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What Museums Can Teach Us About the Emotional Dimensions of Learning

What Museums Can Teach Us About the Emotional Dimensions of Learning

Transformative learning is as much about processing emotions as it is about cognitive development.

Snippet: “Nearly a quarter century ago, Warren Leon, the director of interpretation at Old Sturbridge Village, and Roy Rosenzweig, the Mark and Barbara Fried Chair of History and founding director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, published History Museums in the United States, a pioneering critical assessment of history museums, historic houses, historic sites and open-air living history museums. Fifteen scholars and museum staff members examined the versions of the past that these institutions offered the public and evaluated the extent to which they reflected the latest historical scholarship and incorporated the perspectives of those people—women, Blacks, Native Americans, Latino/as, immigrants and workers—whose history had previously been ignored or caricatured.

Their conclusions were indeed highly critical:

  • Financial and institutional considerations too often resulted in a bland, insipid and wishy-washy portraits of the past.
  • The largely white, upper-middle-class audience, often accompanied by children, resulted in exhibits, themes and interpretations that avoided controversial subjects, with even historic battlefields downplaying the soldiers’ experience.
  • The historical reality that many of these institutions displayed was highly biased, overemphasizing elites, prosperous farmers and planters, and pioneers and reinforcing cultural myths about progress and American exceptionalism.
  • The reliance on traditional museum artifacts—letters, books, paintings and photographs—tended “to force historical material into certain conventional modes” of display that rendered visitors passive and unreflective.

In the years since Leon and Rosenzweig’s volume was published, history museums and historic sites have undergone a reckoning of, yes, historic proportions. New kinds of history museums opened, focusing on civil rights, African American history and culture, Native Americans, and the Holocaust, as well as on topics like toys and play and fashion.”

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Posted on: October 27, 2022, 6:55 am Category: Uncategorized

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