Out & About London: The Tower, V&A, and Natural History

For our first full day in London, we mixed tourism and research, which is easy to do when you are working on museums, human remains, death studies, and memorialization of death.

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Room of the Princes in the Tower

Stop #1 was the Tower of London. I previously visited the tower and loved it; visit two was just as great! We saw the ravens, the Crown Jewels, beefeaters, and the Thames. It is always incredible to be in a near-millennia old structure, and knowing the people who have been on the site and the events that took place there takes away my breath! This time, through the lens of death studies, I was particularly struck by the memorialization of death, often state-sanctioned or mysterious. Most notable are the memorial to Anne Boleyn and the speculation about what happened to the two princes in the tower (I still maintain it was NOT Richard III).

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Execution Memorial

Less noticeable but perhaps even more subtly impactful are the bits of graffiti still visible on the walls of the towers where people were held before execution. The torture chamber is as tastefully done as possible while still catering to guests to expect to see the gruesome side of history, which at the tower at least, is a bit more subdued than most assume. Speaking of taste, across the street, the Hung, Drawn, and Quartered pub at the site of the tower hill public execution site is something for another post all together.

dsc031762.jpgAfter a good morning at the Tower we headed across town to the Victoria and Albert to visit a bit of unexpected human remain in a museum: Frida Kahlo’s prosthetic leg. Most unfortunately, the exhibit had sold out months early and remained sold out for the entirety of the show. This put a damper on things, and combined with a bit of hanger, I did not fully love the V&A. I did find some great medieval memento mori in the collections, and saw some good hands-on exhibits on medieval bedding, but I was happy to move on along to the Natural History Museum next door.

DSC03193The Natural History Museum was incredible! Beautiful architecture, vast collections, and wonderful old-school style displays immediately caught my eye. The display of human evolution and human ancestors was especially great. It brought to mind several questions about the display of reproduced human remains; I know in the US the display of Kennewick Man, even as a rendering, has evoked emotions and resistance in the descendent community. What about human ancestors; how “human” are they? Do they fall into the same category as other human remains?

On the way back we stopped by Trafalgar to see the lions and Buckingham Palace. We capped off the night with the national dish of curry and rested up for another day of museums and human remains the following day!

More photos below:

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