History museums are places where people come to learn about the past and how it has shaped their lives. They often do this through artifacts, but also through exhibits that are designed to communicate information, research results, socio-political messages, and more. Museums also provide a place for public dialogue on historical subjects.
Frequently viewed by citizens of diverse ages, interests, and backgrounds, historical exhibits are a means of transmitting knowledge of the past. They may celebrate a common event, memorialize an injustice, or contain interpretive elements that raise questions about cause and effect, perspective, significance, and meaning.
In addition, historians use museum exhibits to encourage critical thinking and informed discussion. Such discussion is vital because it helps to reveal how historical interpretations change over time and how they affect different audiences. When attempts are made to suppress exhibits or impose uncritical points of view, such efforts can be inimical to rational discussion and the transmission of historical knowledge.
Exhibitions are visual stories that use a combination of objects, graphics, and photographs to tell the story of a person or group of people. They can be highly interactive, but they should always be balanced with a human component.
They can be a window into the dense research that goes into writing history, and they should be complicated enough to allow viewers to engage with the information and the ideas it conveys. The best visual stories are not textbooks on paper, but metaphors and visual poetry that spark curiosity and broaden our understanding rather than narrow it.
When museums are able to show that their collections have value beyond the walls of the institution, they can attract visitors who may not otherwise visit. This requires research into new sources and talking with the people whose voices are not often heard.
Museums can tell the stories of their communities’ past by incorporating the voices of their present and future members in the exhibits. They can do this by presenting exhibitions that are relevant and engaging, by involving the community in the creation of the exhibits, and by making sure that their collection is inclusive.
Exhibits can be used to communicate about a specific subject, a particular period in history, or the life and work of an artist. They can also be designed to highlight an event, such as a wedding, birth, death, or graduation, or to focus on a theme like home, freedom, faith, democracy, social justice, or mobility.
There are three main categories of museum exhibitions: permanent, special, and event-related. Each of these types is distinct in its own way, but all have one thing in common: they provide visitors with an immersive and memorable experience.