History Goes Hollywood

Anxious about dwindling crowds and shorter attention spans, museums and historical sites are turning to special effects to tell their stories

Historical-museum curators can be a contentious bunch--get between two of them debating whether the Smithsonian exhibit of First Ladies' ball gowns is real history, and you may want to John Wilkes Booth one or both of them. But nearly all curators will agree that they are battling a common enemy: public indifference. If you're in the history business, you're competing for shrinking wallets and tighter leisure time. Schools teach less history, so kids have less of an idea about what happened at your venue or why it matters. And those same kids have perhaps more veto power over vacation plans and...

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