Museums Key To Preservation Of Ideas Says MGM Survey

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 20 May 2008
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Museums are the best way of preserving our ideas for future generations; Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Darwin and Martin Luther King are the most inspired historical figures; and the atom bomb and reality TV are the worst ideas of all time.

These are the findings of the new Museums and Galleries Month 2008 survey, which was carried out by The Campaign for Museums and the 24 Hour Museum, and is in keeping with the theme of this year’s Museums and Galleries Month, ‘Ideas and Innovation’.

The survey asked what are the best and worst innovations of all time? Who is the most inspired figure in history? Where have you had your best idea, and how should we preserve today’s ideas and innovations for future generations?

Perhaps predictably the wheel was voted as the greatest ever idea or innovation, with 32% of votes, while the Internet was close behind at 23%. Interestingly, only 5% of respondents over the age of 40 voted for the internet, with the strongest support for the web coming from the under 30s.

Other innovations on the list included penicillin, equal rights for women and the pill.

a piece of yellow card

Charles Darwin. Courtesy Bromley Council

Support for museums proved strong amongst participants in all age groups, with almost half naming museums as the best way of preserving our best ideas for the future.

“Museums and galleries play a unique role in preserving and displaying some of the greatest innovations and ideas in the history of mankind, and this survey shows that people continue to value them as a source of inspiration,” said Loyd Grossman, Chairman of the Campaign for Museums.

Libraries also had a strong showing, doing particularly well in the younger age groups, contrary perhaps to some of our stereotypes. Only 15% of people – the majority of whom were male – felt that digital records were the best method for preserving our ideas.

In response to the question of which person from history is responsible for the best ideas, Leonardo da Vinci was the clear favourite across both sexes and all age groups, with 27% of the vote.

screen shot of a website featuring images by Leonardo

Leonardo da Vinci - the Leonardo Initiative includes one of the most comprehensive websites ever devoted to Leonardo Da Vinci. © Leonardo Initiative

Darwin was particularly popular amongst men, with 32% of male respondents naming him as their first choice as we approach the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Fifth place was shared by two feminist icons – Emmeline Pankhurst and Mary Wollstonecraft, with support for both coming almost entirely from women.

“The survey results offer a fascinating insight also into the figures and ideas from the past which are most significant to us," said Campaign for Museums Chair, Loyd Grossman. "It raises some interesting questions about how we will preserve our own ideas and innovations for the future.”

The survey also asked where people had their best ideas, and this generated a range of responses, proving that time spent on the train or in the bath is not necessarily wasted.