A living museum or living history museum is a museum that recreates historical scenarios to replicate past time periods. The goal of experiencing history museums is to provide visitors with a practical interpretation of the past. They bring history to life by imitating the conditions of a natural environment, historical period or culture to the fullest. Living museums use various interpretative techniques such as exhibitions and costumed historians representing historical figures to make simulations of past periods as authentic as possible. The main difference between a living museum and other historical sites is that living history museums give present interpretations in the first person.
Historians in costume and their roles in living museums
Costumed historians have many responsibilities in historical sites. In addition to portraying characters who lived in a particular period, they conduct guided tours and interpret spaces. They also write interpretative screenplays and contribute to the research process that helps the museum interpret the site. Historians, therefore, must be people who are skilled in communication, research and writing and must be at ease when they address a wide audience. Historians collaborate with educational and curatorial staff to develop educational programs and exchange ideas on how to conduct school and collection programs. Historians or interpreters are widely trained by supervisors when they are just hired, but they acquire more skills through experience.
Living historical museums use two types of costumed interpretations. The first is the first-person interpretation in which costumed historians portray specific historical characters by adopting their mannerisms, speech patterns, world views and attitudes. The knowledge of the interpreters in the first person and the way in which they interact with the public is limited to the historical character they represent and to the historical period in which the character lived. The second type of costume interpretation uses third-person interpreters who have a working knowledge of the present and the past. Third-person costume historians depict a status, occupation or genre and, although they also wear historical clothes, they speak from a modern perspective about the culture and history of the people they represent.
Concerns about the authenticity of living history museums
Authenticity is a major concern for living museums because it is impossible to perfectly recreate a piece of the past to simulate living history. Some museums report gross inaccuracies in an attempt to portray an idealized image. An example is the portrait of the old cattle town of Wichita, as illustrated in the Old Cowtown Museum, whose authenticity is corrupted by the influence of the myths of Hollywood and the Wild West. Critics also criticize the interpretation of living museums by arguing that although museums seek to convey past experiences to visitors, it is impossible to replicate past mental states.
Examples of living museums
Living history museums are found all over the world. Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, is an example of a living history museum. Replica of a 17th English village established by the settlers. The medieval center in Denmark is another example of a living museum depicting the Middle Ages in the country during the late 14 th and early 15 th centuries. Other museums of living history include the Coggeshall Farm Museum in Colt State Park, USA, the Burnaby Village Museum in British Columbia, the Black Country Living Museum in the United Kingdom and the Penghu Living Museum in China.