Hi Maha. I enjoyed reading your reactions to visiting the British Museum. I used to live and study in the neighborhood and I’ve been to the museum hundreds of times either visiting or just passing through on shortcut across the neighborhood. I was thinking about what you said in terms of how emergent readers come to terms with texts, particularly texts from outside their cultural experience; I expect this is the same for native and non-native users.

Of course, one of the important constraints in assembling a special exhibition like the one you visited is the range of artifacts that are available. The collection at the British Museum is huge but it is largely drawn from parts of the world where the British Empire had a significant presence. Then, the collection reflects the interests, beliefs, and attitudes of the museum curators and acquisition officers throughout the museum’s history.

If we treat the exhibition as a text, then we can situate it rhetorically in terms of speaker, occasion, audience, purpose, subject and tone – following one random paradigm. All of this will be culturally situated, so an audience that comes from outside that envisioned by the author / organizer, might be disoriented, as you say.

When teaching reading, it is important to recognize that culture plays a major rule in a person’s ability to make sense of texts. Novice readers will often complain that they cannot understand and assume the reason is that they do not have enough “vocabulary”. Novice (and even not-so-novice) teachers may also assume that the problem is that students do not have enough “vocabulary”. In this way much precious time is lost as students become more and more frustrated.

What is this sandal from Siwa doing here?

What has an icon from Bulgaria got to do with the sandal?

These African masks are beautiful. Are they more like sandals or icons?

I see your questions and comments as an attempt to find a sensible rhetorical situation for the exhibition. This is a great metaphor for the dilemma facing readers trying to come to grips with challenging texts.