A small Bible: the symbol of discipline and order in the workhouse?

A Bible from the 1800s

The small leather bound Bible embellished with gold engravings was found in the hallway of St. Sepulchre workhouse in 1751, reminding paupers of the strict law and order of the workhouse. Institutions, including the workhouse, used Christianity to justify harsh disciplining and used these horrible conditions to deter as many paupers as they can. From the physical object, the Bible may conjure these feelings and representations of the workhouse along with the paupers that resided there. However, using digital tools such as interactive games where the public can decide the fate of a pauper, or a dramatization and “inside look” into a pauper’s “hidden transcript”, the public audience is able to “re-claim, re-contextualize, and re-form knowledge into personally meaningful, and very public, configurations”.(1) Through virtual tools, the audience can experience and see that many paupers actually rebelled against these rules while others found a better religious life within the walls of the workhouse. As a result, the museum returns agency to the paupers and debunks the commonly held belief that the workhouse was a complete total institution.

1 – Sian Bayne, Jen Ross, and Zoe Williamson “Objects, subjects, bits and bytes: learning from the digital collections of the National Museums,” museum and society 7 (2009): 111

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