There are multiple ways to convey a theme. Labels are a way to present information, but not the only way. Since our goal at the USS Constitution Museum was to encourage family learning through engagement, interaction and conversation, we tried to employ various techniques so that visitors with different learning styles could access information in different ways.
For example, instead of relying solely on text we looked for hands-on opportunities for families to experience the daily life of a sailor, or ways to present information visually in a graph or chart. We reinforced themes through text, artifacts, graphics, charts, illustrations, props and interactives. Evaluation showed that families are much more likely to be drawn to a text panel if there are graphics, artifacts, and an interactive around it. We also tried to be creative about where we put text and found unconventional delivery methods paid off.
When we realized we had a captive, though horizontal, audience in our popular hammock area, we added thematic text to the ceiling. We have observed many parents reading this text out loud to their children as they swing in the hammocks.
We also put text on plates in our mess area where visitors sit on a piece of sail cloth on the “deck” and bond over salt pork, ship’s biscuit, and grog. Text on plates sparks conversation among family members with questions such as:
Top: “Salt beef again?”
Bottom: “While at sea, we eat the same foods day after day, whether we like it or not. How’d you like to eat the same food everyday?”
In our final exhibit we are going to introduce “History Buff” flaps that contain another layer of information for those who are interested, such as the fact that women on board the British ship Guerriere helped pass powder during the battle, and the percentage of sailors who could sign their name.