The Canon of the Netherlands: 1 exhibition, 5000 years of Dutch History.
5000 years of Dutch History The Canon of Dutch History, an overview of 5000 years of history of the Netherlands, comes to life in a new presentation in the Dutch Open Air Museum in Arnhem (NL). This 2000 m2 permanent presentation, developed in close partnership with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, opened in September 2017. The main aim of the Canon of Dutch History is to offer an immersive insight into the highs and lows of the Dutch past. It was not the aspiration to embody the entire history, but to provide a dynamic, contemporary introduction, high in content and easy to grasp for a wide public especially families and school children aged 8+. The exhibition is set to increase awareness, but at the same time it aims to inspire visitors to delve deeper, for instance through visiting other museums in the Netherlands. The exhibition is build around a rich combination of historical artefacts, sceneries, films and experiential games, touching the senses and tickling curiosity. Engaging a wide range of visitors How to engage a wide range of visitors in stories of the past, so that they feel connected to things that happened centuries ago, without being rigid or boring? The strategy for implementation for the Canon of Dutch History is based on experience and engagement. Instead of presenting Dutch history as a fixed setup of chronological events, this exhibition invites people to wonder, explore and exchange knowledge with their fellow visitors. They actively and collectively process the narrative on the spot. To help the visitors imagine the past, the exhibition tells the history of the Netherlands in an unique way: from the perspective of the common people that lived in the different areas. A perspective that will help visitors to connect better to the events and developments of Dutch history. For example, they step into the shoes of their peers that lived in former times, for instance, by imagining themselves as a Roman merchant, a hunter or a workman during the 19th century Industrialisation. The Exibition The exhibition is designed as a fascinating visual narrative across four consecutive spaces. Visitors begin their journey in the tunnel-like introduction space that gradually takes them back in time: hall 1: Life in a day. Here you will find various film sequences about all kinds of everyday activities, such as eating, making light and playing. Then they enter hall 2: The Story of the Netherlands in the large dome room. In ten spectacular multimedia ‘film sets’, layered composition of decors, objects and film fragments, visitors are challenged to uncover information using a mix of media, hands-on elements and interactive games. For example, through a boating game in a wooden Kogge ship visitors experience trading between Hanseatic cities. The integration of (romantic-) realistic elements add tactility and familiarity for a wide audience. After this sensory experience, three dazzling films are projected onto a 15-metre panoramic screen shows in hall 3 the geographical and geological evolving of The Netherlands over time. Infographics and historic maps place these changes in an international context and graphic patterns on floor and walls reflect these connections. In the end: hall 4, while swiping through all 50 Canon themes on the 18-m-long interactive Canon wall, it becomes clear that history is more than a collection of topics: it is one continuing, rich story with infinite connections and this exhibition forms a starting point to discover this treasure. In this hall playing and exploring together is the central interaction, making the awareness of history into a social experience. Integration of different components We created a space offering many starting points for the visitor to grasp Dutch history. Collection items, interactives, movies and decor pieces have all been checked by historians, they offer images from the past and have all been selected for their historical significance. All components are little narratives about a particular aspect of Dutch history, the key is the integration of these components. Devices such as AV-equipment and showcases are a part of the overall spatial collage. For instance, an interactive game is presented together with collection pieces and texts about Hanseatic trading in the setting of a Kogge ship (the type of boat used to make trading trips). In this way, the story of how Dutch civilian-controlled cities were connected within a larger network is told from many different perspectives. To bring history even closer, visitors can activate interactive presentations and unlock more information with their personal tag. This innovative tool tracks activity and in response, visitors receive a personal, digital ‘passport’ afterwards, including photos and recommendations for visiting other museums. This integral approach makes the exhibition accessible for a wide range of visitors. Both for artistic (history is a construction) and functional (recycling materials) reasons, the whole experience is constructed in such a way that all elements can be separated from each other. Education The Canon of Dutch History can also be programmed as an educational location for primary, secondary and vocational education. The exhibition is the basis of the history education program in the Netherlands. Primary school students make their own history news and experience the 50 Canon windows by making photos, movies or play a historical scene. Expanding the limits of Dutch heritage Because it’s hardly possible to experience Dutch history in one place, 12 Dutch museums and cultural institutions bounded together to create a Canon network. They collaborate to highlight the extensiveness of history and to stimulate historical awareness in a striking way. This collaboration will expand in the next years with relevant institutions. Outcome Turning the main dome space into spectacular multimedia ‘film sets’ of historic Dutch icons created a totally immersive, sensory experience of the past. In this theatrical, layered composition of decors, objects and film fragments, visitors of all ages are challenged to actively uncover information using hands-on elements and interactive games. Through the connection of important historical events with the lives of ‘ordinary’ people throughout time, history is here to be made. Although the experience just opened in September 2017, it already turns out to be a huge success. Visitors rate the exhibition with a 8+ (0-10 scale) en have left positive reviews: “The Canon of Dutch History is an enrichment; it’s an exciting experience for young and old”. And the Mayor of Arnhem said: “The Canon is a gift for everybody. An immersion into history, a place where we can interact with our predecessors, along a video wall, in games and in film sets.” We have received loads of compliments from visitors on social media. Visitor Marcel: “Last monday, I visited the Canon with my pupil Milan (10). It is absolutely the best exhibition about history that I have ever visited. Visitors are pulled into history by the many interactives and playful elements. The possibility to make a personal page with NFC tags works really well, you can make a selection and discovery many new things back home. You can’t make history any more entertaining than this. My Compliments for this amazing work!” Besides the enthusiastic responses from visitors, also the press reviews are full of praise: “The design of the exhibition is really wonderful. The different themed spaces have been carefully composed and everywhere around there is something to see. You are really surrounded by history.” The exhibition was broadcasted on prime time national daily news and covered in many national newspapers and cultural/design magazines. The museum generated free publicity media attention for more than 7M euro. It all proves the connection to the target audience and the relevance of Dutch history in current times.

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