Taking Liberties in GB, but don’t leave out Ireland

Rather creeping on me unawares has been “Taking Liberties,” an independent exhibition run by the British Library of how British freedoms were won.
The title expresses neatly the ambiguity of the subject – how the State could be oppressive and how citizens progressively gained the essential corpus of freedom we associate with a modern democracy. Although run by very much a State body, we’re assured Taking Liberties is far from a celebration of a tradition or history in aspic:


The display items will be displayed in chronological order but visitors will also be encouraged to view them in connection with certain themes. These include the right to justice, freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom from want. As they make their way through the displays, visitors will be asked to consider the similarities between modern day protest groups and their counterparts from the past.

“Snub to Gordon Brown” is the Sunday Telegraph’s spin on the story as it appears the idea took off after he had made a very different proposal for a ” National Museum of British Achievement” with a possible £100m budget. The Telegraph may have a point, for:


the exhibition is more than a celebration of the nation’s past, with the focus on current topics like ID cards, 42 days detention and internment without trial.

I have no problem with the exhibition being Anglo-centric. It’s bound to reflect the experience of the big population, the hub and origin of the polity etc., but I was glad to see a second reference in the Telegraph’s story:

There will also be news items about internment during the Northern Ireland Troubles.

The Yorkshire Post reports that the British Library has trawled for material there. Any approach to the PRO in Balmoral Avenue and the Linenhall library, does anybody know? Or the National Library in Dublin?

There will be a major interactive site that should entice the Slugger community. Details to follow: so far scarce. The exhibition runs from end of October to March. It promises to provoke lively debate and Slugger will surely make its mark. The inclusion of internment is of course vital, not only for what it did to us, but how it related to them. Brits tend to overlook the latter point and seal off the Irish experience in a world apart. Moreover, internment is not enough. For without making a meal of it, the evolution of British freedoms cannot be understood without an examination of the full Irish record.

  • fair_deal

    “Any approach to the PRO in Balmoral Avenue and the Linenhall library, does anybody know?”

    Your OWN link answers your question.

    “the exhibition is made possible with the collaboration of The National Archives, the British Museum, the National Library of Scotland, the National Archives of Scotland, the National Library of Wales and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.”

    “I have no problem with the exhibition being Anglo-centric.”

    1. The exhibition makes clear its UK wide basis “The rights of citizens in the UK”
    2. As the press statement makes clear PRONI is involved in the project.
    3. The Magna Carta was introduced to Ireland as well (in amended form).
    4. The 1689 Bill of Rights nothing happened here during that period surely? 😉
    5. The 1832 Reform Act was made law in all three legal systems of the UK that year.
    6. 42 days and ID cards are UK wide measures
    7. As you point put “There will also be news items about internment during the Northern Ireland Troubles.”

    Your basic premise is often the common occurrence but I would suggest in this case you are mistaken.

  • cynic

    ” (Brown) had made a very different proposal for a “ National Museum of British Achievement” with a possible £100m budget.”

    ….er…. we have one (or two actually) …. they are called the British Museum and the British Library.

    ….and isnt it wonderful how Brown is so free with money on per projects that may get a days headline. £100m for a new museum to celebrate ‘Britishness’ when we have rats and cockroaches running through hospital wards. Yes, that will do nicely. We’d much rather have that than a visit from Rentokil

    Look what happened when the Roman Emperor relied too heavily on bread and circuses!

  • More from the BL site:

    The Board received a presentation on the exhibition on the subject of the British constitution and political rights which was to open at the Library on 31 October. The exhibition, which was to be guest-curated by Professor Linda Colley, was to be arranged in seven sections. It was to be accompanied by an extensive learning programme and a regional programme encompassing the Home Nations (which would extend beyond the dates of the exhibition at the BL), and there would be legacy online resources. The programme would deliver context to the current public debate over issues of citizenship in Britain and would coincide with a
    public consultation on devising a new ‘British Bill of Rights’. The Library was grateful for the support of library and archive colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as the cooperation of The National Archive and the British Museum. Additional financial support was anticipated from the Ministry of Justice for the learning programme.

  • Garibaldy

    Linda Colley. More stuff on white slaves then, eh? Interestingly, the list BL timeline of famous documents and events related to rights in the room where Magna Carta is on display includes the UN Declaration, but neglects to mention the French Revolution. Margaret Thatcher must have curated that exhibition.

  • cynic

    Surely the Great Reform Act and the Chartist Movement would be much more significant than the French revolution?