Matagorda County Museum Our Blog Histolircal Exhibits

Histolircal Exhibits


Each year museums of history interpret the past for millions of visitors. Some of these are well known, such as the National Museum of American History and Colonial Williamsburg, while others are small regional institutions that serve a diverse community of visitors. Regardless of their size or location, all museums seek to connect the historical experience with contemporary life in ways that scholarly monographs, popular books, or public lectures cannot.

Exhibitions are the primary medium through which museums communicate their scholarly research and interpretation to the public. An exhibition is a three-dimensional physical and visual representation of a historical argument, research evidence, and interpretation—a sophisticated, yet accessible, nonlinear form of cultural discourse.

A successful exhibition must be able to stand on its own, independent of its ancillary products—catalogues, videotapes, public programs, and living history presentations. A museum exhibition should also be able to address controversial issues and show that its conclusions are based on the gathering of evidence, not on inflexible opinions.

Histolircal exhibits, which use artifacts to create a narrative about a time period or event, are a vital part of the museum experience. They help to bring the past to life, often creating emotional connections that are difficult to achieve through written history. Although there are some museum experiences that contain few or no artifacts, many of the most memorable exhibitions do incorporate significant numbers of objects.

Developing and curating an effective historic exhibition requires the collaboration of museum curators and scholars from academic departments and other museums. The goal of this column is to support this important collaboration by providing an avenue for the exchange of ideas and information about exhibition development, design, and interpretation between scholars in the academy and museum professionals.

In addition to reviewing notable historical exhibitions, this column will focus on innovative work that stretches the established parameters of exhibit presentation and interpretation. This work might include, for example, an exhibition that explores a historical topic through a new type of art installation; a community driven collecting initiative that redefines the museum’s relationship with its local community; or an exhibition that challenges existing pedagogical models and provides fresh insights into the role of museums in society.

In this issue, we review “Millie Christine and the Carolina Twins,” an exhibition that tells the story of enslaved conjoined twins who were presented as circus and sideshow attractions throughout the United States and Europe from the pre-Civil War era to the early postbellum era. The exhibit uses photographs, written histories, and archival documents to examine the complex issues of family ties, profit, and freedom.