An Observation on Museums

Cds cds IMG 4365 6 7 tonemappedI have very clear memories of being dragged round museums as a child… with dragged being the operative word. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in history; it’s just that what I love about history is the stories of people and their actions, and I found it hard to see the stories in the dry, static, and distant displays that seemed characteristic of museums back then.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’ve spent years avoiding museums.

Two years ago I decided to put my childhood memories to the test, and bravely went forth to once more visit a museum. To my amazement I found the whole experience had changed – decidedly for the better! No longer is a visit to a museum limited to walking long corridors and glancing at distant displays and artefacts. Instead, it seems museums are focussing on the stories that make up history, and are making displays as interactive as possible, with sounds, movies, and tactile displays that really help to bring history to life.

To be fair, I’ve really only visited museums in Poland and, for all I know, this change may be a purely Polish phenomenon. Some of the museums where I think it’s been done really well are the Schindler Museum in Krakow, and both the Warsaw uprising Museum and the Museum of Polish Jews in Warsaw.

In these museums I felt we were able to immerse ourselves into the history in a very real way and, as a blind tourist, I found the excellent audio guides gave me even more insight into the exhibits.

Of course, there were a few occasions that poor Craig had to wait for me to finish listening to a segment of the audio guide when he had already learned all he wanted from walking round the room. But I’m pretty sure I repaid his patience by telling him extra snippets from the audio guide that he wouldn’t otherwise have learned.

On the down side, it meant that a museum visit for which we had allocated an hour often took us a lot longer –like two or 3 hours. But hey, we were on holiday so it wasn’t like we had any real deadlines to stick to.

I really hope this isn’t just a Polish thing because I promise you I’ll be visiting museums wherever we decide to go next… and I’d really hate to be disappointed!

(photo by Craig Strachan)

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