Relevance is Key

In “Storytelling: The Real Work of the Museum” it is explained that museums should use storytelling (or narratives) to engage an audience and grab their attention. I agree that stories probably make the most sense when it comes to relevance. People should leave your museum with memories that will last, but what about the knowledge and teaching opportunities that sometimes don’t come with storytelling? In the article it is mentioned that sometimes storytelling comes above information and that’s okay. What is a museum if not a place for someone to learn? Obviously stories might work for smaller children but making up fictional characters to tell a story in a house museum that had actual characters could be confusing. I think that facts and factual information can be used in a way that allows a narrative but also educates in a memorable way.

There are ways (such as ones discusses in the Participatory Museum  by Nina Simon) to get an audience engaged and involved without sacrificing the learning of historical facts. By going out to the local communities and getting visitors to express their feelings about what they saw, the museum can learn what is needed and wanted by the people coming into its doors. Knowing that you had a part in the upcoming exhibit is extremely memorable.

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I am a graduate student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette studying Public History.

6 thoughts on “Relevance is Key”

  1. I agree, I thought that the storytelling article focused on a good approach for some exhibits but as you said is not a one size fits all approach. Ignoring hard to explain or complicated elements of a narrative in favor of easy story telling could detract from presenting a full picture. Going out and understanding what the community want is a great approach to bring together the narrative and research in order to make a successful exhibit! Could the community also suggest ways that they might like the material presented?


    1. That would be a cool concept, Jacob. Not just to see what the community wants but to also see how they want it displayed. Some of the books on interpretation that I’m reading for comps right now actually suggest that members of the community should be involved in the entire process. So much like the groups we have in class there would be a group of community members as well.

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  2. excellent post this week Abbie. You mentioned that museum staff should be going out to the local communities and getting visitors to express their feelings about what they saw at museums? I definitely agree. Do you think the museum could benefit from the stories of a local community to tell local narratives? if so, what would the staff have to be wary of by doing this?


    1. Community stories can definitely be used to help tell narratives within the exhibit space. Joanne Melish talks about this in her article “Recovering (from) Slavery: Four Struggles to Tell the Truth”. Joanne discusses that professional historians (whether it academic or public) should work along with local (or amateur) historians. Each person/side has a history to tell (meaning that just because there’s historical evidence that a pro historian has to tell doesn’t mean that the local historian who lives that life on a daily basis is wrong or vice versa). With that being said, sometimes the mythology within the community can way on the opinions of the people in that community. So if Community Joe thinks that pink socks are bad because that’s what he’s been told his whole life (even if historical evidence proves that pink socks aren’t in fact bad) then the professional historian should take his opinions/stories as less of factual history and maybe look into the cultural aspect as to why he’s been told this his whole life.


  3. I really like the questions you posed about this week’s readings. I think our readings work well together to emphasize how important it is to involve your community and visitors in creating a successful exhibit. I do think that we should think of “storytelling” as more than a story featuring characters to convey our message. I think it could be a useful tool, in some cases, to make an exhibit friendlier to those people who generally dislike history by including a narrative.


    1. Agreed. I’m not saying don’t use narratives or storytelling to reach certain people. I just think that facts and stories could be incorporated in a way that isn’t just telling stories.


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