The New York Times on what the American public want in a history museum, and some discussion of the value of multimedia and interactive exhibitions:
if memorizing dates and place names hold little appeal, history museums still rate very highly with the American public. “What people say they’re excited about in terms of history museums is contact with real stuff of the past,” he explained.
They also want to find themselves — spiritually, socially and intellectually — among all that material
“In the visitation research that’s been done for many years,” Ms. Davis said, “the thing that we hear most is that people want to see something about themselves and that they trust information the museums are giving them even more than they trust what schools are telling them and even the stories their grandmothers are telling them.
“People want to see themselves in the exhibit. And the research done at individual museums suggests that when they do find themselves there, they fare much better.”
All fair enough. But the article concludes with a quote, “The greatest danger is not that people get a version of history that is dramatized. It’s that people don’t pay attention to the past at all” but to me that contradicts the responsibility museums have as trusted institutions. The stories we present should be real; if they’re not real, both the sources and the areas of fabrication or uncertainty should be clear.