“Living history museums immerse you in the past and can help you feel

more connected to ancestors.” ` (Morton, 2019).

Living collections are a favorite to be sure. However, we all enjoy the diversity, as well as the observational experiences that these collections bring to the community and others. I have favorites, the Getty and the Smithsonian Gardens. I chose to discuss the latter. Its user-friendly website has information on their Living Collections Management, which includes the following categories: Collections Information System and Mapping, Digitization Efforts, Explore Our Gardens with Plant Explorer, Explore Our StoryMaps, and Labeling Living Collections. Upon clicking on the box for Collections Information System and Mapping: I was directed to information on managing plant records and mapping the tree collection. The gardens have a “well-known proprietary geographic information systems software suite of tools to collect, manage, and maintain mapped data about the collection” (Smithsonian Gardens, 2021). In addition, they have scenes from their gardens under Smithsonian Gardens Digital Backgrounds. I decided to click on another box titled StoryMaps. Their mapping collections tell immersive stories of the gardens. I enjoyed walking through their gardens with this creative tool. The planning was well thought out. This is an excellent way to teach people of all ages how to navigate through a magnificent garden utilizing technology that is user-friendly. I had no issues with the website. Below is an example of one photo in their collection, Ripley Garden.

Fall View of the Ripley Garden, Smithsonian Garden, Retrieved Feb 21, 2021 from storymaps.arcgis.com

A living museum creates historical settings to replicate past periods in time. “Many countries and regions host living history museums that celebrate local cultures, trades, arts, and history” (Morton, 2019). The objective is to provide visitors with a view into the past, as well as accurately portraying the culture, dress, day to day activities, and events etc. The key is that living history museums provide the interpretations in the first-person present. These interactions can involve visitor participation, as well. I was surprised at the level of detail and research accuracy for most museums. I’m sure that people make mistakes and have been caught with inaccurate accounts.

I was interested in the top six living history museums in the world. They are Land of Legends, Lejre, Zealand, Denmark. The Land of Legends depicts Danish narratives from the mid-1800s through the Viking, Iron and Stone Ages periods. Visitors can experience historical homesteads, buildings, boats, livestock, daily handicrafts, and chores that were performed during a particular time period (Morton, 2019).

Land of Legends, Lejre, Zealand, Denmark, Retrieved Feb 21, 2021 from https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/top-6-living-history-museums/

The largest open-air museum is located in Ungersheim, France. The Ecomusée d’Alsace has recreated an entire Alsatian village from 100 to 150 years ago. Visitors can walk back in time and experience homes and furniture, types of clothing, and an array of household items that were utilized on a day to day basis (Morton, 2019).

The Ecomusée d’Alsace, Retrieved Feb 21, 2021 from https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/top-6-living-history-museums/

The Kommern Open Air Museum in Germany celebrates Germany’s storied population. The museum features clusters of historical buildings and an old marketplace exhibit with activities. “Reenactors take on the roles of peasant, cartwright, mousetrap peddler, blacksmith, and others who discuss their trades with you” (Morton, 2019).The aroma of fresh-baked bread permeates the air from a nearby wood-fired oven.Visitors can greet the farms livestock. Additionally, the museum provides a window into past local gardens (Morton, 2019).

Kommern Open Air Museum, Kommern, Germany. Retrieved Feb 21, 2021 from https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/top-6-living-history-museums/

Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh, Northern Ireland shares the mass migration experiences of Northern Irish immigrants coming to North America. Staff demonstrate traditional crafts and share their food along with depicting thatched Ulster cottages and cabins. Visitors can board a life-size ship from the 1800s, as well as covered wagons and homesteads from the frontier way of life in the United States (Morton, 2019).

Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh, Northern Ireland, Retrieved Feb 21, 2021 from https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/top-6-living-history-museums/

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia calls itself: The world’s largest living history museum. This living museum recreates the city’s British colonial period during the 1700s.The interpreters portray historical figures such as a watchmaster, trades people, as well as their apprentices at work.Visitors can ask the actors about their tool usages and techniques (Morton, 2019).

Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia, United States, Retrieved Feb 21, 2021 from https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/top-6-living-history-museums/

St. Fagans National Museum of History, Cardiff, Wales celebrates Welsh life and its history. The museum’s 16th-century castle, its gardens and forty historical buildings homes, mills, and working farm and livestock, bake house, tannery, hotel, and workmen’s institute etc. provides visitors with a rich representation of Wales past history (Morton, 2019).

St. Fagans National Museum of History, Cardiff, Wales, Retrieved Feb 21, 2021 from https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/top-6-living-history-museums/

My questions: What living collection would you choose to create and develop for the viewing public and why? Finally, I enjoy the hands on approach and the participant observations of that these museums provide its visitors, as well as the immense educational experience/s.


Morton, S. (2019, Dec). Top Living History Museums Around the World. Retrieved Feb 21, 2021 from https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/top-6-living-history-museums/

Smithsonian Garden. (2021). Smithsonian Garden. Retrieved Feb 21, 2021 from https://gardens.si.edu/support-smithsonian-gardens/

5 Thoughts to “#6. Living Collections Discussions”

  1. Martin Gutoski

    I visited the Colonial Williamsburg exhibit for several days and found it very illuminating. Especially looking at the GOAL exhibit which was the way they spelled JAIL back then. The docent was a African American lady who was dressed in a period costume. I found it an interesting twist of history that there would actually be a lady who was black giving the presentation on prisoners who would probably not be jail tenders back in colonial times.
    She highlighted the job of tending to the prisoners needs which not only involved feeding and watering them but taking out their slop buckets of the poop and pee to be disposed of outside. She did not indicate where the honey buckets were dumped.

    1. Barbara Long

      Good evening,

      I know people who take annual trips to Williamsburg. These large groups often take huge buses. They love their trips. I know others who can’t wait to visit the battlefield reenactments. As for the honey pots, I don’t want to know where they are dumped. My first experience with this term came from a group of women laughing about their honey pots in Alaska. After the post, I had additional questions. Ethical questions came to mind, as well as the topics that are portrayed during multiple events. I thought about the actors. They are reenacting powerful events.
      Thanks for sharing.

    2. Martin Gutoski

      I noticed an error in my post about Colonial Williamsburg on the second line where my spell checker changed the GAOL for the old English spelling for JAIL to GOAL. I don’t think a citizen of that old town had jail as a GOAL.

  2. Michael Hubert

    good reading,
    I think I would love to see a ALASKAN living museum. one that really encompass the people of Alaska. there would be a lot of work but to show Alaska in that way would be great. get the communities involved really come up with a great plan. this could a year around place to. I sure that there would be a lot of things that would need to be discussed to have a project like this that everyone was on board with.

  3. Angela Linn

    I agree with @Michael! I would love to see a living history museum in Alaska – Pioneer Park really has the potential, and to give them credit, the folks at the TVRR Museum and the James Wickersham House do a great job, along with the Kitty Hensley House! They dress in period clothing and they really know all about the subject matter they are interpreting. I wish more of the cabins had this sort of interaction – especially over in the Gold Rush village. Instead it’s really focused on commercial rental spaces.
    I also love Rika’s Roadhouse just this side of Delta Junction. While it’s a state park that is run by a private concessionaire, the old Roadhouse itself is set up as a museum with period objects arranged inside. Likewise, there are a number of outbuildings that are wonderfully arranged with historical materials to interpret the activities that occurred there. With a pioneer garden and chickens and goats wandering around, the site has so much potential and our family makes it a goal to visit every summer. The roadhouses between Fairbanks and Valdez are amazing and such a great history – definitely some real potential for some cultural tourism there!

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