This week’s readings all had to do with museum education, and how best to meet the educational needs of museum visitors. Across these readings there was a consistent emphasis on how to meet the needs of children, families, and adults as they visit museums. They also discussed why museums should do community outreach, what they can provide to student field trips, what they should do to accommodate family visits, and adult visitors.
The Museum Educator’s Manual by Anna Johnson, et. al., tackles an abundance of things to consider for museum educators and institutions including museum educators. What I found particularly noteworthy, however, was the emphasis given to outreach and museum partnerships with schools. Chapter 7 of this text is devoted to explaining the benefits of museums partnering with local schools and performing community outreach. In explaining why to do outreach in schools, Nancy Cutler argued that museums have a limited impact within their own walls, and reaching beyond those walls into the community to demonstrate their significance is beneficial to both the community and the museum or institution. Two examples of outreach to schools that Cutler outlined were the Traveling Trunks, which contain objects or materials from the museum that schoolteachers can present to their students and with which they can interact, and a Mobile Museum, which is essentially a van or larger vehicle equipped to carry portable exhibits into classrooms or into the community. The idea here is that by bringing these exhibits or materials and making them accessible to children at school they gain an early appreciation for museums, particularly if they are in a school that cannot supply field trips to museums.
Field trips, however, as explained by Alan Marcus, Jeremy Stoddard, and Walter Woodward in their Introduction to Teaching History with Museums, can be much more influential in teaching history to students, both because it is a different environment from their usual classroom and it affords them the freedom to pursue history however they choose to engage it. The job of the museum, however, is how best to engage those students; how to enhance their historical understandings and what their teachers or museum educators need to know for those students to get the most from their visit. To enhance the students’ understandings of the past the authors presented a three-part response for what the museum can do: 1) encourage historical empathy (teach them to understand decision-making in the past), 2) a critical and reflective stance toward the past (provide them the skills to perceive history as a constructed presentation thereof and to analyze it), 3) connecting the past and the present (presenting the past in a way recognizable to them in the present). In following these three guidelines, museum educators can provide their student visitors with the skills to be better historical thinkers and gain more from their social studies education.
In terms of engaging students in history through educational settings, these past two works presented impressive means for museums and museum educators to do so. But what is the museum’s role when students or children visit with their families? Judy Rand’s “Write and Design with Families in Mind,” in Connecting Kids to History with Museum Exhibition asserted that the goal for museums is to consider not what the material is, but who the audience is and how to cater to them. One of the most interesting assessments that Rand put forth in this text is the comparison of families and hunter-gatherers. She argued that for museums to provide the best educational experiences for families, they must realize that families hunt and gather facts separately and come together sharing what they learned. To work along those lines, museums must provide concise and engaging exhibits that allow for swift recovery of information for swift dissemination from parent to child.
These previous texts have thus far focused on what museums can do to engage younger audiences, but Charles Gunther’s “Museum Goers: Life-styles and Learning Characteristics,” focused on what adults look for in visiting museums, and what museums do or should do to accommodate those needs. The bottom line, according to Gunther, is that adults visit museums to have a good time, one way or another, and to categorize what goes into that positive experience, Gunther produced five attributes for such a positive experience: 1) opportunity to learn, 2) social interaction, 3) the challenge of new experiences, 4) participating actively, 5) feeling comfortable in one’s surroundings. Although Gunther described different kinds of museum visitors and their differing needs and expectations, he argued that the most important thing is that museums and museum educators need to work for all of these groups, and recognizing them as varying audiences is a good way to start.
The central point that came to me throughout this week’s readings is that no matter what age group you cater to, you need to find ways to meet the needs of all visitors so that anyone who walks into your museum or exhibition feels comfortable and adequately engaged enough to take from that museum or exhibit what both the institution and the visitor wants them to. It will be interesting in the coming weeks to see how we strive for this with our own hypothetical exhibition project in class.
Although this blog post has already, once again, run longer than I anticipated, I want to take another brief paragraph to describe the two critical things I learned from our oral history interview exercise in class last week. I interviewed one of my classmates with the following questions: 1) What kind of diseases do you generally associate with serious public health concerns? Why? 2) What kind of preventative measures should be taken, and by whom, to prevent serious public health crises? 3) What do you know about influenza? Do you think this is a major public health issue? 4) Do you typically get the flu shot? Why or why not? 5) Do you think that the flu shot is a satisfactory preventative measure in preventing epidemics? From these questions, two of the most important things I learned were 1) how to develop a follow-up question on the fly, and 2) a question that you might think is straight forward and will give you a certain kind of answer might not. Language is not perfect and if the narrator takes your question and runs in a different direction it is imperative to both document what they say, because it is important, but also be able to redirect the conversation in your originally intended direction.
 Cutler, Nancy, “Reaching Out into the Community,” in The Museum Educator’s Manual, ed. by Anna Johnson, et. al. (Alta Mira Press, 2009): p. 87.
 Ibid, p. 88.
 Alan Marcus, Jeremy Stoddard, and Walter Woodward, “Introduction,” in Teaching History with Museums: Strategies for K-12 Social Studies (New York: Routledge, 2012): p. 5.
 Ibid, pp. 25-29.
 Judy Rand, “Write and Design with Families in Mind,” in Connecting Kids to History with Museum Exhibition, ed. by D. Lynn McRainey and John Russick (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2010): pp. 260-262.
 Charles F. Gunther, “Museum Goers: Life-styles and Learning Characteristics,” in The Educational Role of the Museum, ed. by Eilean Hooper-Greenhill (New York: Rutledge, 1999): pp. 118-119.
 Ibid, p. 124.