on October 10, 2012
In the early 1990s when the Jorvik Center I which focuses on life in York during the time of the Vikings - first opened in York, there was quite the furore. At the time, it was seen as one of the most exciting and innovative museums in the UK. My uncle, who is a school-teacher, was so convinced at its merits that he took his class on a trip every year without fail. For some reason, when I was younger, I never got the chance to visit Jorvik. I cannot really recall why as my family and I visited York many times. It could have been because the cost was prohibitive or it may merely have been that my parents didn't really think that it looked too interesting. Either way, I was left wondering what it was like.Several years later, when I took a trip to York with my mother, my curiosity about Jorvik had not abated. In fact, Jorvik stood out as part of my education that had not yet been completed. If it was as good as my uncle claimed it to be, I was surely missing something. So, we decided to book tickets to see what all the fuss had been about. However, despite the hype, it proved to be a rather disappointing experience. Jorvik was neither exciting enough to be considered entertaining and didn't feature enough educational material to be considered informative.I would argue that the majority of Jorvik's short-comings come from its age. Having been constructed in the 1990s, it boasts some rather dated technology and design. For example, the major display is made up of automated figures dressed in the clothing of the time - the figures perform basic tasks such as digging a field. In the 1990s, this would have looked impressive. However, in 2012, not so much. The figures are all quiet and there is just a small audio passage accompanying each one. If you compare this to the interactive video screens that show monologues from specifically recreated figures in Roman York that are on show in the Yorkshire Museum, Jorvik looks a bit tame. The one thing it does have going is the smell. When it opened, this was a major selling-point: it smelled like York in Viking times.Not only did the 1990s style special-effects leave me a little bit cold, but the museum was also lacking in great substance. I find this to be a cardinal sin of many modern museums. In an effort to appear more exciting and less fusty, the detail disappears and is replaced with gimmicks and fads. Jorvik had the smell, but it didn't have too much strong information. There were two rooms that gave a historic overview and showed some archaeological debris, but this was nowhere near enough. I found myself longing for some hard data and some written accounts from the time. It seemed to me that a few mechanised models could have been done away with in order to give the exhibit a little more substance.Overall, I found Jorvik massively disappointing. I would imagine it would be ok if you visited with a child, but they would certainly not be blown away.
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