fall 2013 coverIn this public program facilitated by David Thelen, Ellen Rosenthal and Barbara Franco, leaders in the museum world, speak candidly with public history graduate students at Middle Tennessee State University and local museum professionals about coming to understand the limitations of museum authority, learning to listen to and observe visitors, thinking creatively about how to share authority with museums visitors, and changing their own perspectives on museums from places of education to places that inspire learning.

Takeaway Messages

  1. Professional practice is, in many ways, driving theory and scholarship in the field of public history, and this is particularly true when it comes to understanding audiences and the agency they wield in the production of public history.
  2. Beginning with the pioneering visitor studies of the early 1990s, museum professionals have learned many important things: visitors filter interpretation through the screen of personal experience and memory; visitors crave social interaction and interaction with physical environments; visitors choose to learn and choose what to learn; and visitors often take away unexpected messages and ideas.

Questions for Readers
Barbara Franco notes that John Falk, Lynn Dierking, Jack Tchen, and other practitioner-scholars have been instrumental in making museums more engaging places to learn. Community empowerment, civic engagement, sharing stories, and engaging visitors in experience are familiar aspects of modernity in museum practice. She asks whether we’ve done enough and invites all to consider where practitioners and scholars should go next?