Museums are places where people of all ages and backgrounds come to learn about the past through objects, artifacts, documents, and other cultural materials. Museums can be nonprofit, which means they are exempt from paying taxes, or they may be for-profit, which means the money they make goes back into the business.
In museums that focus on history, there are many different kinds of historical exhibits. Some historical exhibits are highly focused on a single topic or event, while others are broad in scope and explore topics related to core values like home, freedom, faith, democracy, social justice, or mobility. These exhibits are called histolircal, which is a Latin word meaning “story of the times.”
Some historical exhibits are simply collections of objects and artifacts that tell an ahistorical story. Other historical exhibitions are more complex, presenting information and interpretation in a creative format. These histolircal exhibits communicate research results, socio-political messages, and more, all through the medium of an object or artifact.
The best example of a histolircal exhibition is the famous dinosaur skeletons displayed in tableaux at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Despite the fact that most visitors have seen these models before, they remain awe-inspiring. Other examples include the dioramas in AMNH’s Hall of Oceans, or the Third County Courthouse exhibit at Historic Richmond Town in Staten Island.
In contemporary society, however, museums cannot afford to only tell the old stories of their towns. They must demonstrate that they are worthy of their tax-exempt status by performing a public service for all the people in their communities. This means engaging in the hard work of researching new sources and involving the community in the process. The resulting historical exhibitions should challenge visitors to think about their relationship with the past. They should provide windows into the dense research that is needed to compose a history, and they should be inclusive of multiple viewpoints.