Category Archives: Cabinets of Wonder

Trip Report: Brooklyn Historical Society

  • Impressions: The level of exhibition design and the range of content at the Brooklyn Historical Society surprised and me from the start.   The ornate, landmark building is stunning and the mixture of contemporary aesthetic with the architecture was more pleasing than I anticipated.
  • Atmosphere:  You walk into the Brooklyn Historical Society and immediately you get personal attention.  You find yourself at the front desk and someone wants to help.  There aren’t many people there, it’s a small institution, and yet they clearly are enthusiastic about their exhibitions.
  • The Interface of the Museum:
    • A word (or two)for its personality: Cozy, polished, intimate.


  • A memorable object, exhibit, or hall: I really loved Personal Correspondents: Photography and Letter Writing in Civil War Brooklyn.  I’m a sucker for civil war letters, and the overall design, again, was compelling and effective.  Why (feels important to ask that)?  The use of primary documents with curatorial content, plus voice-over readings and period photography made for a multi-sensory experience of the material.  The whole exhibit fit in one small room and yet there was enough content to provide hours of engagement.  I also appreciated this analog interactive, a desk where you could write your own letter to a soldier far-off in time and space.


  • Interactive technology exhibits: I was very excited by the Potion-designed interactives at BHS, because I haven’t seen this type of mechanism before–pulling strings to trigger video, and it felt so well integrated with the content of the In Pursuit of Freedom / Brooklyn Anti-Slavery exhibit, more so than most panel-based or button-based interactive displays.
  • Hospitality: as mentioned the front desk staff are enthusiastic and helpful, and otherwise there aren’t many docents/guards, so you feel like you have the museum to yourself.
  •  Who’s there?: No one.  I did not see one other person in the exhibits, only researchers in the gorgeous Othmer research library.
  •  Museum Website: 
    • I’m not sure it captures the museum…it lets you know what’s there, and so if you have been before it communicates what you need to know, but the character of the BHS is not really represented by the site.
    • The website for the In Pursuit of Freedom exhibit does capture that part of the museum and feels like a companion to it.
    • The BHS seems to host interesting events, so I would go back to get news about what’s happening there.
    • The basic info (open hours, address) are is available through the first link on the top menu of the website.
  • What does BHS do well that I want to remember as I go forward?  Knowing that the museum doesn’t have massive resources, I was impressed by the level of care, thought, and craft in their exhibits.  I’d like to keep in mind how much can be achieved in a small space with effort into content and creative approaches to presenting that material.
    “How do you define freedom?


Source: Cabinets of Wonder