Wall Text and Objects

In reading “Making Meaning from Things in History Museums” I found myself questioning a lot of the statements made about history museums. For instance, Schiavo citing Conn states, “Museums—some of them anyway—may not need objects anymore, but without objects we may miss the delights and surprises that come with looking.” I think many history museums actually find the objects in their collection central to the work that they do. Perhaps the objects do not drive the stated mission of the museum, but they often drive the work of the curators and general staff of the museums. Often, exhibitions or programs are designed because the museum staff has great pride in a particular item in the collection that they want to showcase to the public.

I did appreciate in this article the discussion of wall text. Last year, I worked to design an exhibition at Bryn Mawr. The majority of time spent in this class was writing and editing wall texts. I agree with this article that reading ideas on a wall is not as exciting as visually understanding concepts through object interaction, as an “object wall” facilitates (Schiavo 51). In my class, I was often the only one arguing for little (or no) wall text. I think that usually it is the case that those who love the research surrounding the objects assume that putting that research on the wall is best. They do not believe that without the “lengthy labels with didactic lessons” there is actually more room for meaning making. I think the audience is there at the museum for the objects, not really for the lengthy content. They can get that anywhere now with technology. The objects are what make the museum special. We are visual creatures who would rather be shown something than told it.