Accessing audiences: visiting visitor books

Sharon Macdonald


Museum visitor books, although held by almost all museums, are rarely used as a research source. This article explores their potential to provide insights and information about audience views, experiences and understandings. To do so, it focuses primarily on visitor books at the Documentation Centre of the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg, Germany. The article highlights questions about using such books as a research source and to this end it contains discussion of forms of address, visitor conceptions of the nature and role of visitor books and of museums and exhibitions, styles of entries, and ways in which visitors talk about exhibition media and types of display, and make comparisons and links with their own experience. It also includes discussion of some themes more specific to history exhibitions, including different possible ‘temporal orientations’ exhibited by visitors; as well as some more specific to the exhibition of morally and politically difficult topics, and of Nazism in particular.

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Copyright (c) 2015 Sharon Macdonald

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360

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