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Living History Section Living History Museums


Living History Museums

What we mean by Living History Museums

Living History, outdoor history, living museums or outdoor museums are just some of the names given to a group of museums, attractions, and recreations that have a number of features in common. These include a recreated or acted out historic scene, or properties reconstructed so people can experience life as the time they were functioning. In some cases people visiting may have the opportunity to be involved, while usually its staff or volunteers who are dressed up, act out and explain the property and scene. Amongst these are working farms set in distinct periods and sites where a number of properties have been collected together.

This does not include stately homes that you wander around keeping to the roped off walk areas, or static museums or exhibitions but those with a living aspect to them.

A while back you could count the total of these on your fingers, but now more places have a living or expanded role, which is good for you and all visitors, who get both a more interesting and better informed view of their presentation of history.

Drawing the line on what we cover within our living history classification was not easy, should we for example include preservation railways where people dress in period clothes and often have stations and train sets set in a specific historic time . Should we include windmills where those running them are demonstrating how the mill was run when actively in use, or re-enactment socialites recreating battles or other historic events. What about castles that have events portraying a period or demonstration of some aspect such as archery or weaving. All of these and more represent forms of living history.

Some of these we are already covering in other sections including windmills and heritage railways, others will be as this system continuous to grow. In time we may want to index in examples of each across other sections but for now we want to concentrate here on the living history where this is the primary purpose, as opposed to an add on to other attractions, events, and also exclude transport museums and specific interest areas like preservation railways.

In another article in this section we will look at the re-enactment societies, both those interested in military and other aspects of life in a historic time frame. These are a part of living history, but as usually they are not based on a specific location we could not call them a living history museum.

Having tried to define what we take as a living history museum there is still some overlap, places that service more than one function, for example the Crich Tramway Village in Derbyshire, which is primarily a Tramway Museum but is also based upon a period village setup. We started with a small list, and with some research it has grown considerably, over time it will most likely grow further.

Visiting a living history museum

Most if not all have websites, which will allow you to check out any special events or activity is taking place as well as when they are open. You will find the quality of websites variable some have loads of information, while others have little substance to them.

Where you can its a good idea to have an idea of what you are likely to see before you visit, in part it helps you to decide the time of year and day, and how much time to allow. We can help you with some of this, the location guides provide you with information, and usually links you to other information if you want more.  We are not able to help with the amount of time, as it depends on your interest and what else is happening at the time. While one person may like to cover three places in a day another would want to go back to a location a number of times.

Many living history museums have a lot of school visits and some have costumes for children to wear, which means that if you visit at the same time as a school you are likely to see a lot of children and perhaps teachers as well as museum staff in period costume. On the other hand if you visit in school holidays or weekends then these opportunities are unlikely, but you may have these opportunities at many of the events taht will occur at these times.

In Britain we tend to open attractions late, and shut them perhaps earlier than in some places. You may also find some attractions don't open on a Monday, or shuts for a chunk of the year. One major one shuts for several days a year to do a stock check. We have become accustomed to this and its arguable that even if one was to open at start of work time, few would turn up at that time. This means that anyone, like us, living in the central third of the country can get to most places without much difficulty before they open, and its often not worth staying over in an area, when we can drive home and somewhere else the following day. Of course the net effect is that we all visit far fewer attractions than we would do if they were to open earlier, and longer, so it becomes more sensible for us to stay over and visit more in an area.

Even though they do not open until mid morning or beyond, you will often find when you arrive at opening times, that few others are there. Often this can be the best time to get in and take photographs without people in your shots. A few years back we arrived at Blists Hill, Ironbridge about half an hour before opening time and this put us first in the queue, on entering we then walked the full site fairly quickly taking photographs at many places on the way, so we had a set of photos without people in them, some of them complete wide scenes, and some with just the costumed staff moving about the scene. We then worked our way back more slowly taking the close up shots and other images, and finding out about all the exhibits. At the time I was using a film camera, so somewhen I will do the same again with a digital.

This is not always possible in which case you may have to find another solution. See also getting rid of people in your scenic shots.

Some living museums have season tickets whilst others have an arrangement where you can visit as many times as you like in a year having bought one ticket. Some others have free entry. This gives you the encouragement to visit more than once, and allows you to get a variety of shots, often including different seasons. You may also find that you would like to visit on a wet day, and although keeping the camera and lens dry is more of a challenge you may get reflections in puddles or off wet surfaces, as well as many types of stone look far more colourful when wet.

In buildings, consider what you could achieve with an available light shot. Often people feel they have to either have a lot of light or use flash when a time exposure would produce a better result. A tripod may appear the obvious support, and if you can use one its often the simplest, however if you have a VR (stabilised) lens then you may be surprised at just how slow an exposure you can use successfully. Other ways include bean bags, or just propping the camera onto something.  If you have LiveView of course getting it pointing in the right direction is far easier. You don't necessarily need a remote controller or cable release, as you will find that the self timer has a 2 second setting that you can use for this type of photograph.

As well as eye level angles, look at lower ones, ground level and perhaps higher views that you can get by holding your camera above your head, or supporting it even higher.

Putting your camera on a tripod or monopod and holding this high is a solution. I have found that with the camera on a monopod I can get photographs over walls and other obstacles, and its not difficult with a wide angle lens, with others it may take several attempts to get it framed up. With high shots, LiveView is not a lot of use in daylight as you can't see the screen well enough. There is a device called a Zigview, that clips onto the eyepiece and allows you to see the image on a small monitor as a remote on a cable and can also be configured to fire the camera, but as this is going to cost several hundred pounds its perhaps not a solution that many will have available unless doing a lot of this type of photography. Another solution is a tethered computer, using a laptop running one of the versions of Nikon Capture Control Pro connected to the camera, but its still difficult to see the screen and you have rather a lot to move about with. There are other solutions I would like to try, including glasses that can show a TV picture, made for playing games, that I may be able to run off the cameras TV socket, but I haven't yet come across someone who has some of these for me to try it with. Getting far higher we could do with pole system or mast, but there comes a point where we stop looking like an enthusiast and people start asking us to pay for the privilege of taking pictures. 

Of course other aspects you could consider would be using graduated filters to help retain sky detail or using polarising filters.

Take a look at a list of living history museums, this list like many we produce also links on the place name to location guides we have produced giving far more details.


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