News / Arts & Entertainment

Living Museums Bring Static History to Life

These women are among dozens of characters who depict the inhabitants of Colonial Williamsburg, interacting with visitors as they do so. (Carol M. Highsmith)
These women are among dozens of characters who depict the inhabitants of Colonial Williamsburg, interacting with visitors as they do so. (Carol M. Highsmith)
Ted Landphair
This is the time of year when thousands of tourists descend upon Washington, D.C., to see the capital’s great monuments and museums, including the National Gallery of Art and an array of Smithsonian museums.

These are what might be called “static” museums. You walk in, see the pioneer Wright Brothers plane hanging from the ceiling or a great Vermeer painting, or a display of American Indian artifacts.  

You look at them, maybe read a placard, or perhaps wear a headset in which a narrator gives you more background about what you’re seeing.  

But in today’s world of spectacular theme parks and dazzling electronic diversions, curators at smaller museums around the country found that busy travelers - especially those with kids - were not coming the way they used to. 
Living Museums Bring History to Life
Living Museums Bring History to Lifei
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X


Looking at pictures of, or by, long-dead artists or cultural pioneers just wasn’t entertaining.

They needed to make history and art come to life, to somehow transport visitors to time periods or experiences being displayed.  

So a whole new kind of museum was born - the “living history” museum.    

Places such as Williamsburg, Virginia, the first and perhaps most successful of these models. It’s a completely re-created village from the days when the town was the colonial capital of Virginia. 
This is an example of a carefully collected, fascinating, but traditionally static museum exhibit - in this case, of old-time farm implements at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. (Carol M. Highsmith)This is an example of a carefully collected, fascinating, but traditionally static museum exhibit - in this case, of old-time farm implements at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. (Carol M. Highsmith)
x
This is an example of a carefully collected, fascinating, but traditionally static museum exhibit - in this case, of old-time farm implements at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. (Carol M. Highsmith)
This is an example of a carefully collected, fascinating, but traditionally static museum exhibit - in this case, of old-time farm implements at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. (Carol M. Highsmith)

There, characters in 18th-Century costumes fire off cannons, parade like British soldiers, farm gardens using massive plow horses, sing drinking songs, and even serve up tankards of beer to go with them.  

And visitors get to put their heads and hands in the stocks for a photograph, help the tinsmith make spoons, or feed yarn to women in costume who are weaving.

But historical purists say all this fun stretches the truth of what life was really like which, in many cases, was hard, even brutal. They fuss that tourists come away enchanted but having learned very little.

The counter argument is that if visitors can discover even a few things about, say, America’s whaling tradition or the real First Thanksgiving - and have a good time doing it - that’s more than they’d get out of looking at a bunch of boring displays.

You May Like

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

"Soul Lounge" host Shawna Renee catches up with soul singer and songwriter Russell Taylor to hear what he’s been up to since winning the VH1 "You Oughta Know" title in 2013. She also convinces him to share a few songs from his album "War of Hearts."