(Appendix F: Transforming the National Museum of American
History, Behring Center)
3. Visitors to NMAH
We develop exhibitions and programs for our visitors,
not for our own edification.
Piquing the interests of visitors in the Hands
On Science Lab, part of Science in American Life
From existing studies of the Museum's audiences, we know:
- Visitors and potential visitors consider NMAH to be both an educational
institution and a place of entertainment. Audience studies show
that Americans identify NMAH with heritage education and that they want
to share this heritage with their children and grandchildren. They think
of the Smithsonian as: "the American experience" and "an important museum
for passing on to the kids the sense of what being American means."
- Visitors and potential visitors to NMAH are increasingly sophisticated
in their expectations. They want an active experience, not a passive
one, and are looking for ways to make connections between what they
see in the Museum and in their lives and today's world. They come with
a sense of inquiry either consciously or unconsciously: "What's here
for me?" "How can I connect this program or exhibition to who I am,
what I'm interested in, or what I need to know?"
- Visitors come to NMAH for the social experience as well as an interest
in American history. Visitors, whether first-time or repeat, expect
to have experiences involving real things, learning new information,
and spending time with friends or family.
- Visitors expect both physical and conceptual orientation. Visitors
have expressed particular interest in time lines in order to understand
the relative nature of history as well as where to find the exhibitions
that represent the time periods they want to explore.
- Visitors are interested in diverse stories told from multiple perspectives.
According to focus groups, the three top-ranking expectations in a museum
of American history are:
- "learning about famous Americans and seeing the things that belonged
- "learning how ordinary people lived in the past," and
- "learning about the diverse backgrounds and beliefs of the American
- Visitors appreciate different approaches to history and varied
presentation media. Focus groups reveal that people enjoy opportunities
- "learn how new information about our past changes our understanding
- "see historical events from different points of view," and
- "learn how technology works."
Both adults and children emphasize how much they enjoy hands-on experiences
that help them understand concepts that cannot be conveyed solely through
static artifacts and labels.
- Visitors to NMAH are increasingly diverse, and what they take away
from the experience is highly individual and unpredictable. Successful
experiences must incorporate the visitors' need both to find something
personally meaningful and to learn something new or reaffirm previous
knowledge or experience.
Making campaign buttons in The American Presidency:
A Glorious Burden
These understandings provide the context not only for
conceptualizing new exhibitions and programs but also for the larger planning
and redesign of the Museum.
Table of Contents | Appendix
F.4. Developing Exhibitions -->