Keeping history alive

01 Jun 2020

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MUSEUMS provide a window to the past, allowing visitors to understand and interact with history. However, ever since the novel coronavirus dismantled the world as we know it, museums and other cultural institutions have had to close their doors to the public to play their part in controlling the rapid spread of the virus and save lives. According to a Unesco report, approximately 90pc of museums around the world have been closed indefinitely since the pandemic, while 10pc may have to shut down permanently, depriving many people of memorable, educational experiences, and others their sources of income.

Even though Pakistan inherited some of the world’s oldest civilisations, we never truly developed a museum-going culture, perhaps not valuing our own rich histories, or seeing the potential they held to attract tourists from around the world. Despite this lack of interest, there are some interesting museums scattered across the country that have welcomed people from all walks of life at relatively low entrance costs. A report in the paper last week mentioned that there are 46 museums in the country; out of these, 37 have now been closed. But even the best among them did not pull large enough groups of local or international tourists before the pandemic, when compared to other countries in the region. So while we may not lose revenue in the same way tourist-friendly nations are doing in these times, perhaps it is time to reflect on the importance of museums and the preservation of history to promote a positive national narrative. This government, in particular, has been keen to promote tourism in the country, taking steps to that end like easing the arduous visa application process. According to the Cultural Heritage and Museum Visits in Pakistan report by Gallup Pakistan, tourist traffic at cultural sites increased by 317pc between 2014 and 2018. The pandemic has hit the global tourism industry hard, and local museums are surely a part of it.

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2020