The Family Learning Project at the
USS Constitution Museum
Why create this project?
Our staff realized that most visitors come to the USS Constitution Museum in family groups, yet we knew little about this visitor group and wanted to serve them better.
To address institutional and industry questions, we initiated the Family Learning Project, which began as a 2004 Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership grant to explore effective, low-cost exhibit techniques. The project was extended through support of a 2008 IMLS 21st Century Museum Professionals grant to help history museums Engage Families through exhibitions and programs.
The Context: Sailors Speak exhibition
We chose the Sailors Speak exhibition as the content and stimulus for the Family Learning Project. This exhibit development effort, started over ten years ago, tells the story of the enlisted sailors on board USS Constitution in 1812. By scouring pension records, prisoner of war records, and any other source that might have been left behind, we unearthed a complex picture of the average sailor's life and many fascinating individual stories. Working with scholars supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, we articulated the exhibit themes.
Our family learning goals
Our mission is to find the best ways to communicate this great content to a wider audience, and we realized that many other history museums struggle with these same questions:
- What kinds of historical text could engage families most effectively?
- Could we find and test low-tech interactive techniques that engaged families in history?
- Could lessons learned from research done by children's museums and science museums studying families be applied to history museums?
These questions turned out to be much bigger than we anticipated, and the process of finding answers turned out to be much more rewarding than any of us imagined.
A museum-wide shift in strategy
The Family Learning Project has had a major impact on the USS Constitution Museum in Boston, MA. In 2007 the Board of Trustees adopted a new strategy that reflects the institution’s commitment to engaging an audience of all ages.
Strategy: The USS Constitution Museum will provide a hands-on, minds-on environment where intergenerational groups seeking an enjoyable, educational experience can have fun and learn as they explore history together.
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