Behind the scenes at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

As the capital of the United States, Washington, D.C., is often considered the heartbeat of democracy. Where better then to explore the history of the democratic process?

With more than 5 million visitors annually and 3.3 million artifacts and archival materials in its possession, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History was well-equipped to take on this mission. It began developing “American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith” – it’s part of the museum’s collection of signature exhibitions and interactive experiences dedicated to exploring ideas and ideals central to the American experience.

With so many dynamic artifacts slated to be part of the exhibit, the museum wanted to ensure it provided visitors with a fluid experience that connected each piece to tell a bigger story about U.S. democracy.

To tackle the challenge, the museum worked with Antenna International to plan and develop an audio tour that would not only educate visitors on the diverse pieces in the exhibit, but also bring America’s history to life through the objects.

The team determined they would engage political and cultural icons who have played essential roles in the democratic process to be a part of the tour. There were several factors the team had to consider when identifying whom to engage. In particular, the team wanted to ensure the tour represented a balanced perspective of the U.S. political system.

As a result of this strategy, the team was able to confirm involvement from former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeline Albright; former U.S. National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, Colin Powell; and former Senior Adviser to the President, David Axelrod.

To encourage an authentic and engaging experience, the team took an unexpected approach to recording the audio tour. None of the three participants had a script and all were recorded in their own, familiar environments – such as their office. This helped them feel uninhibited when sharing their stories and allowed their passion for democracy to truly shine through.

The result is a compelling narrative that allows visitors to learn about the United States’ democratic history through the insights of luminaries who have lived and breathed it first-hand. Their expert commentary takes visitors on a political journey through time – from the country’s founding to today – and beautifully illustrates prized articles, such as the desk Thomas Jefferson used to draft the Declaration of Independence; the inkstand President Abraham Lincoln used to draft the Emancipation Proclamation; and the table that Elizabeth Cady Stanton used to write the Declaration of Sentiments.

Visitor feedback has been resoundingly positive, validating that the museum is accomplishing what it set out to do – to transform how visitors experience American democracy and to inspire them to think about their role in the process.

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Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Country: United States
City: Washington D.C.
Institution Type: Art
Year Founded: 1964
Content Type:

Partner with Antenna

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We are innovative storymakers and creative technologists devoted to visitor-first experiences.

We make audio tours, mobile apps, multimedia guides, podcasts, interactives, and superior story-driven content for the museum and cultural sector.

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