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The Art of Storytelling in Zoos and Historical Homes

This week we have been learning about Storytelling in the formal museum setting but today we had the opportunity to see storytelling in a whole new light. When it comes to Zoos and Historical Homes it can be a little more difficult to dictate the stories without a docent or volunteer explaining things to the visitor. Both the Smithsonian and the Hillwood Estates did an amazing job fusing the storytelling together with the animals/object they had.


For example, we spent a lot of time with Mei Xiang the female Panda. The keeper came out and described mating season, eating habits, enrichment activities, care and many more things with us to help us connect more with Mei. Although it is amazing to see the animals and watch them go about their business, when someone starts telling stories about the specific animal you are looking at or you hear or read something other than the standard “what is this animal” labeling, you develop a more personal connection to that animal. Once that personal connection is established it is easier for the institution to offer more information to about the animal, be it through talks, shows, interactives, wall labels, etc. In addition to how they tell stories, what they tell is different from what you would find in a traditional museum. A concept that stood out to me was that Zoos are less about preserving objects and more about the work to help the animals from becoming endangered.


Historic homes are another subsection of museums that have a different view on how to tell a story. For example, at the Hillwood Estates labels and context is not exactly in the forefront of the exhibits. Instead of the traditional “Tombstone” labels to give context, meanings and stories, the information could be given in audio tour form, paper tour or by the docents on each floor. Although labels would have been extremely helpful they would have taken away from the feel that the historic homes are trying to portray. It is more about putting you in the moment and letting you see the home as it was intended. Personally, I am not a big audio tour person, so the lack of on wall or labels put me off a bit. Although you could get some context from the paper tour, the house felt very overwhelming and hard to focus in on any points they were trying to portray. I understand the reasoning behind the lack of labels and the audio tour as a primary resource it is a bit of a shame for those of use who don’t care for that type of tour.



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