Stratford Hall, Stratford, Virginia
Stratford Hall invites submissions of papers/panelists for a symposium investigating new models for the visitor experience in historic house settings. Declining attendance and weakening public support have prompted discussions over the future of historic house museums. These discussions have resulted in a number of possible solutions to the current challenges. On the one extreme, some historic houses have had to close or sell their property. Others have realigned their institutional missions. And many have adopted strategies to improve community engagement. The assumption of all of these proposed solutions is that the traditional historic house model, consisting of a guided tour through a series of period rooms, appeals to a narrow and shrinking audience, is not an effective educational experience, and cannot be adapted to the new experiences that modern museum audiences expect.
The current museum experience is becoming less structured and more self-directed. It also makes greater use of technology. Visitors are encouraged to interact with objects and themes to fashion their own ideas and experiences. These museum experiences have little, if any, interpretation imposed by museum professionals. The role of the curator and educator has developed to provide the means for visitors to conduct their own processes of discovery, resulting in multiple interpretive outcomes. Can, or should, the traditional historic house museum model be adapted to this emerging museum-visit paradigm?
The proposed program will take place over two days: The first day will consist of an open discussion among four to six invited panelists regarding this new challenge. On the second day, the general public will be invited to attend 30-minute presentations by each of the panelists, followed by a moderated forum. Stratford Hall, the historic home of the Lee family in Westmoreland County, Virginia is in the midst of a restoration and refurnishing, which presents an opportunity to explore this issue and possibly serve as a model for implementation of a new approach to historic house interpretation.
Full symposium prospectus and tentative schedule can be requested by contacting:
Gretchen M. Goodell