Huge Victorian structures, fl uted columns, big black gates, a dome somewhere, uniformed attendants, thousands of preserved objects and don’t touch signs-such were the museums of my colonial childhood. Places of shush, respect, gloom, awe at how they got both the Lancaster bomber and the sperm whale inside. Public institutions in the service of society, they were places for collective history, research, education and occasional enjoyment. One didn’t think of these realms as vehicles of ideology: they always seemed practical and prosaic, belonging mostly to science, tributes to human ingenuity even in the darkest ages.