Displaying Values, Scripting Stories: Writing Narratives of Environment Citizenship through Permanent Educational Exhibits at Local Nature Preserves

Rebecca Anne Johns, Rachelle Pontes


Material and interactive exhibits are important elements of many sites of learning, including science, technology, history and natural history museums. Parks and nature preserves are not usually identified as museums, and their purpose and mission do not necessarily align with the mission focus of museums. We argue here, however, that permanent environmental education exhibits at preserves should be treated as museums for analytic purposes. Preserve displays typically include collections of objects from within the park’s boundaries, i.e., bones, shells, rocks, skeletons, feathers, pelts, cones, etc., in addition to manufactured displays presenting ecosystems and physical as well as living elements of the environment. Exhibits at preserves have not been the focus of scholarship on museums to date. Bringing together analytic tools developed for museum experiences with evaluative frameworks from the field of environmental education provides a rich set of concepts for understanding the work that nature preserve exhibits do to increase ecoliteracy. We analyze permanent and interactive educational exhibits at three nature preserves in Florida through the application of a series of interdisciplinary and overlapping frameworks. We identify opportunities for transmission of knowledge about the environment and human interactions with local landscapes; opportunities for cognitive engagement with material artefacts and for participation in knowledge construction. We identify messages that use emotional engagement to encourage visitors to become active citizens on behalf of nature and humans; and to ultimately engage in sustainable actions to solve environmental problems.


environmental education; nature preserves; learner engagement; environmental citizens

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.29311/mas.v18i4.3225

Copyright (c) 2020 Rebecca Anne Johns

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360