An Anarchist Guide to Historic Rooms and House Museums

  • Deborah Ryan University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Frank Vagnone Historic House Trust
Keywords: Civic Engagement, Historic House Museum, Anarchist, Period Room


Historic house museums (HHM) and period rooms contribute to the national identity and acultural memory. Traditionally they have stood as shrines to a person or concept - reminders for socialcontinuity. Today, most HHMs are struggling for relevancy, and their place within the complex new structure of fast-paced, Internet based media. As a result of these cultural shifts, HHM and period rooms are having difficulty in finding new audiences, increasing fundraising, maintaining volunteers, producing relevant programming and planning for long-term stewardship. These houses and rooms hold a unique position in modernity. They have been actual private domestic worlds encapsulated and re-presented as public narrative. These architectural fragments exist in the volatile world between the REAL and the IDEAL. This paradoxical existence contains the most potential for an authentic “reading” of these domestic realms. Our research presents a methodology that makes visible a more holistic narrative of habitation. It begins with a critique and mapping of three HHMs and nine period rooms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. These recordings reveal a less than authentic experience characterized by a proliferation of denied spaces; the lack of the detritus of human habitation and the choreography it suggests; and, the absence of preservation variation. This cleansing of history denies the potential use of Conjecture/Rumor and Gossip innarratives; or the presence of Simultaneity and Fingerprinting. To address these shortcomings, we suggest through illustrative recordings and design proposals how the visitor experience can expand to includeOwnership, Overlapping, and Trans-position. The sustainability of HHMs will depend on a new methodology that makes visible a more holistic narrative ofhabitation, one that embraces a chorus of diverse voices from both inside and outside the museum. The Anarchist Guide to Historic House Museums is a manifesto offered toward that cause.
How to Cite
Ryan, D., & Vagnone, F. (2013). An Anarchist Guide to Historic Rooms and House Museums. ARCC Conference Repository.
Peer-reviewed Papers