*VISITING THE SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY IN WASHINGTON, DC.
When you have visited a museum, you will be ready to write an analysis of an exhibit. Here are some guidelines:
Start by deciding what to focus on. Are you a history fan? A car nut? Do you want to see the First Ladies’ gowns, or learn more about the Civil Rights Movement, or look at modern art, or read newspapers from all over the world, or find out about the moon landing, or tour George Washington’s house? If you have no idea, you could narrow it to one of the big buildings on the Mall in DC, and go see what grabs you.
Expect to spend at least 30 minutes in the exhibit you choose to use—and that is a bare minimum. An hour is better. Some exhibits can take longer than that. And if there is a gift shop, check it out before you leave. What they have chosen to reproduce, emphasize, and sell will tell you a lot about what they are trying to do—and about their audience.
Think about what the exhibit is trying to do: and then think about how well it does it. What does it do? Educate? Entertain? Persuade? Does it ask questions or answer them? Some of each? Whom is it intended to reach? Children, teens, adults? US citizens or tourists from other countries? Does it focus on a particular ethnic group? If so, is it intended to be seen by only that group, or to inform other populations about that group? How does the exhibit contribute to the larger conversation about the aspect of the humanities it explores?
What does it use to achieve its goals? A museum exhibit or historic house is a kind of theatre, so looking at it uses some of the same tools: lighting; layout; maybe music; probably text; perhaps recorded words. Is an audio element available? Does it add value to the experience of visiting the exhibit? What mood does the exhibit evoke—are visitors curious? Moved and sad? Excited? Amused? Angry? When you visit, pay attention to visitors as well as to the exhibit, and see if you can find out why they are there. If it seems appropriate, ask a visitor. Or a volunteer who does tours. Or look at what people have written in the guestbook, or listen to comments. Some exhibits have places to interact with the exhibit, to cast a vote, or to offer input. Look for these. Be alert—be curious. Take notes by hand or on a tablet, or record them: if you are not allowed to to use devices in the exhibit, take notes on paper and get them into a device later. . .
After your visit, take a look at the museum’s website, and see what information you can find there. Does the exhibit have a review online, from a newspaper or travel section? Some travelling exhibits do. You can cite those sources using the MLA format, in addition to putting your own observations about the exhibit in your analysis.
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