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Those of us who grew up in middle-class homes have in general grown up visiting museums, and so the ways in which museums present information to us seems relatively neutral: We do not see the ways in which museums actively structure our experience, dramatically structure the kinds of knowledge that we bring away from our encounters with them. However, museums and their exhibitions are not neutral. This is not to say that there is any nefarious design involved in the museum world, a coordinated attempt on the part of museum curators across the land to conspire to influence the museum-going public. Rather, as Duncan (1995) argues, the conventions that guide the making of museum exhibitions in any given era reflect certain general principles of the upper-middle classes.

If we look at photographs of museum exhibitions from another era - or recreations of museum exhibitions from previous decades - we can see how these exhibits are arranged in different ways (and contain different kinds of objects) from the exhibits with which we are familiar today. We can also see - with the perspective that temporal distance affords us - many of the underlying assumptions about museum exhibits that are difficult for us to see in contemporary shows. I myself have been fortunate enough to see this at the British Museum, where one gallery is designed to recreate a 19th-century museum. When one enters this room, one feels that one had not so much traveled through time as entered an entirely different sort of institution, an institution that is nothing at all like a museum by our 21st-century ideas of what a museum should be.

Having had the advantage of even such a slight brush with a very different style and philosophy of museum exhibition strategy, I was better able to appreciate the ways in which the exhibits at the National Museums are designed to steer us, as visitors, towards specific interpretations and even perhaps towards specific ideologies. For...

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Museums. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 20:04, June 19, 2019, from