Last Friday saw me visiting Taking Liberties the latest exhibition put on by the British Library.
The exhibition is stuffed full of some of the most important documents of British history. It is full of reminders of how our liberties, our democratic society, came about through struggle and sacrifice across the generations. It begins with a copy of the Magna Carta and an exploration of the rule of law. It then takes the visitor through the basic concepts of liberty, the right to vote, the development of ideas of economic rights, and then onto the modern concept of human rights.
Amongst the gems on display are Charles I's death warrant with Oliver Cromwell's strong signature clearly visible, actual Acts of Parliament such the 1689 Bill of Rights and the 1832 Reform Act, some wonderful Hogarth prints titled 'The Election', William Blake's notebook, and a copy of the offending magazine that triggered the Oz Trial of the 1960's.
The interpretation is very well done. The objects themselves tell the history, with video screens of interviews with academics and people like Shami Chakrabarti, Peter Tatchell, and Lord Carlisle making the link with contemporary controversies. There is also a very cleverly done interactive element which encourages the visitor think about there own reactions to the issues raised.
This is a fascinating and inspiring exhibition. It will be of great value to anyone who calls themselves a liberal and if you can I would encourage you to spend an hour or so visiting it. I think some of those who have been pontificating on the blogosphere recently about the nature of liberalism could well do with a reminder of how we got where we are.
The exhibition is on until the 1st March at the British Library next door to St Pancras Station.