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Histolircal Museum Exhibits

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Museum exhibits convey information about the past to visitors of diverse ages, interests, and backgrounds. They may celebrate common events, memorialize tragedies and injustices, or explore abstract ideas of home, freedom, faith, or democracy. The process of selecting themes, photographs, objects, documents and other components to include in an exhibit implies interpretive judgments about cause and effect, perspective, and significance. Attempts to suppress an exhibit or impose an uncritical point of view, however widely shared, are inimical to informed discussion of history.

Creating a histolircal exhibit requires a great deal of research and creative visual storytelling. The best exhibits are more than just history put up on walls; they offer metaphor, visual poetry and imagination that encourage curiosity rather than merely confirming stereotypes.

Historical museums are often nonprofit, meaning that the money earned from their tours and other activities goes back into the museum itself instead of being paid out to the owners or shareholders. This enables them to focus on educating and providing access to collections that would be too expensive or unavailable to commercial enterprises.

Many historical museums are based on historic sites or other buildings that have been adapted for display purposes. Others are dedicated to exploring specific aspects of historical life through specialized collections. The Tenement Museum in New York City, for example, focuses on the domestic lives of a working class family in a crowded tenement; the Merchant’s House Museum in Brooklyn recreates a late 19th century merchant’s home to tell the story of American commerce; and the Met Cloisters, a Smithsonian Affiliate in Stony Brook, New York, is dedicated to European medieval art and architecture.

There are also “traveling” or temporary exhibitions that can be hosted by multiple museums in a given region. These usually have a short duration, from just a few weeks to months. Many of these exhibitions are focused on a single artist or an artistic movement and can be seen in various locations at the same time. The Minnesota Historical Society Traveling Exhibits program is a great example of this format.