Fun & Easy Ways to Learn History: Visit a Museum!

Note: This blog post can also be found as a podcast called "6 Fun & Easy ways to learn history." You can find this podcast series at "Listen Up!" on this website or on Stitcher.com.

Hello history friends and welcome back to rememberinghistory.com where we are remembering history and we’re making history!

Today we are continuing with our 6-part great and groundbreaking series called “6 Fun & Easy ways to learn history.” This series has proven to be amazingly educational AND inspirational; I hope that you’re enjoying reading these posts or listening to the podcasts. Inspired learning is everywhere but sometimes it is difficult to see. The same applies to history—it is everywhere yet we often don’t realize that history is happening and being made every single day. We don’t want to miss these inspirational moments. And that is what this series is all about: how to learn and be inspired by history.

Let’s briefly review:

In Part I, we discussed how books can be great sources of learning and inspiration. Remember that history is a collection of stories about people. I keep repeating that the history textbooks that many of us have read in high school or college only relate history as names, dates and death counts. They don’t tell stories. Don’t let them put you off learning history or being inspired by history. Just find other books—remember the non-fiction novels and narratives—that teach history in a relatable way. Many people can also relate to biographies and autobiographies—again stories of people’s’ lives.

In Part II, we made the small jump from books to movies. Movies bring stories to the big screen and can also be incredible sources of learning and inspiration. Movies and documentaries (please don’t forget documentaries!) show the triumph of the human spirit and many people prefer watching movies to reading books. That’s just fine. Everyone learns and relates differently and can be inspired by different things.

We discussed another way to learn and be inspired by history in Part III which focused on getting history directly from the source: from people who were there, who actually witnessed history. This is a great way for anyone because it allows you to ask questions and to get the small details and feelings that are often overlooked in books or left out of movies. And it is a great way to connect with your elders (parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts) and show how much they are cherished and respected.

In Part IV, we visiting historic places. Go to the battlegrounds, visit the restored homes of famous people from the past, visit churches, monuments and statues. Remember I visited restored slave quarters, which was an educational and very emotional experience to see where slaves lived, slept, ate, worked and generally spent their lives. It was a life-changing moment for me and it inspired me to learn more and to have the confidence to fight against modern day slavery. Remember to take an hour or day to acknowledge and visit great historic sites. It will definitely be worth the effort. In that blog, I only mentioned places in the United States but, of course, history is all over the world.  So take the opportunity to visit great historic places in different parts of the world.

This brings us to Part V of the great and groundbreaking series called “6 Fun & Easy ways to learn history.

What is Part V?

Visit a Museum!

As much as I love visiting historical sites, I do understand that all the great historic sites cannot be visited. Common problems: Too expensive, too far away, too dangerous, too risky. Or it could be that the site no longer exists, perhaps it was not restored or it has been destroyed. Sadly that is happening in different parts of the world. Many ancient sites are completely gone.

What can you do? Enter the museum—literally. Museums contain so much of the world’s knowledge and experiences. Experts provide explanations, exhibits, and programs. They present the information in interesting and informative ways. Some museums are large and general. Others are small and specialized. Both offer great information and knowledge.

I remember as a child, my mother (who loved photography)  wanted me to visit an exhibit by James Van Der Zee in Oakland, California.  I couldn’t say no—this was in the days when kids couldn’t say no!—so I went and hoped to get through it quickly or, even better, that it would be closed. Neither of those things happened. Thank goodness!

James Van Der Zee was an African American photographer who specialized in portraits of African Americans in New York during the Harlem Renaissance. I found myself transfixed in the art museum, surrounded by elegant and stylish portraits of African Americans in the 1920s. Names were familiar like Langston Hughes and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (yes, even as a child I had heard these names from my parents, my elders). Others were completely foreign to me. But I was inspired that day.

I witnessed how someone could make such beautiful art and such beautiful expression with a camera. And I learned about the Harlem Renaissance! One name that I never forgot was James Van Der Zee. And I never forgot going to that photo exhibit at the museum. It inspired me beyond words. My mother never needed to drag me to museums or exhibits after that time. We travel together a lot and always find ourselves going to a museum.

One of my favorite museums is the British Museum in London that contains artifacts from around the world—literally every continent on the planet. I’ve seen real mummies, jewelry from the Aztecs, masks from the Ibo, tools by the Cherokee and statues from the Tang dynasty. There is much much more. It is huge and would take a month (or longer) to see everything but it is my “go to” museum.

However, Frederick Douglass House is another favorite. I learned so much about the famous abolitionist and orator that it has given me an additional understanding of slavery and the abolitionist movement.  I also learned about life during the 1800s for men and women (very different lives), for Blacks and whites (again, very different experiences) and about the great man himself.

So, please don’t groan and pass by your local museum; there is so much to see and learn. I strongly urge you to visit the African American history museums that are opening around the United States. They need your support and you will definitely learn a lot about AMERICAN history. You will definitely be inspired.

Remember that many libraries double as museums. The African American Museum and Library of Oakland is an amazing place with a great collection of resource materials, including – and this is my favorite—original documents by leaders of the Black Panthers! It also has letters by other black leaders like Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. I also just visited their exhibit on the Montgomery bus boycott. The exhibit presented a real 1950s-style bus and discussed Rosa Parks and other civil rights leaders.

Other African American history museums have a great collection and a special theme. Boston has an African American history museum that focuses on the Underground Railroad. Detroit has the Charles W. Wright Museum, which has special exhibits about the Obamas—America’s first African American first family. As I said previously, Oakland’s African American museum has a special collection of documents by the Black Panthers. The National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta should not be missed—it has so much to see and learn about the civil rights movement.

Now, I do know this audience and some of you are probably rolling your eyes about the thought of going to a museum—after all, how many Venus de Milos can a person see in one lifetime?! Okay, I have also seen my share of classical museums, but today I focus on specialty museums like the Picasso Museum in Malaga and in Paris (Malaga’s is better though), the Buffalo Soldiers Museum in Houston, San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum and the Bishop Museum about ancient Hawaii in Honolulu. By the way, that’s also an amazing museum! Find your interest (historical or otherwise) and there is definitely a museum, library or exhibit where you can pursue and indulge it.

Well, I hope that I have convinced you that museums can be amazingly inspirational and educational. This includes libraries and exhibits—all great experiences. Don’t miss them! But choose them wisely and you will reap the benefits.

So, we now have 5 fun and easy ways to learn and be inspired by history! There is just one more—actually, I’m sure that there are many more—but this blog and podcast series is only going to discuss one more. Just one more left. And, no, I’m still not giving any sneak peeks!

In the last session, we’re gonna examine that final fun and easy way to learn and be amazingly inspired by history. It is a bit of a surprise but I think that it’s the most fun way of them all though perhaps not the easiest way. (That’s the hint that I’m giving since I’m feeling so generous!)

I hope that you are enjoying this series as much as I am. And I will be sad to see it end. But let’s face it; history never ends—it is a truly never-ending story. Remember that you can listen to the podcasts on Stitcher.com—just download the free app, sit back and enjoy.

I look forward to seeing you for the final part of fun and easy ways to learn and be inspired by history.

See you next time at rememberinghistory.com where we are remembering history and we’re making history!

 Bye for now!