Monday, April 15, 2013

Memorable Museums

M is for Museums
Marvelous? or Miserable?

We visited quite a few different sorts of museums on our trip. I've already written about two of them during the A to Z challenge: the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the Tannehill Iron Works Museum, and I will post pictures from the White Sands Missile Range Museum for the letter 'W'. 

In this post I'd like to consider what makes a museum memorable. Think about it... what is it that makes you come away from a museum in awe? What makes you enthused about what you are seeing? What works for you?

Here are some key factors for me:

Showcasing something of Interest: I am certain that our individual interests play a huge role in determining whether we care for a museum, or whether it makes us yawn. (And museums do make me yawn... and when I yawn, tears come from my eyes. People must think I am very touched by what I am seeing, or very sad!)

At White Sands, Mr. Dreamy enjoyed seeing different sorts of missiles and armament, while I enjoyed reading a first person account of a woman whose family ranched the lands taken over by the missile range. 

How wonderful that this museum had enough variety to appeal to two people with very different interests. 

Presentation: Museums have lots of stories to tell. The way that the information is shared is another key to making a museum memorable, at least for me. I enjoyed the information in the Military Intelligence Museum at Fort Huachuca, AZ, but I came away bleary-eyed from reading. 

Sometimes, less is more. One or two pieces, with interesting descriptions might have far more impact than a case full of artifacts. And, personally, I prefer to learn about something using different modalities. I appreciated the New Mexico Museum of Space History for that reason. 

Displays were varied. Some required reading, others had visual displays. Some could be touched. This rocket display allowed visitors to hear the countdown and roar of different sorts of rocket engines. 

Emotional Connection: Another facet of a memorable museum, for me, is a visceral connection. Museums that suck me into a foregone time reel me in like a fish on a line. We were met at the gates of  Fort Clinch State Park in Florida by a 19th century soldier who stayed in character throughout a brief tour of the park. 

We could hear the sound of a fife wafting on the breeze. I was admonished for not having a bonnet covering my hair. I felt as if I would turn around to see soldiers occupying the fort. I felt as if I had been pulled into that life, long ago.

There is a Chinese proverb that states:
Tell me, and I'll forget.
Show me, and I'll remember.
Involve me, and I understand.

My favorite museums live by this creed. They encourage involvement... they have visitors 'do' something. Even the simple act of turning a page activates my brain - well, yeah, I am a simple sort of person ;-)    

In my opinion, good museums awaken the visitor (even though I might be seen yawning!) They should tickle an area of the brain and inspire and excite the visitor, and leave the person wanting more, or leave that person shaking her head as she comes away with an unexpected turn-around of thinking after seeing something from a different point of view. Museums enrich my life.

What about you? What makes your favorite museum memorable? What have I missed in trying to elucidate the key aspects of fabulous museums?


  1. Whenever I go anywhere, I like to visit a local museum, just to get an idea of the history of the area. I don'y always remember much, but it's still nice to look around.

  2. Hi Dreaming!
    I think you have hit on the most important factors that make a museum memorable. I would add two things to your list.

    The first, learning something new, is very important to me, and I think you implied that in interests. The teacher in me just wants to bring learning out more.

    The second really applies to museums in the area in which you live, and that is volunteering. To volunteer at a museum adds so much to your learning and understanding; and in many museums, the volunteers really have an impact on the visitors. That interactive "action" is critical.

    My favorite museum is the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. I have been going there for almost 30 years; and I had the great joy of volunteering in the fossil lab and Prehistoric Journey and working on a couple of digs in the Bridger Basin in Wyoming. I had to stop when my increasing work load as a teacher became too time consuming. Now that I'm retired I hope to go back. But I'n not committing to anything until a year has passed.

    I always enjoy your posts!

  3. Everything you stated works for me as well when I visit a museum. What you just did for me, is to inspire me to go to a couple of our local museums in our small town. I'm making a note right now. I'll take my camera and go.

  4. I love that Chinese proverb! So true. What makes a museum memorable for me is if it has something I am interested in, has something I have interact with, and is visually stimulating. I really enjoy these small local museums in our MetroParks, as they showcase local wildlife and flowers and plants. Detroit has a great Science Center that is very interactive and is fun to go to, as well.

  5. We love visiting museums on our travels. Haven't been to most of these so I'll be writing them down just in case we are ever in the areas. What makes a museum memorable for us is a lot of things - I love ones that really get your imagination flowing and teach you a lot by offering well laid out and education displays and not just stuff with no information with it. Emotional connection is also very important, I completely agree there!

  6. I love that quote! Absolutely true, we need to be involved on some level to take away something of value that we will remember. The museum that made the strongest impact on me was the Holocaust museum at the infamous German concentration camp Dachau. I wrote a post about this experience on 4/7/12 entitled Never Forget.

  7. For me, the smaller the museum the better because I lose interest quickly, even in something I am interested in to start with (if that makes any sense!)


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