially the main draw to the museum is Exeter’s famous ‘Gerald’, a magnificent 12ft bull Maasai male giraffe who has called RAMM his home since the 1920s. While the ethics of taxidermy may be questionable to some, the RAMM’s collection is a great opportunity for budding zoologists to get up close and personal with species they may not otherwise be able to see in the flesh. The gallery is also home to a ginormous elephant, an abundance of preserved starfish and jellyfish, and a magnificently beautiful and interesting collection of butterflies and insects. While it may not be under the same zoological umbrella as such, RAMM also holds the skull of one of Scott’s Siberian huskies that survived the doomed 1910 Antarctic expedition, and lived out the rest of it’s days in Exeter.
“a great opportunity for budding zoologists to get up close and personal with species they may not otherwise be able to see in the flesh”
Thus if you have a spare couple of hours, need a study distraction and desire a healthy dose of culture, RAMM should be at the top of your to-do list. Not only does it house a surprisingly interesting and varied collection of objects; it also has the best museum gift shop I have ever encountered (perfect for parents’ Christmas presents – or your own, both are deserved) and a café that serves sublime butternut squash soup. Can you think of a better way to spend a rainy Saturday?