Virtually every American knows a Pilgrim myth or two. It's the kind of thing many of us learn at every Thanksgiving dinner and with every hand-made paper turkey on a school classroom window. I'll have to admit, that when I visited the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, MA, I expected more of the same. The museum opened in 1824 and describes itself as "America's museum of Pilgrim possessions." But, I was walking by, and decided to visit--and was incredibly surprised at the smart, thoughtful exhibit that deconstructed--that busted those myths--about Pilgrims.
A few examples: the opening label talks about the Pilgrim story, but doesn't quite give the full hint that some myths are about to be busted. The mythbusting took two prevalent forms. First, deconstructing what we believe (and the stories that museums have often told) about objects. For instance, the spinning wheel above, and label below, which says, "in fact, no spinning wheels recorded in the Colony until the late 1630s." (no sheep, either).
And here's another one, about a sword. When was the last time you read a label that said, "This is not possible."
The exhibit included reproduction clothing, showing how our ideas about Pilgrims were reflected in the clothes worn and depicted, in films, paintings, and even in museums. Below, a label from one interpretive era, and clothing from another.
The romance of laughter and tremulous voices, compared with death and eleven children. This painting of Thanksgiving gets these contrasting labels.
Note the inclusion of the contemporary voice of Linda Coombs, a member of the Wampanoag nation, on the label, contrasting directly with Sarah Josepha Hale's 19th century voice.
It's the rare museum that takes on busting up its own history. Consider your own history museum. What stories could benefit from some revision? Can you do some rethinking that lets your audience into the messy nature of history? How about a new take on those cows in your community?