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The Mini-Museum of Travel

Helen Merrill fills us in on how our volunteers went about putting together their latest Engage Discovery Box, a mini-museum in itself.

In the run-up to the opening of the World Gallery later this year, many of us here at the Horniman have been trying to answer the question, What does it mean to be human?

As a part of this project, the volunteers from our Engage Discovery Box Project took the lead in creating new discovery boxes that will be used in conjunction with the World Gallery by visitors and groups for years to come. Discovery boxes act like mini-museums, containing objects that follow a theme chosen by the group.

A thirteen strong team was organised and a theme of 'travel' agreed upon to complement the vision of the museum's Founder, Frederick, J. Horniman – Tea trader, Collector, Philanthropist and Anthropologist. The team needed to search for Museum objects in the Horniman collection that considered this theme while taking into consideration a broad target audience of young families, outreach venues and other community groups.

The objects had to incorporate sight, colour, smell, sound, and touch. The catalogue of available objects was vast but the objects not only had to represent the theme but they needed to be the right size and shape to fit into the Discovery Box. Safe handling was also a key factor. Eventually, the list was whittled down to 8-10 suitable objects.

  • Saddled camel model
  • Horniman tea tin
  • Bike gear 
  • Compass 
  • Yugoslavian slippers 
  • Image of Dorothy’s shoes 
  • Indbanas head piece 
  • Masai milk gourd 
  • African head scarf
  • London tube map
  • Range of other maps
  • Monarch butterfly
  • Three smell pots out of a choice of cinnamon, nutmeg, curry, and coffee.

Once the objects were chosen, the next stage was trial and evaluation with visitors. A special session was run in the Hands on Base to gauge visitor perception. Questions and feedback focused on discovery, adventure, travel, transport, and nostalgia, giving a picture of how the objects fit into the theme of travel while some objects were potentially not so relevant.

On the whole, the experience was extremely positive and thought-provoking, and it was great to know that a whole host of specialist groups would benefit from the mini-museum. For their efforts the team were nominated for the London Volunteers in Museums Awards which took place in September 2017 at City Hall. The team were declared runners-up in the award for 'Best Team Contribution', clearly recognising the enthusiasm and hard work of this dedicated team.

The accolade proved that the Horniman Volunteer Teams certainly know what it takes to engage, inspire and enrich visitor experience.