The Museum d’Aquitaine does a fairly good job of leading the visitor on a chronological journey of life in the Aquitaine region from pre-history through to the 1800’s. The exhibits are well laid-out over two levels, with good signage to guide the visitor from section to section.
On the ground floor, the journey starts with pre-history, leading through the stone and iron ages to the Roman era. The upper level brings the visitor into the 1800’s, addressing issues of racial immigration; the role that Bordeaux played in the slave trade; French colonialism; the development of industry fuelled by goods obtained via colonialism and slave trading; and the emergence of ‘colonial art’.
I was pleased to see that the museum does not shy away from the role that slavery played in the development of Bordeaux but I think that more sensitivity and understanding is required when drafting signs for the exhibits. For example, there is an old print that depicts African slaves dancing on the deck of a slave ship but the sign that accompanies the print says “Small groups of captives were regularly taken up on deck to loosen up their legs as they danced to the rhythmic cracking of the whip.” It all sounds so pleasant. Like a summer cruise across the Atlantic. With dancing kindly offered as a means of exercise. The rhythmic cracking of the whip! Like it was a musical instrument. Surely the museum can do better than this with a more factual account of the brutality and horrors onboard slave ships.
And here’s another unfortunate sentence from a different sign: “Coexistence raised few problems, despite strong discrimination.” I wonder whether the 4,000 black Africans and people of colour who were subjected to this strong discrimination agreed that it raised few problems. And what about the slaves, or those who were imprisoned? Some more thought should be taken when drafting these signs.
Some unfortunate signage aside, the museum does a reasonable job of presenting information on slavery, inter-racial relationships, discrimination and prejudice.
The museum also displays a variety of art and artefacts from Africa and other colonised countries.
There is a nice recreation of an 1800’s shop, demonstrating the types of goods that were available, in part due to the rise of food processing factories that used products obtained from colonial outposts.
Interestingly, several of the advertising posters and product packaging feature black characters, presumably to advertise the ‘exotic’ nature of the products.
The museum is certainly worth a visit and has a very reasonable admission fee of €5.
I have read other reviews that state the museum has exhibits regarding the second world war and French resistance. If it did, this is no longer the case. I asked at the reception desk and was directed to the nearby Centre National Jean Moulin, which is about a 5 minutes walk away. The Centre is listed on the Museum d’Aquitaine’s website, so I assume that it is a branch of the museum.
The Centre is quite small, but admission is free. The exhibits are spread over three levels of the building. Opening hours are 2pm – 6pm, Tuesday – Sunday.
The ground level was the most interesting for me, despite all of the signs being in French only. There are firearms on display, an old WWII Jeep, an exhibit on underground printing presses used by the French Resistance, as well as other WWII items.
At the time of my visit, the second floor was taken up by a temporary exhibit “1917 Voila Les Americains” that documents the involvement of the USA in World War 1. Much of the exhibit is posters and photos on the wall. This temporary exhibit did have some signage in English.
The top floor has several small rooms that continue the theme of the French Resistance and the second world war. But, again, it mainly consists of photographs on the walls with only French signage.
As much as I enjoy learning about the history of the second world war, I found this museum to be somewhat lacking. However, with the free admission, it was worth a quick visit.