Weekly Museum Visits in 2011 (Weeks 23 and 24)

(There will be one more post briefly listing everywhere I went for Weeks 1-22, in 2010.)

For Week 23, I went to the Koshland Science Museum. I first attempted to go on a Thursday, but when I arrived, the people there kindly told me that the museum was closed for a special event and I could come back the next day.  Not wanting just to turn around and go back home when I’d already come downtown, I went to see Hide/Seek at the National Portrait Gallery that day, and returned to the Koshland the next day.

I once again appreciated the kind greeting again (this time just from one person), and I enjoyed the variety of elements in the exhibits about climate change and infectious diseases.  The small museum had ample technology, including many interactives.  On one screen, the visitor can see a picture of a man holding a baby–and can point to different parts of the screen to learn where sources of various diseases lurk.

Below is an illustration of the rate of bacteria population growth:

Bacteria population growth at the Koshland

And in Week 24, I visited Arlington National Cemetery, including Arlington House, on a cold, windy day.  This site certainly counts for my museum-visiting purposes, probably for multiple reasons, but it remains a little hard to categorize.  Is the whole thing the equivalent of one museum?  One historic site with multiple museums (including Arlington House and the indoor exhibits that are part of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial?  What about the Visitor Center?)?  What about the consideration is that Arlington House is a national park, but the cemetery as a whole is not?  Given that Arlington House is being renovated right now, does that count as a museum?  But then there’s that little Robert E. Lee museum building nearby…

Since I spent two and a half hours at Arlington National Cemetery and saw no small amount of exhibits, monuments, and places of historical importance, I definitely experienced a Museum Visit.  But I think my difficulty in articulating exactly what aspects make it a museum visit speaks to the variety of forms museums can take and functions they can serve.

Arlington National Cemetery is, of course, a moving place.  With the flags at half-mast, it was even more so: a reminder that not everyone mourned here is a figure from “the past.” The landscape was stark and white; white snow covered the ground and the white gravestones and statues. I did not traverse the entirety of the site, but I saw what everyone says to make sure you see: the flame burning for Kennedy, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  And I saw the countless graves of people who had died for America, some who had aspired to nothing less, some who had no choice, and perhaps everything in between.  I ended at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial as I walked back toward the Metro, where I escaped to the warmth of the indoor exhibits and learned about the struggle of women to even have the opportunity to serve, and die, in the first place.  Needless to say, the cemetery’s inherent themes of the juxtapositions of life and death, freedom to serve or not to serve, are poignant, and relevant today.

Arlington House itself was interesting as well.  How often do museums stay open in the process of renovation?  There was a ranger present, who told me I could walk through the house on my own and yes, I could take pictures. Right now it is a shell of a museum, with power tools in the rooms, and poster panels on easels that show what the rooms look like when furnished properly.

This photograph shows John F. Kennedy’s memorial in the foreground and Arlington House in the background:

Arlington House


About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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2 Responses to Weekly Museum Visits in 2011 (Weeks 23 and 24)

  1. Allison Wickens says:

    On the subject of definitions, your question about what was a museum and what is not at Arlington Cemetery reminds me of why I like the term “Cultural Site.” It’s inclusive of museums but allows the inclusion of interpreted geography and architecture that are not traditionally categorized as objects in a collection.

  2. disciullo says:

    For my purposes of what counts as a museum in this Weekly Music Visit project, I’ve counted national parks, arboreta/botanic gardens, community art spaces, and a zoo as well as the places that are more traditionally thought of as museums. There have been extant theatres and houses of worship, a place that began as one artist’s visionary art environment, sites actively used by the military today, and a museum that I happened to visit on an election day that was also being used as a polling place.

    I should figure out exactly what criteria I’m using to define “museum” here, but every time I try to do this, it becomes a daunting task!

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