ideas, artifacts, spaces, and (most interestingly) the public. ‘‘My job as a cura-tor,’’ Rabinowitz writes,
is to arrange these objects
. . .
no, I mean these stories, so that they move visitorsto invent stories for themselves. The art of the gallery is to furnish the imagi-nation with the makings of good stories—human characters, human actions,human places, human rules, and human tools—so that visitors can feel them-selves dramatizing the past. I do my art so that you can do yours. This is the task of interpretation.
Rabinowitz does not base his arguments for what works in exhibition oneducational or psychological theory, or visitor surveys. He’s not interestedin the general trend toward exhibitions curated by committees of contentspecialists, designers, audience advocates, and experts in visitor experience,let alone those crowd-sourced to the community. Nor does he pay muchattention to the politics or inﬁghting of museum bureaucracy or fundraisingor master plans. He points instead to the experience gained in his ‘‘550-plusprojects,’’tohistimewatchingvisitorsmovethroughexhibitions,andtoadeepimmersion in historical research. He knows what works, he knows what thepublic needs,and he pushesthe museum to make it happen. Hedoes his work ‘‘intuitively,’’ he says.For Rabinowitz, interpretive exhibitions are a form of narrative art closely related to theater, or ﬁlm, or perhaps a compelling work of ﬁction. He’slooking for ‘‘a compelling yarn.’’ He uses the word ‘‘stories’’ a lot. He makesdirect analogies to other narrative media:
A narrative exhibition clusters its documents and artifacts as elements of a singlestoryline, as would the scenes in a novel or feature ﬁlm.
. . .
The narrative employs a varietyofliterary devices—characterization, ﬂashbacks,contrasts in tone, questions posed and resolved, foreshadowing and ‘‘side-shadowing’’ (what was happening at the same moment)—to propel the visitors’movement through the story.
. . .
Think of the overall exhibition as a
. Each of its galleries is an
thatcontains several (episodic) clusters (or
), which in turn are assemblages of individual elements (
Dialogues, Soliloquies, etc.
But this is narrative in three dimensions, or four, or ﬁve. Rabinowitz addsto space two dimensions of time: historical time and the motion of visitor through space. He writes:
In these interpretive acts, the museum curator becomes a theater director operating in two time frames at once. The contents of an exhibit case aretransformed into an animated ﬁeld of action. To interpret is to imagine one castof historical actors stepping out of the document, and another set of modern-day visitors coming across it. Historical time and exhibit time ﬂow together.
THE PUBLIC HISTORIAN