Living History: Reconstructing the Past for the Edification of the Present
Cranton, Lindsey J.
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Cranton, Lindsey J.
Museum education is an amazingly broad and diverse field. Museums everywhere have their own ideas and procedures that shape the way in which they educate their visitors. Living history has become an increasingly popular way in the United States and abroad in which to educate the general public about historic events that have occurred in our communal pasts. Living history museums are a unique and proportionally small number of museums which postulate that learning can be an immersive and enjoyable experience. Living history museums are life size dioramas that visitors can interact with and that require active participation of all of our human senses. Education at living history museums is designed to be fun and engaging, and is constantly trying to instill in visitors of all ages, a sense of wonder and excitement for both their natural and built environments. This type of ‘edutainment’ is a more viable option to the dry and outdated modes of education that are found in traditional history museums. People learn best from experiences that they enjoy. This new integration of education with entertainment and multiple forms of communication have made living history museums livelier and more engaging places. This paper will examine the educational experience provided for young visitors to America’s living history museums. Two of America’s most notable and popular living history museums will be examined; Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia and the partnership of Historic Jamestowne and the Jamestowne Settlement, Virginia. This capstone will address the question: are living history museums effective tools and institutions for the studying, learning, and understanding of specific time periods in the past? The conclusions in this work are that while historical interpretation at living history museums is not always historically accurate, it is still an effective and engaging set of tools and methods that can be utilized to teach visitors about a diverse range of subjects; anthropology, archaeology, academic history, landscape architecture, social history, historical geography, material cultural studies and interpretation, landscape archaeology, and regional folklife. The first American living history institutions, such as Colonial Williamsburg, helped to create a broad way in which to educate their visitors about the past and the values that were perceived important at the time. More modernized institutions, such as the conjoined Historic Jamestowne and the Jamestowne Settlement have furthered the living history industry’s ability to create meaningful and wondrous programming without straying too far from academically defined ‘truths’.