Searching for “Community”: Making English Rural History Collections Relevant Today



Abstract  Rural history museums in England developed with the support of local and national communities. Over the past 20 years, they have increasingly been seen as out of touch with contemporary countryside issues and museum practice. This article explores some of the meanings of the term “community engagement” for this type of collection. It aims to show that complex issues of spirituality, ethnicity, and “belonging” underlie the relationship of some communities to English collections. The nature of rural collections means they may privilege romanticized images of the rural past over discussions of contemporary countryside politics, and high-profile “social inclusion” trends. Rural history museums are increasingly fighting to be relevant to their various communities. This article uses a series of case studies to illustrate relevance, and it explores the sustainability of different “community engagement” strategies.