Friday, February 5, 2010

Open-up and say... Ouch

One of the ways in which I try to get museum visitors to appreciate the context of history is to present stories which allow them to feel some empathy for the historic personalities we are discussing. I find that if you can present history on a human level that your audience is much more likely to take interest in the subject. Whatever the topic, if you can get someone to associate their life and feelings with the story, you have a much better chance of getting your message across.

Now, there are different ways of bringing museum visitors into a story. For that matter, I suppose that there would be similar ways to bring a blog reader into the story. Today's archival image is an excellent example of one particular way of connecting with an audience (albeit not one which I often choose to use). This image shows the office of Dr. McLaughlin, the dentist in Annapolis Royal at the turn of the twentieth century. Even writing the words "dentist at the turn of the twentieth century" make me start to tense up a little bit. This feeling of tension is the secret of this image. For understandable reasons people do not like pain or the memory of pain. Yet feelings of tension and pain are shared by all humans past and present. This knowledge allows you to draw connections of common experience between your audience and the story.

Imagine the ten year old who has had to wake up early and ride into Annapolis Royal on the back of her parents wagon. A tooth has been bothering her for weeks and she feels a sting every time the wagon hits a bump. They tie the horse outside the Union Bank on St George Street (now the Royal Bank) and climb the stairs to the office on the second floor. Each odd creek and groan of the stairs makes the child that much more apprehensive. After waiting in adjoining room for what seems an eternity she is finally called into the room with the dentist. Looking around the room she sees a fairly pleasant looking man with a moustache standing behind a chair. He says something reassuring to her but the beside him there is a tray filled with odd looking tools. Even worse, on the other side is a foot powered dental drill. At this point she would probably be too nervous to notice the wonderful pressed tin ceilings the room. Suppressing an urge to bolt for the door she settles into the chair and hears "Now this won't hurt a bit".

All for now,
RGS

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