I could be making bonnets. I could be applying for moar jobz. I could be finishing the soup that’s on the stove. But instead, I’m annoyed by a museum’s social media posting. For the sake of all that’s holy in history, is there nothing more to an 18th century soldier’s life than his weapon? Now, to the museum’s credit, only 50% of the posted images could truly be said to focus on the musket or some musket-related tool.
But what’s so damned annoying is that the organization in question, all brand-spanking new and on everybody’s “must-see” list, falls back on the same old tropes on social media, which makes me want to know more about their educational mission. If the social media message continues to reinforce the same messages (guns are important) instead of expanding to include a soldier’s daily life, or even his inner life, the public has trouble moving past that simple message to ask more questions.
Museums and their representatives cue the questions visitors ask by framing objects, writing labels, even aiming the lights, to focus on what the museum believes is important. Put guns front and center, that’s what the questions will be about instead of about hygiene, clothing, literacy, or diet.
This image got me really excited, until I read the caption.
I understand full well that the museum’s interpretation of our national founding is far more inclusive than many museum visitors have previously encountered. I understand that the educational program currently lacks a permanent director, and is not yet fully fleshed out.
Museums are among the most trusted sources for information. Presentation matters. What museums emphasize matters. If museums — in their exhibits, programs, or marketing– continue to “give the people what they want,” the people will not know that they can want something different, or even that there is something different to want. Inclusivity is constant: in the galleries, in the labels, in the programming, in the staff, and in the marketing (which this museum did, in fact, do, masterfully, at a major train station).
But I’m picking on them for this post because they are the top of the game right now, and if they can do better in the galleries and in the train station, they can do better on social media. They’ve had some of the best female interpreters around working this month and the end of last, and yet the first social media post on that program is of a soldier, and focuses on his weapon. The past– and the present– deserve better.