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Types of Museum Exhibitions


Exhibitions are a form of communication that uses objects, images, and re-created spaces to help visitors understand concepts and ideas about history. Museums use them to tell stories about specific events, individuals, or groups of people.

Historical museum exhibits can be used to convey a wide range of information and socio-political messages to citizens from diverse backgrounds and ages. They may focus on a particular theme, such as race or religion, or on a particular time period, such as the American Civil War. They also may be used to explore broader questions about the past and present.

They may be used to display art, photographs, or other objects and may also include sound clips from oral histories of those who experienced the events they document. Themes in historical exhibits often involve issues of cause and effect, perspective, significance, and meaning.

The best museum exhibitions provide an inclusive visual story that helps visitors connect in some way to bigger ideas through the materials shown. They are metaphors, creative visual storytelling that sparks curiosity and broadens our understanding rather than limiting it.

Exhibits that celebrate and memorialize important events, particularly those that have been overlooked or are under-recognized in the history of a society, are likely to be viewed by citizens of all ages and interests, as well as by members of family groups. They may even be shared with people outside of the museum and used to foster discussion about a topic or idea in the community.

Those that are designed to engage with the public in socially significant ways are a special type of museum exhibition. They tend to be more expansive in scope and include many elements, such as video, audio, and digital content.

Other types of museum exhibits that are designed to highlight a specific subject, such as history, are typically smaller in scale and focused on one or two areas. These are often called “exhibits of specialized interest,” or ESI, and can be found at local and regional levels, such as museums devoted to military history or the arts, as well as at the national level.

These types of ESI are generally less expensive than large-scale, comprehensive exhibitions. Moreover, they may be able to be created and installed more quickly.

They can also be produced on a small budget, which makes them an ideal option for smaller museums with limited resources. They may also be geared towards a very niche audience or a niche area of history, such as women’s history or the history of immigration.

Those that use a combination of these approaches are referred to as hybrid exhibits. They typically contain both a traditional exhibit of artifacts and an interactive component that uses technology to help visitors learn and participate in the history being told. Examples of such hybrid exhibits are the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles and the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.