This was my second visit to the Tenement Museum. I went for the first time about five or six years ago. I barely remember the tour; save for the theatricality of the guide. I recall him being quite animated and enthusiastic which really stood out for me given the more subdued nature of our guide last week.
The guide’s approach to the tour was less historical and information-driven than what I had expected. I wouldn’t have minded if there was a bit more historical background but that’s just a personal preference. Her approach was to briefly introduce a space, show us a photo and then ask us to imagine what it would be like: to work in this apartment as a tailor’s assistant? To walk outside among the teeming crowds or share a bathroom with several families? While this may be useful and insightful for some, this tool for storytelling (teaching) didn’t work for me in this particular instance. Although, I could see it being quite effective for elementary and middle school students. It can be more engaging to a student to learn and understand a part of history by placing yourself literally and figuratively in it. I’m sure it’s a welcome departure from reading a textbook and listening to your teacher regurgitate points from a lesson plan. However, I felt like the tour guide relied a little too much on activating our imaginations. There are many spaces in which we can fill in the blanks, create our own ideas or understanding but I felt we needed a few more guiding points say beyond “imagine” in order to construct our own individual narratives.
The museum itself is a remarkable place. The fact that its so well-preserved is in itself an astounding feat. Visitors can experience first-hand the power of “place,” one can really feel the history there. It’s in the banister that supports you as you ascend the stairs, it’s in the walls and artifacts displayed. I’m impressed by the museum’s staging of the apartments, I think they succeeded in recreating a distinct historical milieu which provides a rather compelling narrative.
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