I read another blog post from Museum Hack, which is one of their case studies, called Emotionally Charged Spaces: Why You Should Create Immersive Tours with Sensitive Subject Matter. While this was a case study of one of the services they performed for the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba, there is a lot to learn about the challenges of telling a story of a difficult past. According to the blog post, the Canadian Museum of Human Rights’ mission “to create lasting global change in the field of human rights, shining a spotlight on some of the most egregious violations of human rights around the world, and to inspire activism.” To help fulfill the mission, Museum Hack provided the staff training on how storytelling can help people connect with the subject matter the museum presents.
Museum Hack uses the case studies in their blog not only to share what they were able to do for the museums that asked for their services but Museum Hack shared case studies like this one to show what museums can learn from these organizations.
As we know as museum educators, it is important to know how to tell a narrative or story effectively to show audiences how significant these stories are to be able to understand our past or subject matter. Museum Hack pointed out that the goal for programming on difficult subjects is for visitors to be educated, informed, and inspired to make change instead of leaving the place depressed. Also, it stated creating programming and telling stories that both acknowledge the gravity and seriousness of issues while getting audiences engaged without overwhelming them is a challenging objective but worth the effort when received positively. As a public historian, I have both learned and practiced storytelling of difficult subjects, especially slavery.
My previous experience was more focused on doing research for Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington for their symposium program discussing slavery in 17th century Connecticut. In addition to the research presented at the symposium, there were other colleagues that did their own research and presented their findings to share with the community of professionals and individuals interested learning more about the subject.
This experience is one of the examples of the points the blog made that not many challenging subjects are told through engaging programming but mostly through lecture series. To create more engaging programs and storytelling on difficult subject matter, there must be human connection to the topic discussed.
In the case study, Museum Hack revealed that by having guides share their personal connections it will further humanize what the visitor is interacting with. I agree with this because to have relevance in museums, especially with museums discussing difficult subject matter, visitors have to recognize the human connection in these stories. Whether they have their own personal connections to difficult subject matter or not, visitors should at least be able to learn from and understand those who have a personal connection.
Museum Hack also briefly talked about one of their best practices called scaffolding. According to the blog post, scaffolding is a way to strategically maximize visitor engagement throughout a tour. This practice is vital to making sensitive environments less overwhelming for visitors. Scaffolding is a practice museum professionals continue to adapt the museums’ stories to the visitor tours.
What we should take away from the Museum Hack blog post is when presented with the challenge to create an engaging tour with difficult subject matter it is important to make sure there is human connection with the stories. This is also an example of how relevance can be used to encourage engaging visitors to the museums.
What did you think of Museum Hack’s blog post on engaging in emotionally charged spaces? Have you seen scaffolding in other emotionally charged spaces? Share your thoughts. Here is the link to the original post:
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