The Chicago Historical Society was founded in 1856 and has spent the majority of its 153 year history as an institution devoted to the diverse and evolving history of Chicago and Illinois. In 2006, the institution emerged from a remarkable 21 month physical and philosophical transformation. Not only did the museum undertake a wholesale renovation of its gallery spaces, but it also took steps to update its public persona to be more representative of the full spectrum of communities living in Chicago.
The museum was rebranded the Chicago History Museum (CHM) as one way of making itself more accessible to new populations of visitors who may have previously felt excluded by the old aristocratic-sounding name of the institution. One principal new demographic sought after by the renovated museum was children. This study focuses on the conceptualization, planning, development, and execution of the interactive gallery space designed to be the centerpiece of this initiative. The Sensing Chicago gallery was designed specifically to challenge young visitors of CHM to think about their own personal relationship to Chicago history. This discussion will also analyze the question of the pedagogical responsibility of modern museums as well as some strategies for engaging young people in the museum setting.
The methodology undertaken for this ethnography was primarily a mix of observations and interviews. I spent approximately eight hours in or around the Sensing Chicago exhibit recording the habits of children, talking to CHM volunteers, talking to parents or teachers of children, or testing out the exhibits myself. In addition to taking written notes, I used a digital camera to capture still photos as...
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...ition was instrumental in the creation of an experience that is valuable to the tens of thousands of visitors CHM receives each year. The Sensing Chicago gallery encourages children to make new connections between themselves and the past by personalizing history through the five senses using hands-on exhibits. After experiencing the gallery, children realize they possess the sensory tools to understand and appreciate Chicago history. The renovation of CHM and the subsequent success of Sensing Chicago has offered insight into the evolving pedagogical role of museum education in conjunction with classroom learning.
McRainey, Russick. "Investigating Technology to Connect Children With History." J. Paul Getty Museum Symposium (2005)
McRainey, Russick. "Learning From Kids: Connecting the Exhibition to the Audience." Curator 52/2(2009): 183-192.
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