Upon visiting the New York State Museum in Albany over Spring Break, I made sure to pay special attention to curating techniques for the various exhibits being presented. From start to finish, the most basic observation (to me) seemed to be that the collections portrayed the history of New York from its earliest period of settlement (around 1614) through the recent devastation of 9/11/2001. Furthermore, the exhibits represented histories under the separate contexts of cultural, environmental and socio-political concentrations though still directly connected to the focus of NY state history as a whole.
Amongst the first exhibits upon entering included remnants of early settlers (namely, Native Americans) and various artifacts those settlers used. As I proceeded within and without the different dividers there were displays of various archeological objects that had been extracted and animals (moose, elk, various birds) that obtained a high population during the earlier ages of NY State’s development. Beyond the Native American exhibits were those portraying an evolved culture from the colonial period. Moving along these displays allowed any given onlooker to see the progress of history as it became less reliant on the environment and more concerned with social construction.
As I approached the presentations of war uniforms and arms it became clear that the exhibit had been deliberately placed in an order aimed to illuminate the progress of NY’s settlers over time. Immediately prior to the heart-wrenching display of the disastrous terrorist attack on the Twin Towers was a collection of automobiles and forms of historical transportation (ships, the first subways, elevators, carriages, cars, old-school ambulances, etc.). Naturally, the most contemporary-looking exhibit was that which hit closest to home. The 9/11 display contained a fire-truck that had been present on the scene and was half burnt and rusted with four bouquets of flowers in the front in honor of the four fire-fighters whose lives were taken as a result of their selfless efforts to the public on that day. There was a video of one of the surviving members of the FYPD explaining his experience both inside and outside of the burning building that added to the emotional effect of the exhibit. In addition, another video provided a slide-show of the first 24 hours after the fire had been put out.
Though some of the intricate organizations of the exhibits confused me, I found the general layout of the museum provided me with a very well-rounded experience of NY history that I would not have otherwise been acquainted with. From pictures to 3-dimensional/interactive displays, the experience was highly stimulating and allowed me to learn as much as possible in the short hour or so that I was there.