A historic house museum is a house of historic significance that has been transformed into a museum. Historic furnishings may be displayed in a way that reflects their original placement and usage in a home. Historic house museums are held to a variety of standards, including those of the International Council of Museums. Houses are transformed into museums for a number of different reasons. For example, the homes of famous writers are frequently turned into writer's home museums to support literary tourism.
Historic house museums are sometimes known as a "memory museum", which is a term used to suggest that the museum contains a collection of the traces of memory of the people who once lived there. It is often made up of the inhabitants' belongings and objects – this approach is mostly concerned with authenticity. Some museums are organised around the person who lived there or the social role the house had. Other historic house museums may be partially or completely reconstructed in order to tell the story of a particular area, social-class or historical period. The "narrative" of the people who lived there guides this approach, and dictates the manner in which it is completed. In each kind of museum, visitors learn about the previous inhabitants through an explanation and exploration of social history.
The idea of a historic house museum derives from a branch of history called social history that is solely based on people and their way of living.It became very popular in the mid-twentieth century among scholars who were interested in the history of people, as opposed to political and economical issues. Social history remains an influential branch of history. Philip J. Ethington, a professor of history and political science, further adds to social history and its relationship to locations by saying –
Following this historical movement, the concept of "open-air museums" became prominent.These particular types of museums had interpreters in costume re-enact the lives of communities in earlier eras, which would then be performed to modern audiences. They often occupied large wooden architecture buildings or outdoor sites and landscapes, that were true to the era, adding to authenticity.
Collective memory is sometimes used in the resurrection of historic house museums; however, not all historic house museums use this approach. The notion of collective memory originated from philosopher and sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, in "La Memoire Collective" ("On Collective Memory", 1950). This extended thesis examines the role of people and place, and how collective memory is not only associated with the individual but is a shared experience. It also focused on the way individual memory is influenced by social structures, as a way of continuing socialisation by producing memory as collective experience.
An example of a site that utilizes collective memory is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan. It was restored and is based on the dialectics of memory, however it also has the inclusion of joyous festivals to mask the turmoil. The Hiroshima Traces (1999) text takes a look at the importance of collective memory and how it is embedded in culture and place. Thus, collective memory does not only reside in a house or building, but it also resonates in outdoor space – particularly when a monumental event has occurred, such as war.
Problematic creation of collective memory occurs within historic house museums when the narrative of non-family members is dismissed, ignored, or completely rejected. Within the Southern United States, plantation museums (the former homes of enslavers) constitute a significant portion of the museum community and contribute to the racialized collective memory of the United States. Because museums are responsible for "the building of identity, cultural memory and community",neglecting to include the narrative of all people who lived there is dangerous. While some plantation museum narratives have changed following an outcry from the public and the academy, "plantation museums reflect, create, and contribute to racialized ways of understanding and organizing the world" by limiting or eliminating the narrative of the enslaved inhabitants.
A degree of authenticity is also to be considered in the restoration and creation of a historic house museum. The space must be authentic in terms of truly replicating and representing the way it once stood in its original form and appear to be untouched and left in time. There are three steps when declaring if a space is authentic:
The earliest projects for preserving historic homes began in the 1850s under the direction of individuals concerned with the public good and the preservation of American history, especially centered on the first U.S. president. Since the establishment of the country's first historic site in 1850, Washington's Revolutionary headquarters in New York, Americans have found a penchant for preserving similar historical structures. The establishment of historic house museums increased in popularity through the 1970s and 1980s, as the Revolutionary War's bicentennial set off a wave of patriotism and alerted Americans to the destruction of their physical heritage. The tradition of restoring homes of the past and designating them as museums draws on the English custom of preserving ancient buildings and monuments. Initially homes were considered worthy of saving because of their associations with important individuals, usually of the elite classes, like former presidents, authors, or businessmen. Increasingly, Americans have fought to preserve structures characteristic of a more typical American past that represents the lives of everyday people, including minorities.
Historic house museums usually operate with small staffs and on limited budgets. Many are run entirely by volunteers and often do not meet the professional standards established by the museum industry. An independent survey conducted by Peggy Coats in 1990 revealed that sixty-five percent of historic house museums did not have a full-time staff, and 19 to 27 percent of historic homes employed only one full-time employee. Furthermore, the majority of these museums operated on less than $50,000 annually. The survey also revealed a significant disparity in the number of visitors between local house museums and national sites. While museums like Mount Vernon and Colonial Williamsburg were visited by over one million tourists a year, more than fifty percent of historic house museums received less than 5,000 visitors per year.
These museums are also unique in that the actual structure belongs to the museum collection as a historical object. While some historic home museums are fortunate to possess a collection containing many of the original furnishings once present in the home, many face the challenge of displaying a collection consistent with the historical structure. Some museums choose to collect pieces original to the period, while not original to the house. Others, fill the home with replicas of the original pieces, reconstructed with the help of historic records. Still other museums adopt a more aesthetic approach and use the homes to display the architecture and artistic objects.Because historic homes have often existed through different generations and have been passed on from one family to another, volunteers and professionals also must decide which historical narrative to tell their visitors. Some museums grapple with this issue by displaying different eras in the home's history within different rooms or sections of the structure. Others choose one particular narrative, usually the one deemed most historically significant, and restore the home to that particular period.
There are a number of organizations around the world that dedicate themselves to the preservation, restoration, or promotion of historic house museums. They include:
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a privately funded, nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that works in the field of historic preservation in the United States. The member-supported organization was founded in 1949 by congressional charter to support the preservation of America’s diverse historic buildings, neighborhoods, and heritage through its programs, resources, and advocacy.
