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Living History Museums: The Power and Perils of Performing History

“Living History Museums: The Power and Perils of Performing History,”  a lecture delivered at the Arts Club of Chicago, in conjunction with the Annie Smith exhibition.  January, 2015

Living History Museums like Colonial Williamsburg and Plimoth Plantation have captured visitors’ imagination for decades, promising a step back in time to past worlds, where costumed interpreters interact with visitors. In recent years, some museums have even invited visitors to take part in the action as characters. But these performance practices come with risks: When museums try to balance a comprehensive account of history with a family-friendly experience, whose story ends up being told—and whose are left out? And when museums have taken on darker aspects of the past (slavery, violence), sometimes things have gone wrong. As museums face a greater and greater demand to offer “experiences,” this talk takes a look at some recent museum programming that is working to resolve these thorny issues. 

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