Discover Ming: the Golden Empire in this newly commissioned film which provides an exclusive behind the scenes look at the exhibition presented in Barcelona.


A Tale of Two Cities in Ten Minutes: In Discussion with Tim Pethick, Director of Nomad Exhibitions

A Tale of Two Cities is an exhibition concept developed by Nomad Exhibitions and Historic Environment Scotland in collaboration with host museums around the world. The exhibition was launched at Nanjing Museum, China in 2013 and was recently presented at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. A new presentation which explores Edinburgh and Lisbon will be displayed at the Museum of Lisbon, Portugal from June 2016. Tim Pethick, who oversaw the project as Director of Nomad Exhibitions, introduces the exhibition and gives us a glimpse behind the scenes.

EM: What is A Tale of Two Cities? 

TP: A Tale of Two Cities is a collaborative curatorial exhibition project which allows two global urban locations and two collections to be presented to local audiences from a fresh perspective.

I think that architectural and city museums can have quite a challenging time appealing to repeat and local audiences, as residents of cities often feel that they already know all there is about their home city. The iconic treasures of a city become familiar over time. People perhaps don’t have that expectation that they can learn something new. In fact, city archives are extraordinary resources with huge amounts of material which the public are not always aware of. A Tale of Two Cities addresses this issue by asking: what techniques can local museums employ to inspire local people to learn more about their city? The exhibition introduces a second city, Edinburgh, to the story, as a point of comparison. Through interest in a new and unfamiliar city, visitors will rediscover and newly discover material relating to their own city. So I suppose there is a paradox lying at the heart of the exhibition concept - it can take material from another city to shed light on our own cities, gaining understanding of the familiar by exploring the unknown.

It is not essential that the cities chosen for the exhibition share precise characteristics or phases of development with Edinburgh. The exhibition is preoccupied with presenting differences as much as it is with presenting similarities. We have found that sometimes there can even be more to learn from contrasting and comparing than from common ground!

Another key aspect of A Tale of Two Cities is the spirit of partnership. The project is always founded on an equal curatorial partnership. I think that the equal contribution is really quite rare in co-curated exhibition development. The result has been the creation of totally unique narratives and the development of valuable relationships, which endure long after the exhibitions conclude.

EM: Why is Edinburgh such an effective city for comparison?

TP: Edinburgh is extremely effective in the context of comparison: it is a significant European capital and it is compact in scale, with around half a million occupants. Within this relatively small city we have very clearly defined areas of development which apply to specific periods in history. We have fewer vertical layers of history; in Edinburgh, as the need to expand has grown, the city has moved outwards - not upwards! Many cities, London or Paris for example, have redeveloped their medieval heart to create 18th–19th century classical cities from the centre outwards. But Edinburgh has created this new development outside of the old town; the old and new towns are separated. Beyond the old and new towns, there is a further modern city. This method of urban development has