Inclusive Historic Houses

A white painted two storey home with white pillars all round supporting the verandah.Some good advice from a Masters dissertation on how to create inclusive Historic House stories and exhibits. The emphasis is on overcoming the practice of relating the dominant white male narrative. The dissertation discusses issues of diversity of ethnicity, socio-economic status and belief systems. “One way historic house museums might address this issue of exclusive narratives is to purposely seek out and recognize stories of the forgotten or overlooked people who occupied the house. These stories often involve people of color, women, servants, the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, and to some extent, children.” Case studies highlight the value of recommendations: 

  • Include diverse perspectives and narratives
  • Connect the past to the present
  • Build with shared authority
  • Make the human connection 

The title of the dissertation is, If These Walls Could Talk: Best Practices for Storytelling in Historic House Museums, by Hannah M Gaston. 

Abstract: Historic house museums are one of the most common types of museums in the United States. These museums vary from large institutions with budgets of several million dollars to entirely volunteer-run organizations, but all these museums tell stories about their former inhabitants, their buildings, and their objects. While some of these museums excel at storytelling through programming and interpretation, many historic house museums still struggle to discover and implement recognized best practices. With limited resources, decreased visitation, and questions of sustainability, historic house museums have to learn to tell relevant and compelling stories to stay viable. Literature from the field suggests four best practices for relevant storytelling: 1) include diverse stories and narratives; 2) connect the past to the present; 3) build shared authority; and 4) make the human connection. This study surveys historic house museums across the United States to identify the institutional leaders of the field that are successfully utilizing storytelling best practices. Case studies of eight historic house museums led to a set of five recommendations for each best practice. These recommendations serve as a tool for practical implementation of best practices for telling relevant and compelling stories at all historic house museums.