Reading Historic Sites : Interpretive Strategies at Literary House-Museums
This study examines interpretive strategies at house-museums with literary significance, and evaluates how the concept of the house as a readable text—as a social document of traces of past life—is balanced with the idea of a literary historic house as a place to interpret humanistic themes explored or embodied by the literary figures commemorated at the site. The three sites examined are the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA; the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia, PA; and the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. The basis for evaluation was an analysis of the following aspects of house interpretation: the presentation of the interior, including furnishings and collections; guided tours; other interpretive tools such as written materials available to visitors on site; and exhibits and other program activities. The house-museums in this study attempt to balance the text of domestic life with the literary legacy of the house’s former inhabitants. The success of each of the three sites depends on their ability to abstract from the material reality of a house the broader humanistic themes that can be found in the recollection of individual lives and in our collective literary tradition.