Thesis Breakthrough: Finding a Voice

Lee Hood

This summer’s research presented several ideas and directions for my thesis to take. All of them interesting, I struggled with what I wanted to focus on. My breakthrough came at the end of the summer, as I reread portions of the book, Museums of Ideas: Commitment and Conflict. 

Sitting on the Fence…What’s the Point, written by Adrian Kerr from the Museum of Free Derry in Northern Ireland, told a story that had not been told before, at least not in a formal setting. Built by the community, and for the community, this museum focused around the civil rights movement of Northern Ireland in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Primarily focusing on the events of Bloody Sunday, the museum is set up as a subjective one. They tell their side of what happened that day and they make no apologies for it. “Our museum was set up as a way of resolving, not just recording. It was set up to be an active part in the process of resolution and reconciliation, not just a passive window on the past. It was set up as part of a campaign for justice.”

One particular photo resonated with me. This photo shows a group of men, huddled around a young man, as he lies bleeding on the ground, mortally wounded during the course of Bloody Sunday. A young man, Michael McDaid walks in the background, wearing a Sunday jacket, not hurrying, not menacing, just walking. Seconds later, after the photograph was taken, Michael McDaid was shot dead. His name identified as a gunman, terrorist, and enemy to the state for 40 years. The photograph tells the real story, the story that remained hidden. The story that his community had to live with and be associated with, as they struggled to find their own meaning around that day.

This photograph and the essay written by Adrian Kerr led me to focus around museums that strive for social change through different deliveries of exhibitions. The Museum of Free Derry focuses around subjective storytelling and it’s quite the powerful one. In speaking to Adrian Kerr, I learned that the museum is run by three employees, two of them lost family members in Bloody Sunday. It’s set up as a way to create dialogue, to tell a community’s story, and allow others to hear the stories that they previously were not able to hear.