The Road to Independence

Part of Exhibition: The American Revolution

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Review

of an Exhibit

by Lindsey Bloom

Published on June 02, 2017

  • Description:

    “The shot heard round the world,” is a phrase I had heard of, but it wasn’t until I visited The Road of Independence did I recognize the power of these words. Ralph Waldo Emerson used this as an opening line in his “Concord Hymn”, and it describes the beginning of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775. Philadelphia opened the Museum of the American Revolution on the same day, only 242 years later.

    As the first of a four-part exhibition, The Road to Independence is a completely immersive experience. I was encouraged to watch the 10-minute introduction video to become fully saturated in the Revolutionary War mindset. It has been years since I learned about this in school, and it was enjoyable to sit back and have the story unravel. This introduction film with subtext at the bottom incorporated digital replicas of objects, portraits, newspaper clippings and more.

    Moving upstairs, the first room in the exhibit was another film. It felt sort of repetitive to have one long movie and then another short movie. The following room focused on British Rule. Across from a large map of Britain’s colonies was a case of historical objects on a red wall—these were the first objects displayed in the last 12 minutes! To be honest, I had more fun playing with the room’s three interactives – Great Britain’s flag symbolism pulley, the Who Lives Here? lift-up activity, and the touchable relief of King George III. The big idea was that Britain ruled a huge empire and was considered “the new Rome!” I enjoyed the witty pop-culture reference.

    My favorite space was next. A big tree stood in the middle of a darkly lit room. Through the branches and leaves you could see flickering lanterns. The floor was rugged and the tree’s lanterns cast beautiful shadows on the ground. Around the walls were narratives about the growing restlessness of colonists. On the left was 5-screen interactive with protest posters from various parts of the states. Beginning with the Stamp Act of 1765 and up until the war, these posters highlighted relevant symbols and jokes. The tree was called the Liberty Tree. Located in Boston, people would often post their resistance posters all over it. I learned that other cities adopted the idea of liberty trees, which soon became the symbol of British resistance. Again, I was so engrossed in the interactives, the beautiful lighting, and how cool the tree was, that I overlooked the objects in the corner case. In one interactive case, you could lift flaps in a cupboard to see historical objects of “open trade” objects versus “non-importation goods”. I appreciated the stacked boxes on the floor (child height) with big, “Did you know?” questions and facts printed on them. The top box had drilled-holes and prompted, “Smell the tea! Imagine the scent of the Boston Harbor the morning after the Tea Party.” The room was fully engaging—and you felt as if you were in Boston.

    Following this room was another immersive video of voices from the original congress creating Declaration of Independence. I only stayed a few minutes and looked at the beautiful round room next door. On the floor was a gorgeous multi-ring pattern in gold. Each ring represented one of the thirteen colonies, with “We are one” in the middle. In this room were drafts of state constitutions, including Pennsylvania’s, which was brought to France by Ben Franklin and become internationally circulated. There was also a really cool panel that included all of our countries’ symbols, ending with the sketch of the pyramid and eye with rays. This first part of the exhibit ended with a colonist mannequin pulling down the bronze statue of King George III (characterized as a Roman solider). Later you find out that Daughters of the Revolution melted the statue down to create bullets for the soldiers.

    Overall, The Road to Independence was extremely immersive. It was a lively atmosphere, and reminded me a little of an amusement park with bright sounds and colors. I was inspired to play, and enjoyed reading the labels to find witty comments. The rest of the exhibit was just as interactive. In fact, there is a full sensory Battle at Brandywine with smoke machines, flashing lights, and a rumbling floor.

    If the purpose of the exhibit is to provoke and inspire visitors to find connections between the authentic objects in the larger room or idea, I’d say it was successful. This exhibit was very engaging and made The Revolutionary War come to life.

Latest Comments (1)

appealing to the senses

by Kathleen Mclean - June 05, 2017

Lindsey, it seems that you appreciated the variety of ways visitors could engage with the exhibition, and that the sensory elements were particularly captivating. Do you feel that they fully supported and enhanced the content, or were they satisfying in and of themselves? I’m curious about your definition of “interactive”—do you include film and media in your definition? It sounds like the exhibition contained a lot of digital media. How did that work with the theme of independence?

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