Good Museum Interpretation

Over the past few weeks I’ve collected photos of examples of good interpretation from several different museums or sites, but didn’t quite have enough to write a blog post for each place, so have decided to lump them all together as good examples of interpretation.

First up: the new Europe 1600-1815 Galleries at the V&A
These galleries are stunning. Divided by time period, as well as theme, they are easy to find your way through, and there are beautiful objects all over the place. There are also some great example of interactive interpretation that help liven up the galleries and explain certain objects.

The first I really noticed was an interactive installation in the section about Venice, where you stand on a certain spot and interact with characters who are going to a Masquerade. This was using XBox Kinect technology, and I could see several different groups testing it out, as they learned new dance moves.

The second (right) was a screen showing a video of the cabinet you can see in this photo. Which doesn’t seem that remarkable, but the video really is key to how amazing this object is. It has all of these hidden drawers and secret compartments that were all opened with the same key, but inserted different ways into the lock. You would never know this just looking at the object. Makes me wonder how many other objects might do something like this, but we would never know. It was really cool to watch a video of all the secrets, and how the cabinetmaker achieved them with different weights and pulleys.

There is also great interpretation online for these galleries- listen to the audio tour and take different tours, explore the collections, or design a wig.

Tyntesfield, National Trust

This beautiful historic house had several different things going on that all served as great forms of interpretation. Partially this is because we were there on a Christmas weekend, but they really did Christmas. From invitations to join the family, to carol singing and dancing in the ballroom with the ‘family’, it went well beyond just adding a tree in the corner and calling it Christmas. All of these things made it not just a visit to a beautiful historic house, but also brought the house to life.

The second thing was a special Sherlock Holmes themed scavenger hunt that went throughout the house and grounds. We didn’t take part, but noticed many of the clues hidden within the many rooms. This took advantage of some great timing- the special BBC Sherlock Holmes episode has just aired the night before, and much of it had been filmed at Tyntesfield! We had to keep telling people we hadn’t seen it yet!

Historic Royal Palaces- Tower of London & Hampton Court Palace

There are many great forms of interpretation at both of these sites, each of which I’ve been to a few times. But in the past week I took photos of two in particular.

At the Tower I took this photo of an exhibit which compared the site in WWI to the present day using photos from each time period, both taken in the exact same spot. Great idea to show what has stayed the same or changed.


At Hampton Court, I took a photo of what I think is a good alternative to photos or mannequins, particularly if you can’t use actual historical clothing. This demonstrates what period clothing and style would look like. There were several figures like this-both men and women- and if I’m remembering correctly, some also had hair. I think they’re made of paper? Interesting way to populate a space without having to worry about damage to real artifacts.


HMS Belfast

Some interpretation methods and displays at HMS Belfast clearly need some updating, but others were quite well done, and some have even stood the test of time. Besides the audio tour, and a surprising well mapped out visitor route, given how large and confusing this ship is, a few things stood out (besides all of the asbestos stickers… :S )

The first photo shows what was clearly an older display, but which was still pretty good. You could hear and read a variety of stories from people who had been on the ship, telling you what daily life was like, including information about rum rations!

The second (very terrible) photo shows an obviously much newer digital installation, which was an interactive table game, which was actually quite addicting as my friend and I directed a fleet of ships to go save a top secret crash landed plane. Mission accomplished.

Lacock Museum- photography exhibit

The beautiful and historic village of Lacock, famous for being a filming location for just about every English show every (including Downton Abbey and Harry Potter!) was also quite important for the history of photography. The Lacock museum, therefore, has quite a good exhibit on the development of photography, including a great timeline, interactive questions, examples of many of the cameras, and a dress up booth and photo background. It was unexpectedly good, and I’d wished I’d had more time to see it. (trying to fit it, and a visit to the shop, in 9 minutes was a bit much…)

The Science Museum, London

I’m not nearly going to come close to doing justice to interpretation in the science museum, but here’s one thing I really enjoyed- funny, educational, musical, the mechanical toy theatre is great. All around enjoyable. (I took a photo, but here’s a video I found which is much better, but still not doing it justice). Sadly, my favourite parts are not in the video.

Mechanical Toy Theatre

So, there’s a very quick view of some examples of good interpretation I’ve seen over the past few weeks. Any to add at any of these museums or sites? Disagree with anything I’ve said? Let me know!


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