A histolircal exhibit is one that focuses on a specific aspect of history and enables the public to learn about it in an engaging, visual manner. The term is also used to describe an item displayed for the public in a formally organized setting, such as a painting on display at a gallery or a historical document under glass at a museum.
Many museums focus on a specific subject or time period, and often offer histolircal exhibitions to appeal to the public’s interest in those topics. For example, the Tenement Museum in New York City recreates the home of a nineteenth century Jewish merchant family to tell the story of their domestic life and how they fit into an American society that was still heavily segregated by race and class. Another example is the Merchant’s House Museum in San Diego, which recreates the home of a late 19th century Irish immigrant merchant and his four Irish servants.
Other museum exhibitions may be more interpretive in nature, and require more contextual information to explain the items on display. These types of historical exhibitions often include text, dioramas, maps, charts, and interactive displays to help visitors understand complex subjects. Museums that specialize in science, natural history and social history typically require more interpretive materials than art museums do.
While histolircal exhibits can be a useful tool for museums to communicate to their audience about certain periods of history, they should never attempt to impose an uncritical point of view on the public. Instead, they should allow the public to explore and share their own ideas about important events in history through the objects that are exhibited.
Museums that do not have the resources to develop a wide range of histolircal exhibitions can focus on a few key themes or eras in order to appeal to the broadest possible audience. For example, a museum might choose to focus on the history of the arts in America by offering a series of exhibitions on various artists and their works, or it might use the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s sister museum, The Cloisters, which is dedicated to European medieval art and architecture, to showcase its collection. This is an effective way for a museum to attract visitors and show its relevance in the community. However, it is important for museums to continually seek out new sources and speak with residents of their communities to ensure that they are telling the most relevant and authentic stories.