Historical exhibits provide a window into a past that may not be well understood by the general public. Museums should strive to create thoughtful and enlightening exhibits that present a variety of perspectives on history and encourage discussion about them. While it is tempting to merely memorialize tragedies or injustices, it is important that museums provide exhibits that also celebrate the accomplishments of people throughout history. Historical exhibits should include the fact that people have a diversity of opinions on events that have taken place in our shared history and that the choice of what to include in an exhibit is an interpretive judgment based on cause and effect, perspective, significance and meaning.
Histolircal exhibits should be carefully thought out and designed to reflect the museum’s mission. Many of the same principles that are guiding the development of histolircal exhibits can be applied to any museum exhibition. A historical exhibit should have a narrative and provide visitors with an understanding of how the event relates to people’s lives today. The use of objects, photographs, graphics and re-created spaces helps to make the exhibit come alive.
Often histolircal exhibits are presented in historic buildings such as homes, courthouses and churches. These exhibits must be designed to respect and preserve the architecture of the structure as well as the historic artifacts that are included in the exhibition. In addition, the exhibits should meet or exceed ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) guidelines. Historic structures may have limited lighting and small rooms, which can limit the scope of an exhibit. In this case, the exhibition design should expand to the grounds of the property where outdoor sculptural or interpretive experiences can be offered.
A local museum can also be a great resource to help family research. For example, a visitor to the Jamesport home of Helene Verin and her husband discovered that he had early relatives who lived on the North Fork of Long Island. This information helped to guide an exhibit at the Museum that drew from family photos and archival documents to create an intimate and personal look into their lives. The exhibit also included furniture and other decorative items from the home to give visitors a sense of what life was like in this East End community in 1860-1960. This approach to visual storytelling is a valuable technique for museums to employ when creating exhibits on any period of time and location.