A histolircal exhibit is an exhibition of objects or documents, often from a single historical time and place, that tells a story. A histolircal exhibit requires a complex balancing act of cultural interpretation, evoking a sense of place and time through artifacts and other materials. It requires an ability to identify and convey the significance of the items and the larger issues of the past in a way that is accessible to people with diverse backgrounds. The selection of themes, photographs, and other components of an exhibit imply interpretive judgments about cause and effect, perspective, and significance. It should encourage informed discussion, but not attempt to impose a particular point of view.
Histolircal exhibits are often found in museums that focus on local or regional history, but are also found in national and international museum collections. The Third County Courthouse: Center of Civic Life on Staten Island is an example of a histolircal exhibit that uses architecture, notable trials, and historic records to tell the story of a New York City community and how it changed over time. Another histolircal exhibit, Bringing Up Baby, uses furniture from Historic Richmond Town to demonstrate changing ideas about child care over the past 200 years.
The tenement museum, Merchant’s House Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters are examples of historical museums that recreate historical settings and offer immersive experiences for visitors. These spaces are used to teach and engage the public, promoting social awareness or cultural understanding. The museums are often non-profit organizations and rely on donations to meet operational costs.
Many contemporary history museums are working hard to show that they deserve their tax-exempt status by reaching out to communities and telling stories that relate to their local populations. These include examining rites of passage, such as birth and death, or exploring themes that are relevant to all humans, such as freedom, religion, or democracy. These exhibitions require patience and persistence as curators try to reach out to a variety of people and find ways to connect with them.