A historic house generally meets several criteria before being listed by an official body as "historic." Generally the building is at least a certain age, depending on the rules for the individual list. A second factor is that the building be in recognizably the same form as when it became historic. Third is a requirement that either an event of historical importance happened at the site, or that a person of historical significance was associated with the site, or that the building itself is important for its architecture or interior. Many historic houses are also considered museums and retain permanent collections that help tell the story of their house and the era.
Living history is an activity that incorporates historical tools, activities and dress into an interactive presentation that seeks to give observers and participants a sense of stepping back in time. Although it does not necessarily seek to reenact a specific event in history, living history is similar to, and sometimes incorporates, historical reenactment. Living history is an educational medium used by living history museums, historic sites, heritage interpreters, schools and historical reenactment groups to educate the public or their own members in particular areas of history, such as clothing styles, pastimes and handicrafts, or to simply convey a sense of the everyday life of a certain period in history.
Lowell National Historical Park is a National Historical Park of the United States located in Lowell, Massachusetts. Established in 1978 a few years after Lowell Heritage State Park, it is operated by the National Park Service and comprises a group of different sites in and around the city of Lowell related to the era of textile manufacturing in the city during the Industrial Revolution. In 2019, the park was included as Massachusetts' representative in the America the Beautiful Quarters series.
A living museum, also known as a living history museum, is a type of museum which recreates historical settings to simulate a past time period, providing visitors with an experiential interpretation of history. It is a type of museum that recreates to the fullest extent conditions of a culture, natural environment or historical period, in an example of living history.
The Edith Farnsworth House, formerly the Farnsworth House, is a historical house designed and constructed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe between 1945 and 1951. The house was constructed as a one-room weekend retreat in a rural setting in Plano, Illinois, about 60 miles (96 km) southwest of Chicago's downtown. The steel and glass house was commissioned by Edith Farnsworth.
Historic preservation (US), built heritage preservation or built heritage conservation (UK), is an endeavor that seeks to preserve, conserve and protect buildings, objects, landscapes or other artifacts of historical significance. It is a philosophical concept that became popular in the twentieth century, which maintains that cities as products of centuries’ development should be obligated to protect their patrimonial legacy. The term refers specifically to the preservation of the built environment, and not to preservation of, for example, primeval forests or wilderness.
An open-air museum is a museum that exhibits collections of buildings and artifacts out-of-doors. It is also frequently known as a museum of buildings or a folk museum.
Historic New England, previously known as the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA), is a charitable, non-profit, historic preservation organization headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. It is focused on New England and is the oldest and largest regional preservation organization in the United States. Historic New England owns and operates historic site museums and study properties throughout all of the New England states except Vermont, and serves more than 198,000 visitors and program participants each year. Approximately 48,000 visitors participate in school and youth programs focused on New England heritage.
James Madison's Montpelier, located in Orange County, Virginia, was the plantation house of the Madison family, including Founding Father and fourth president of the United States James Madison and his wife, Dolley. The 2,650-acre (10.7 km2) property is open seven days a week with the mission of engaging the public with the enduring legacy of Madison's most powerful idea: government by the people.
A historic site or heritage site is an official location where pieces of political, military, cultural, or social history have been preserved due to their cultural heritage value. Historic sites are usually protected by law, and many have been recognized with the official national historic site status. A historic site may be any building, landscape, site or structure that is of local, regional, or national significance. Usually this also means the site must be at least 50 years or older.
The Pope–Leighey House, formerly known as the Loren Pope Residence, is a suburban home in Virginia designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The house, which belongs to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, has been relocated twice and sits on the grounds of Woodlawn Plantation, Alexandria, Virginia. Along with the Andrew B. Cooke House and the Luis Marden House, it is one of the three homes in Virginia designed by Wright.
Ximenez-Fatio House Museum is one of the best-preserved and most authentic Second Spanish Period (1783-1821) residential buildings in St. Augustine, Florida. In 1973, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It was designated a Florida Heritage Landmark in 2012.
Because memory is not just an individual, private experience but is also part of the collective domain, cultural memory has become a topic in both historiography and cultural studies. These emphasize cultural memory’s process (historiography) and its implications and objects, respectively. Two schools of thought have emerged, one articulates that the present shapes our understanding of the past. The other assumes that the past has an influence on our present behavior. It has, however, been pointed out that these two approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Historic paint analysis, or architectural paint research, is the scientific analysis of a broad range of architectural finishes, and is primarily used to determine the color and behavior of surface finishes at any given point in time. This helps us to understand the building's structural history and how its appearance has changed over time.
"If This House Could Talk", is a community based history and public art project, first created and produced by residents of the Cambridgeport section of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Projects of a similar nature and with the same name take place annually in neighborhoods of Sacramento, California, Newburyport, Massachusetts, and other communities in the United States.
The Civil War Trust's Civil War Discovery Trail is a heritage tourism program that links more than 600 U.S. Civil War sites in more than 30 states. The program is one of the White House Millennium Council's sixteen flagship National Millennium Trails. Sites on the trail include battlefields, museums, historic sites, forts and cemeteries.
Boone County Historical Society was established in 1924. Located in Columbia, Missouri, United States, the Boone County Historical Museum has been collecting, preserving and exhibiting artifacts and records of the people of Boone County, Missouri.
National memory is a form of collective memory defined by shared experiences and culture. It is an integral part to national identity.
Demond "Brent" Leggs is an African American architectural historian and preservationist from Paducah, Kentucky. Among his roles at the National Trust for Historic Preservation he has been the founding director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, with the goal of raising $25,000,000 to protect and preserve African American history via material culture and beyond.