Thursday, January 10, 2008

Make the Museum More Like the Science Centre

I am always disheartened when I hear from people that history is boring. History is not boring, it’s an adventure through imagination that the literary, television and film worlds have all realized and taken advantage of. Every cartoon with princesses and dragons is really just a play on medieval history, as are fantasy novels such as Lord of the Rings and even Harry Potter. It’s our desire to go to a world that doesn’t exist but in our imaginations that makes both fantasy and history so exciting for people.

And that’s why I’m so disheartened when I hear from people that history is boring. What they’re really saying is that we’re not telling them a good story. We’re not involving them. Unfortunately, in many cases, the hands-on involvement that places like the Ontario Science Centre are famous for with their scientific marvels and gizmos is just not possible in traditional history museums. You can’t have twenty thousand people playing with rare artifacts and expect no damage to come to the items.

But, just because it’s not possible in traditional history museums doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Pack up the fine china from 1753, take the satin ropes down from around the exhibit and the “do not touch” signs, and make history interactive; imaginative. Kids don’t want to look at things. They want to do things. Even I want to do things when I’m at a museum. Give me a button to press, or an over-the-top actor wandering around creating atmosphere. Give me gadgets to play with. I don’t want to see a rug that Charles I once walked on; I want to see his head fly off as the executioners axe comes down and get splattered with fake blood. Don’t give me text-panels, give me activities. But most of all, tell me a story. Because that’s what history is. A story. Our story.

And we shouldn’t expect people to memorize our story. Instead, we should make it something worth listening to; worth participating in.

Why does the mission statement of the Ontario Science Centre say it aims first and foremost “to delight” whereas the Royal Ontario Museum seeks to “be a world leader in communicating its research and collections”?

Delight me!


Nana Robinette said...

Hi Adam,

Interesting blog!

I would have to say I agree and disagree with your idea. The idea of delighting an audience is great and I am sure lots of bored children and adults want more 'button and blood' experiences. Personally, I believe there should be a spectrum. There should be a place for the traditional (stuffy/rigid/hands-off) presentation of history, as well as the 'wow' factor type. We need to continue to preserve the past, as well as celebrate and engage with it!

Do you want the audience to embrace/mingle with authentic artifacts? Would you settle for replicas?

Keep up the blogging - it's always an attention-grabbing read.

Adam Crymble said...

Thanks for the comment Nana,

I have to say when it comes to authentic artifacts, I'd rather the kids kept their destructive little hands off them; I'm all-for a room set up with replicas. Very few people would know the difference anyway and most children would get far more out of touching and trying than looking.

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