This past March I visited London for a week. Among the sites I wanted to visit (for a second time) was the Imperial War Museum. I had already visited the Royal Army Museum twice, and I had taken my time exploring Churchill’s War Cabinet Rooms (although I’ll refresh that experience next time), but I really wanted to see the IWM, in part because of its immersive sections: a simulation of a portion of a WW I trench position and the civilian experience during the Blitz of 1940-41.
I’ve been to my share of Civil War museums, although there remain others on the list, including several fairly new ones in Virginia. I’ve been in the three NPS museums for Gettysburg (the now-dilapidated cyclorama building, the now-departed Electric Map building, and the new museum), and I recall with fondness the old Dobbin House diorama (I confess to a real weakness for dioramas as well as cycloramas). But I think that what I missed in these museums was the immersive nature of portions of the IWM. As much as I like looking at artifacts, there’s something missing when it comes to understanding. Interactive museums hold their place for me, too, and I’m curious as to what we could learn from those approaches. For example, what would it be like to watch as a line of infantry approached you? How could you simulate decision-making and its consequences? Are there better ways to communicate certain points than the passive look at the item and read the descriptive text?
So, I ask: if you were given the opportunity to advance suggestions to design a national Civil War museum, what would you include?