The Power in Personal Connections

Recently, my classmates and I traveled to New York City aka the Big Apple. Since we are all museum studies students, we visited places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Historical Society. During the trip, some of the exhibits that we visited focused on struggles in American history. Two exhibits stood out to me due to the way that they were presented. The museums made these exhibits personal. Each visitor could make a connection with the content. The people were real and had a story.

The New York Historical Society’s Inclusion/Exclusion is an exhibit that tells the tale of America’s relationship with China, Chinese immigrants, and Chinese Americans. The museum chose to tell personal stories throughout the exhibit. After a

Dioramas from the New York Historical Society
Dioramas from the New York Historical Society

brief introduction of early Chinese immigrant (with the use of dioramas), the exhibit showcased a reconstruction of Angel Island, the point of entry for Chinese immigrants. There was a reconstructed room where Americans questioned Chinese immigrants relentlessly. However, visitors could make the strongest connections thanks to their graphic novel style posters. These posters depict a modern Chinese American family, the Chins. The comic shows how the family reacted to the changes of the time such as the Immigration reforms and the Uncle confessing he was a paper son to the US government. The art showed the concerns of the family as these events transpired.

Meanwhile the Tenement Museum allows visitors to dive into the personal stories. The museum is housed in an authentic building. The tour I went on, Shop Life, presented a German American bar. Visitors walked directly into the bar. They see what might have in the bar at the time. During the tour, we learned about how successful the occupants were despite the hardships of the time and how people would work themselves to death. The technical part of the tour had personal objects when scanned that presented videos, transcripts, and photos to the visitors. I was able to pick and choose the contents. The interpreter presented colorful history and presented a hand-on activity requiring people to portray people that visited the bar. I was a local beer maker. All I knew was that I had a wife and no kids. I could fill in the rest any way I wanted. Was my persona there to compete with another beer maker or was he there because he had a connection to the bar?   For all I know, my beer maker could have been involved with one of the two groups that were housed in that bar. He could have been trying to repeal an act that made the act of selling of merchandises on Sunday illegal or the charitable group.

So why am I going on and on about personal connections?  By being able to present struggle in personal manner, people could (hopefully) understand struggle. Many exhibits excel at that and there are different ways of making content personal. Have you ever experienced an exhibit that allowed you to make a personal connection to struggle? Did it leave you with a lasting impression and a desire to learn more?

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