Intern Allison Williams talks about “Museums as a Starting Point”

I love history. Love it. And I have been to numerous museums, both here and in Boston. Many of my museum trips, however, were just that—trips. The experience was great, but by the time I left I felt a mental overload from trying to process an entire museum’s exhibits in just a couple of hours. Interesting things that I learned were forgotten or rendered insignificant by the next day.  My brain just doesn’t process that thoroughly in that short amount of time.

Well, since I have been here at the Museum of Aviation for a couple of months, I have had a lot more time to peruse and take in information slowly, and it has been so much more enriching because I am not burdened by time to move on to the next exhibit, or rather, to whatever I have planned for later in the day. Before I came to the museum, I possessed very little knowledge of aircraft, much less those used in the Air Force. It was a field of history that I just never touched, unless I had a class that discussed it. Now? I love it. I’m fascinated by it. But my interest in this isn’t necessarily from a military standpoint. For example, I had never seen or heard of the SR-71 before I came here. My first thought of it was, ‘that plane is pretty.’ That first impression led me to find out more about the plane, and now it’s my favorite. Now I can tell you its speed, its service ceiling, and its history.

What I’m trying to show here is how a seemingly unrelated assessment led me to discover so much. The museum showed me one thing, which made me want to learn more about it. This got me thinking on how museums can serve as a starting point for exploration. And I’m not just talking about exploration in the historical sense. Sure, different museums cater to different subjects and audiences, but so much work goes into making an exhibit appeal to a wide range of audiences that almost anything can be used as a starting point. Another example: I’m in no way a physics person. There’s a certain point where my brain just refuses to operate anymore when it comes to physics. But, I can appreciate the designs of different aircraft, how the physics that went into building that aircraft enable it to meet a certain need. I have a high respect for the people who designed it, even though I do not understand it.

Sometimes I see museums as boxes separated from the world. Go in, come out, and back to my life. But museums are not mere places that house things. They tell stories. Many museums, including the Museum of Aviation, have too many artifacts to display all at once, and, simultaneously, not enough to tell the a story in its entirety. Instead, museums introduce a topic, an event, a piece of clothing, an instrument, a work of art, or anything else, and leave the responsibility to the viewer to learn more.

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