Education and Outreach: the Heart of a Museum

This is the fourth in a series of five blog posts exploring the examples of prisons, labor camps and other sites of memory that have become museums. These posts were researched and written by Erica Mollon, Master’s student in Historic Preservation and Urban Planning at Columbia University, during her internship with CHwB in Tirana, Albania.

Perhaps the most important function of a museum, education ought to play a central role in all aspects. In this post, we will look at the way several museums have built strong education and outreach programs into their core.

Anne Frank House, Netherlands

Students participating in an educational debate.  Photo courtesy of  Anne Frank Stichting

Students participating in an educational debate. Photo courtesy of Anne Frank Stichting

Before creating the Anne Frank House museum, those involved had a clear big picture idea — engage youth in a dialogue about human rights to make tomorrow better than yesterday by exploring the dangers of discrimination and the importance of freedom and democracy. To that end, the museum hosts an annual youth conference that brings young people from across the globe to meet and debate relevant topics. There is also a conference for religious leaders and the public to discuss various religious issues and gain greater insights into each other’s beliefs. Within the museum experience, visitors expand upon the learnings from the Holocaust to bring attention to other, current human rights issues. With all work tied to that early, strategic goal, it can easily expand the museum design and create clearer outreach programs.

Gulag Perm-36, Russia

The School of Museology, established by Gulag Perm-36, educates international museum staff on issues of memory and sites of painful pasts. It connects colleagues from various regions to expand the approach to museums and broaden their experiences in the hopes of enriching museum education. Additionally, they host seminars and workshops on various topics related to totalitarianism, oppression and prison camps.

Sighet, Romania

The foundation that manages the Sighet Memorial aims to educate and recapture the true history of Romania. They held symposia, seminars, and workshops between the victims of communism and Romanian historians both nationally and internationally. They are publishing a book based on the research that came out of these. While they collect oral histories for their own research and archiving, Sighet works with universities to expand their use for other projects.

Auschwitz, Poland

Students and researchers working at Auschwitz-Birkenau site.  Photo courtesy of

Students and researchers working at Auschwitz-Birkenau site. Photo courtesy of

Research, awareness, and education are at the core of the Auschwitz museum and memorial. The staff creates strong educational programs and makes connections to other, related sites. They maintain an extensive web presence, including social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. Their own website provides links to other concentration camp sites, educational institutions focusing on the Holocaust and the Jewish experience, and information about the victims of the Holocaust.

Eastern State Penitentiary, USA

Eastern State Penitentiary's Facebook page.

Eastern State Penitentiary’s Facebook page.

Like Auschwitz, Eastern State Penitentiary is active on social media with a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest as well as maintaining a blog. Their website includes materials for further learning about crime and punishment with links to books, articles, photographs, oral histories, and an inmate database and genealogy records. There are also lesson plans available for teachers.

Ellis Island, USA

Teachers play a key role in Ellis Island’s outreach program as well. Through material that is publicly accessible on the website, the museum provides suggestions for classroom activities for teachers. For a richer experience, a loanable packet allows the museum experience to happen anywhere. For schools that are close to New York City, rangers who manage the day-to-day operations of the site are available to be guest speakers. The museum also hosts workshops that connect teachers to others in their profession, historians, park employees, and trainers to help expand their capabilities.

Ellis Island rangers in a fourth grade classroom.  Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

Ellis Island rangers in a fourth grade classroom. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

Tenement Museum, USA

The Tenement Museum’s dedication to improving the immigrant experience influences their outreach strategy as well as the visitor experience. An evening series, entitled “Tenement Talks” features readings, movie screenings or performances, and discussions centered on immigration while neighborhood walking tours take the experience beyond the building. Like Ellis Island, the museum puts together development workshops for teachers that are either full- or half-day sessions. Topics include commerce, cultural adaptation, discrimination, and industrialization. Additionally, the museum itself takes on the role of teacher by holding English classes for recent arrivals. The museum acts as a resource for those wanting more information on the lives of immigrants, tenements, and American housing policies and laws. Researchers are welcome to come and look through their records, archives, and artifacts. If an in-person visit is not possible, the staff can conduct the research for a fee. The Tenement Museum also has a rich website that includes photos and oral histories, and an engaging game that connects the story of the tenement back to that of Ellis Island.

One response to “Education and Outreach: the Heart of a Museum

  1. Knowing and understanding what the schools in your region NEED is the first step. Dialogue in planning is any learning programme is essential in my view. Materials for teachers on line are really useful pre and post visit – if they can afford and are able to visit? On line materials valuable even for those who cannot travel – especially if designed to their needs and resources. As many have said, rich resources on the web, partnerships, oral histories and soundscapes really great and can be built up gradually.

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