Middle Grade Monday – Online Museum Resources
I recently had the opportunity to visit a few museums in the Washington, DC, area that were missing from my personal experience. Mostly, they are museums that are either too depressing, or too frequently visited for anyone to want to go with me (I have family in the area.) But, I was up there with a few days on my own to explore, so I chose to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Ford’s Theater and the Petersen House, and the International Spy Museum.
Now, to be honest, the International Spy Museum seems to be a cross between a museum and an amusement park. Their online resources are fairly sparse, although you can schedule online field trips (for a price.) It did seem, however, to be an ideal place for a tween field trip. They have made great use of video and interactive displays (to the point where much of the museum was much too loud for my ears.) Additionally, in many areas, I saw what I refer to as the ‘World Book Technique’ of presenting the most basic facts about an area at the start, in an easily absorbed format, so the museum goer can decide whether or not to pursue the topic further. They have an amazing gift shop, as well, which includes almost every possible juvenile or YA book or series involving spies in any arena – most notable Ally Carter’s novels. (I wouldn’t have known about the museum if not for her.)
On the other hand, both the For’d Theater and Petersen House as well as the US Holocaust Memorial Museum are more traditional museums, with understandably more somber atmospheres. Each has a significant amount of online material for students to explore, and a mission to educate. My first stop of the trip was the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
To understand my response to the exhibits, it might be important to know that I was fortunate enough to take a course on the Holocaust as part of my college degree program from a renowned Holocaust Scholar. I began with the open exhibit, Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity in the Holocaust. This was a topic that was only briefly covered in my college course, and I have to say I was appalled. And angered. And also unfortunately reminded of some current attitudes in our country, being widely espoused, about minority groups that are often used as scapegoats, such as Muslims and immigrants. It made me desperately want my students, especially my 8th graders, to visit this exhibit. For more information, there is a wonderful online component here.
When I was able to visit the permanent exhibition, I was equally disturbed by what I saw. The thing that stood out most to me was the fact that the Nazi regime used toys as propaganda tools (most specifically action figures) to spread the acceptance of their regime. I also really appreciated the area devoted to the US response to the Nazi regime and how it developed over time. IT’d interesting to see how insidious attitudes played a part in initial acceptance or dismissal of Nazi activities. Finally, their entire web site is devoted to education, as is in alignment with their mission. You can access any number of useful materials here.
Finally, I was able to visit the Ford’s Theater and Petersen House Museum. Like many pople, I assume, I was unaware that Lincoln survived his shooting until the following morning, and that he was carried across the street to a private house for his final hours. Because I arrived early for my Ford’s Theater time ticket, I visited the Petersen House first. While it may not be the recommended order, it was fine for someone who has a general understanding of the events of the Civil War. The Petersen House online materials may be accessed here. I intentionally purchased a time ticket for Ford’s Theater when a park ranger would be giving a presentation. What I didn’t realize was that I was purchasing access to the audio tour as well. The ticket taker quickly informed me of this fact and I am so glad she did. While I usually avoid these add ons, I highly encourage this purchase. Much of the useful information in the Ford’s Theater Museum is communicated through the audio tour. For a better idea of what is available at the museum, click here.
As an aside, I was somewhat appalled by the number of families using selfie sticks to take happy/fun group photos at Ford’s Theater. How long will it be before the same happens at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. An understanding of our history is crucial to our interaction with our future. Or, in the words of Edmund Burke, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
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About Robin Willis
After working in middle school libraries for over 20 years, Robin Willis now works in a public library system in Maryland.
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