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Making the Big Picture Relevant

<p>I visited the <a href="http://www.ushmm.org/">US Holocaust Museum</a> today and was absolutely blown away by the quality of its storytelling.</p>
<p>History has, by and large, been associated with boring stories of a time gone by, and it has been hard to engage an audience already bombarded with more information than their attention spans can handle. From my own experience, attempts to make history relevant have always been done on a macro level: my history teachers have always tried to show us how events in history shaped the current issues we grapple with today. But there's a certain apathy for current affairs, especially among the younger generation, which renders this approach ineffective.</p>
<p>What the Holocaust Memorial Museum does so well is to contextualise the historical event, macro level history with timelines, very very effectively into personal, emotional journeys accessible to anyone. They did not substitute the whole picture with emotional pieces; when you entered the museum it was clear they were presenting something immense and profound, a monumental event in the history of humankind. But the museum made it clear from the entrance that they were doing more than showing you an event; they were changing your worldview.</p>
<p><a title="Entrance to US Holocaust Memorial Museum by Lucian Teo, on Flickr" href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/annegirl/4965832933/"><img src="http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4104/4965832933_6ec80ce335.jpg" width="500" height="394" class="img-center" alt="Entrance to US Holocaust Memorial Museum" /></a></p>
<p>The poster at the entrance reads:</p>
<blockquote>
<p>The next time you witness hatred; the next time you see injustice; the next time you hear about genocide; Think about what you saw.</p>
</blockquote>
<p>They prepare you for a call to action.</p>
<p>The personal voice resonates throughout the museum. Just inside the entrance a verse from scripture reads "You are my witnesses", creating a sombre call from the grave, telling us that this event should never ever be forgotten, also setting up a role for us to assume.</p>
<p><a title="&quot;You are my witnesses&quot;, US Holocaust Memorial Museum by Lucian Teo, on Flickr" href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/annegirl/4965825169/"><img src="http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4110/4965825169_7a82d96e79.jpg" class="img-center" width="333" height="500" alt="&quot;You are my witnesses&quot;, US Holocaust Memorial Museum" /></a></p>
<p>It was a pity I wasn't allowed to take photos within the exhibitions. There was an engaging one on Nazi Propaganda, beautifully set up to display how Hitler used stunning communication strategies to campaign for political power. It was noted that Hitler was self-taught, and was extremely savvy in assimilating proven communication techniques to target key demographics, evoke emotion, highlight existing frustrations borne by the German populace undergoing a global recession, and come across as someone with the noble cause of uniting Germany against a common enemy. It was only later that he explicitly personified everything that was wrong with the world on the Jewish people. One would be hard-pressed not to agree with the charismatic speeches in which he bemoaned the plight of common German folk, and the need for change (a very familiar tactic).</p>
<p>Huge touchscreens were used appropriately for visitors to discover more via multimedia content, and technology, while cutting edge, did not seem overbearing and was tastefully invisible.</p>
<p>The permanent exhibition in the museum (all 3 floors of it) starts off with every visitor given an identification card belonging to a real victim of the holocaust.</p>
<p><a title="ID Card given at The Holocaust Memorial Museum by Lucian Teo, on Flickr" href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/annegirl/4966797970/"><img src="http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4145/4966797970_4d19a431f7.jpg" class="img-center" width="333" height="500" alt="ID Card given at The Holocaust Memorial Museum" /></a></p>
<p>Visitors were urged to read one page, continuing after they had visited each floor of the exhibition. The storytelling via persona draws an emotional attachment to the story and makes it relevant to the visitor. There were many different ID cards, so you felt like you were bonded to this particular victim of the Holocaust, like a friend. And as his or her story unfolded as you moved through the exhibit, the relationship between the historical event and its impact on very real individual lives drew you in. The exhibition also consisted of extremely well-made video interviews with existing holocaust survivors, many of whom had amazing personal accounts of what they were made to endure. All of the stories were told with tears, some of triumph, most of loss. I sat there watching, mesmerised for more than an hour.</p>
<p>The exhibition ends with a call to action, bringing the story to present day atrocities and genocide, urging us to pay attention and do anything in our power.</p>
<p>It is impossible to walk away unchanged or unaffected. Not after having seen and felt something so deeply emotional, profound, and relevant in our society today.</p>
<p>A few hundred miles south, there is talk about why a mosque should not be built at ground zero, and it is hard not to see the parallel – the repression of basic human rights, the alienation and vilification of an entire people, and the belief that somehow one party is more entitled than the other.</p>

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