Tag Archives: public history

Popular Culture and History

By Jennie Epp

Popular culture is a medium that a vast majority of the population uses on at least a daily basis. Whether it is in the form of television and movies, to a book about Abraham Lincoln being a vampire hunter, the emphasis is the same. People love to be entertained and many do love the way that popular culture portrays historical events. Popular culture is abused when the mainstream public assumes that the history that they are being fed by the mainstream media is one hundred percent accurate. It is this cafeteria approach to history that creates situations where people do not know what is true or not. The positive thing about popular culture is that it does reach so many more people than ‘traditional history’. Many people that find history boring or just tedious memorization still find movies like ‘300’ and ‘National Treasure’ interesting and enjoy them.

People believe that history is boring, but at the same time history captivates the popular mindset. Human beings long to not only remember the past but strive not to make the same mistakes and at the same time repeat the same successes. Margaret Malamud, “As the Romans Did? Theming Ancient Rome in Contemporary Las Vegas” writes that, “Caesars doesn’t make a serious attempt to replicate the real ancient Rome: instead it celebrates its play fullness and cinematic outrageousness. ‘At Caesars,’ comments critic Ralph Rugoff, ‘the staff dress not like Romans but like extras from Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus.’” This represents the constant love/hate relationship that mainstream public has with history. They do not necessarily want it to be historically accurate, but they want it to be accurate to what their perception of a historical event was like. Places like the Las Vegas strip and Branson, Missouri are popular tourist destinations because they bring what the public wants history to be, combining the flashy elements with entertainment.

Comparatively, websites like the “Facebook News Feed of the World” offers Facebook status updates, events, and other things that are a part of our daily lives in working with social media to make history come alive. This condensed history is similarly, the YouTube account “Funny or Die” does many videos with ‘drunk historians’ narrating enactors doing a particular historical event. As great as both of these mediums are, the problem with bias and the fact that the people doing these videos and status updates could have very little history background. The temptation to give the public what they think they already know about a historical event, instead of doing to the research to see the actual facts is a concern. At the same time, putting history on a social media that millions of people use, or filming history using popular comedic actors, has the potential to be a great teaching tool to get the average human being who does not find history interesting, accessible and fun.The main key to remember is the historical background and credentials of were the historical information is coming from.

The great thing about the Facebook “Newsfeed of the World” is that it gives history majors a place to send their less history inclined friends, and it also allows historians to show, in a popular media form, what makes history such a worthwhile and important thing to learn. The main thing to get from all forms of history and popular culture and how the two intersect is that it is increasing the knowledge of history and creating a medium were people will want to learn more about a certain event and that is the beginning of a love of history. If popular culture is the doorway to get more people involved in understanding how the past affects our present, than popular culture and media is a medium that more historians should use to bridge the gap between the academic world and the public one.


Joshel, Sandra R., Margaret Malamud, and Donald T. McGuire. Imperial projections: ancient Rome in modern popular culture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. Print.

Wineburg, Sam. Philadelphia: Temple University. ” Something Old, Something New.” Something Old, Something New. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2012. <;

“Facebook.” Facebook. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2012. <;.

“Drunk History.” Funny or Die. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2012. <;.

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Posted by on April 26, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Museums, Education, and Programming: Issues and Problems

By Brandon Mason

One of the primary goals of every museum should be to educate the public through their collections. The way in which a museum educates the public is multifaceted. The interactions between collection and visitor can be as varied as the objects within the collection. Depending on the age group of the target audience, a museum collection can be utilized in a variety of ways in order to deliver an educational lesson.

Children's Museum in Tucson, AZ

In Cornelia Brüninghaus-Knube’s article, “Museum Education in the Context of Museum Functions,” she discusses several ways in which museums’ collections interact with the public for educational purposes. One of the ways Brüninghaus-Knube states that collections interact is through exhibit labels and captions on individual items. Technology has also become an important element of museum education. Visitors often learn through audio, visual, and computer media presented in the museum.

Another way in which the collections interact is through tour guides and educational speech. Brüninghaus-Knube also mentions activity workshops, field exercises, and tactile displays and aids which allow visitors controlled hands-on experience with cultural items in collections.

In addition to the several methods already mentioned, Brüninghaus-Knube points out that although the interaction is intended to be educational, it also provides an entertainment value to the visitors. Games, role-playing theater, and demonstrations provide entertainment and educational opportunities.  The many ways, in which museums use their collections in order to educate the public, illustrates the importance placed on education by museum management.[1]

According to Nina Simon, museum visitation has dropped due to availability of information to the public via the internet and social networks.[2] Without having read Simon’s book, I assumed the decrease in museum visitation was due to increased access to information via the internet, social networks, and television programming. With so much history and culture available at one’s fingertips, why leave the house to learn about the Sam Davis home?

Old Museum Display: La Porte County Historical Society & Museum in La Porte, IN -

I believe that many people have the idea that museums are just dusty old displays cases filled with an artifact and a note card telling what it is. While, sadly some museums are exactly what I just described, many are beginning to give the public reasons to visit. I believe that the only way to get a larger audience into museums in 2012 is through interactive and entertaining methods.

Museums have to offer a cultural learning experience that is not offered through watching television or surfing the internet. Simon’s solution to the museum visitation problem is to develop museums into participatory cultural institutions. She defines a participatory institution as a place where visitors can create, share, and connect with each other around content.[3]

Simon states that the first thing museums have to do in order to combat the current trend is by becoming more comfortable, accessible, and convenient to the public.[4]With that said, museums and libraries must adapt to fit the needs of today’s visitors by allowing the public to engage with the content and collections in ways that create new dialogue.

In a sense, participatory simply means to establish an environment in which visitors are actively involved with the content of the institution in their own way. Without making these necessary changes, museums will continue to be in danger of becoming useless to the general public. By producing a more comfortable and inviting environment in which the public can readily access and learn, museums and libraries will be able to effectively compete with corporate entities. If museums refuse to change, the public will simply seek more convenient outlets for knowledge and culture.

[1] Cornelia Brüninghaus-Knube, “Museum Education in the Context of Museum Functions,” ICOM – International Council of Museums and Running a Museum: A Practical Handbook. Selections: • Museum Education, pp. 119-132
[2] Nina Simon, The Participatory Museum – Preface
[3] Ibid.

Posted by on March 27, 2012 in museums, Uncategorized


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