United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

DC Day 10

We visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) today and toured the special exhibition, Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity in the Holocaust.

Introductory panel for exhibit

Generally, people think of the Holocaust in black and white terms with three main parts: victim, perpetrator, and bystander, but USHMM digs deeper into the complicated story of the Holocaust. The Holocaust was not black and white, there are many gray areas, and these gray areas contain the complexity. The special exhibition we toured focuses on the individual choices that people made during the Holocaust, and the fact that the neighbors of Jewish people either betrayed their neighbors or not. The exhibit focuses on the individual choices people made, and that people were not forced to choose the actions they made. Our guide emphasized the fact that the choices these people made were one moment in time, and their one choice does not necessarily characterize them as good or bad.


The Holocaust is a difficult story to tell for many reasons. The USHMM has an approach to the story that is opposite of most museums, the museum does not want to put visitors in other people’s shoes. This is striking because most museums want visitors to be transported into another person’s story, but telling the story of the Holocaust is unique in that the museum does not want to compare people’s pain and suffering. The USHMM wants to tell the why, how, and what related to the Holocaust, and the museum has found other techniques to give the visitor that personal connection. We did not have the opportunity to see the permanent exhibit, but I have heard that the display of the objects and the tour experience is how the emotional and personal connections are made. Another point made when talking to staff is that visitors should leave with questions. If visitors do not have questions, then the museum failed in its mission to “inspire citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity” (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). The Holocaust is recent history and new information and archival material is still being released, and there is still more to learn about the atrocity that was the Holocaust.



United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (n.d.). About the Museum. Retrieved March 29, 2017, from https://www.ushmm.org/information/about-the-museum

National Museum of Natural History

DC Day 9

Today, we visited two exhibits at the National Museum of Natural History. We visited the Ocean Hall and the Hall of Human Origins. Our guide was one of the museum’s paleontologists, who informed us of how the museum approached the exhibits, and some of the changes that have occurred in the display of natural history specimens.

In the Ocean Hall I noticed a lot of “what can you do to help” blurbs and “how do we know this information” weaved throughout the exhibit. The staff member guiding us around mentioned that the museum strives to inform and educate the public rather than try to force an opinion on visitors. Using these interpretive tools creates transparency between the museum and visitors because the museum is explaining the research in an accessible way.

Label in Ocean Hall
Label in Ocean Hall













The Hall of Human Origins is an exhibit about human evolution, which is another controversial topic. The museum has the collection objects that demonstrate evolution and use the objects as a starting point for discussing evolution. The exhibit is designed with the objects and research that the Smithsonian Institution has conducted as the focus. The museum has the information and evidence to support the idea of evolution. Since evolution is a controversial topic, some visitors may try to refute the existence of evolution, but the visitor does not have the evidence to back up the lack of evolution. Evolution will likely always be controversial, but natural history museums have the responsibility to discuss the topic and educate the visitors about the current research.

Entry to Hall of Human Origins
Research panel in Hall of Human Origins
Label in Hall of Human Origins