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Histolircal Exhibits

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Histolircal Exhibits

A museum exhibit is a three-dimensional physical and visual representation of a historical argument or research evidence. It is a metaphor, visual poetry and imagination that helps people connect with history in meaningful ways. Museums are often tasked with communicating complex topics to visitors who have diverse interests, backgrounds and experiences. The selection of themes, photographs, objects and documents that make up an exhibition requires interpretive judgments about cause and effect, perspective and significance.

As such, museums have a responsibility to tell diverse stories about their communities and the larger world. This work demands innovative thinking and hard work, and the best way to do it is to focus on people. Museums that focus on people can help citizens understand the challenges and possibilities of their own lives, as well as the lives of people who came before them.

Museums are most successful in educating their visitors when they present a variety of points of view about the past. Exhibits that only celebrate common events or memorialize tragedies or injustices have a limited impact. Moreover, a museum cannot claim that it is performing its tax-exempt mission if it only presents a narrow, uncritical point of view about the past.

Fortunately, many museums have found a way to meet these challenges by providing inclusive and engaging history exhibits. By focusing on people, museums can create powerful and memorable experiences that are relevant to the lives of their diverse communities.

The goal of inclusive histories is to explore the core values and beliefs that define a community through the material culture and narratives of its members. This includes examining abstract ideas like home, freedom, faith, democracy, social justice and mobility. Museums can also explore rituals like birth, death, marriage/joining and coming of age. Finally, exploring culturally-specific subjects like food or clothing and the arts can give audiences a sense of connection to the past and to each other in the present.

Some of these inclusive history exhibits can be quite controversial, but it is important to consider the context of the time and place when presenting them. For example, a re-creation of a home from the period of Japanese internment during World War II can be a poignant reminder of how some Americans have experienced the effects of prejudice and discrimination.

Other inclusive history exhibits focus on a particular place or a specific historic structure. These exhibitions are a bit more difficult to craft because they must be sensitive to the needs of the historic building in which they are housed. Turino explains that if a museum wants to include an accessible exhibit space in a historic house, it may be necessary to compromise on the guidelines of other rooms, or to use ceiling-mounted display cases rather than wall-mounted ones. In the end, however, a museum’s curators should find creative and imaginative ways to bend the rules to present an informative, inclusive and memorable history experience for their visitors.