The Most Participatory Museum Audience

Have you ever wondered who the ultimate participatory audience is?

Only one demographic seems to seek out and engage with history and historical museums in a consistent, passionate, and often public way: Fundamentalist Christians.

It’s a little known fact that the “H” in His initials stands for history.

This should come as no surprise since their views are derived from a book about history. Unlike most other visitors, not only have they read their history, Fundamentalist Christians actively bring that understanding with them when they visit museums.

Also unlike other audiences, Fundamentalist Christians have their own historians who, despite having no academic training in history, have inspired more historical interest than most museums. The best-known is David Barton, who is reclaiming American history and making it accurate again. Although his work is rife with historical inaccuracies (so much so that his publisher pulled his Jefferson book), he remains a valid historian and truth-teller to many. There is also Glenn Beck. Mr. Beck, through his interest in American history and material culture (which centers around Bibles and guns), has become an exhibition curator whose self-styled purpose is to revitalize misunderstood or forgotten history, as you can see here and here and here and in this clip:

These historians have inspired Fundamentalist Christians to spend time reviewing current history scholarship for what they feel are potential (and intentional) oversights. Former teen heartthrob Kirk Cameron’s current career is built entirely on this. Not long ago, Mr. Cameron delved into the forgotten Christian history of the earliest American settlements. Today, he is back to help us understand the true origins and meaning of Christmas, in his new movie Saving Christmas:

Despite overwhelming evidence that Saturnalia predates the life of Christ and that Christmas was not important to Christians until long after Christ’s death, Mr. Cameron knows through his study of at least one history book that Christmas was stolen by the pagans and has been held hostage by them to this very day. Which is why, as the Christian Post noted in an interview about the film, Mr. Cameron:

…dismisses theories that Christmas is derived in the pagan celebration of Winter Solstice in “Saving Christmas,” offering viewers a Biblical reference to items such as the Christmas tree instead. Furthermore, the film reveals Cameron’s take on Santa Claus, the three wisemen, and why Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 25 each year.

“We don’t know this stuff, we kinda drink the Kool-Aid and believe pagans when they tell us they have ownership of these things,” Cameron explained to CP.

Perhaps where Fundamentalists exceed all other visitor interactions is in their eagerness to read everything we write. For example, here’s one visitor reflecting upon every thought, fact, and word exhibited, whether she understands what they mean or not:

As you can see Ms. Fox’s visit was so personally moving she even shared her experience on social media. Which is precisely what museums want every visitor to do!

Lastly, Fundamentalist Christians are so deeply engaged in history that they are founding their own museums. The Creation Museum has been open since 2007 (whose overly-honest tag line is “Be prepared to experience history in a completely unprecedented way“). Now the owners of Hobby Lobby are developing the Museum of the Bible, which is scheduled to open in 2017 in Washington D.C. You can’t love museums more than wanting to have one of your very own, can you?

As you can see, Fundamentalist Christians are crazy over history and museums, making them the very model of a modern participatory museum visitor. Right?

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About T.H. Gray

T.H. Gray is the self-appointed court jester and Dr. Demento for the history museum field. A lifelong museum professional and reenactor, he is a graduate of the prestigious Peale-Barnum Public History Museum Studies Program. Until 2011, when the AHS hired him away, he was on staff at the Benjamin Dover Memorial Museum & Swimming Pool ("Our History is All Wet!"). He remembers when museums were still about history, science, and art. BTW, all of these posts say they are by T.H. Gray because he can't turn off the byline. Credit, when due, is given. View all posts by T.H. Gray

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