Museum of the American Revolution
Opened in the spring of 2017, Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution takes visitors on a unique audio and visual experience through the nation’s formative struggle. The museum offers numerous immersive exhibits that include life-like figures, video and audio presentations, historic artifacts and primary documents and was in the planning stages for 20 years. The 118,000 square-foot museum was designed by Robert A. M. Stern and is properly located near the birthplace of the Constitution, near the First Bank of the United States and a few blocks from Independence Hall. The museum is open daily and offers regular and timed tickets to alleviate wait times during peak hours.
Backstory and Context
Built on the site of the former welcome center created for the Bicentennial celebrations of 1976, the Museum of the American Revolution was constructed at a cost of $150 million, mostly raised through private donations. The developers sought to create a museum with a distinct bottom-up view of the American Revolution, rather than the typical top-down analysis. To that end, the museum offers perspectives from the marginalized peoples of the era, such as free and enslaved blacks, Native Americans, women and the “lower sorts.” The museum brings these voices to the fore in the form of a film re-creation of members of the Oneida nation debating which side to support, colonial or royal (they sided with the Americans) and recounting the experiences of former slaves who fought for the British.
The museum is designed to take one through a journey towards independence in such a way that “…you enter as a [British} subject, but leave as a[n] [American] citizen.” On your journey, you will encounter the Declaration of Independence Gallery, where the minds behind the museum decided to focus on over 80 local declarations, to include one from Pennsylvania written in German, rather than THE Declaration. The exhibit also presents the thoughts of 10 common people, men and women, free and enslaved, as independence arrived whether they sought it or not. The exhibits also present both colonial and loyalist views of the Revolution as evidenced by comparing and contrasting Thomas Paine’s famous pro-independence pamphlet, Common Sense, with its loyalist counterpart, Plain Truth, written by James Chalmers.
The museum contains over 30 audio-visual experiences, 16 core galleries, ten theaters, seven exhibits with life-cast figures, and 500 artifacts from the period. Included within this collection is the Field of Battle Theater where patrons can view the re-enactment of the 1777 battle of Chadds Ford, during which the floor rumbles and the smell of gunpowder wafts through the theater. In the War at Sea Gallery, young visitors can climb aboard a re-created 18th century ship’s deck. However, as with all things revolutionary, the most popular exhibit is that which includes one of George Washington’s original headquarters tent, which is part of a larger multimedia presentation. Finally, the museum leaves its visitors with the images of 150 photographs of people that were born during the Revolution followed by a wall of mirrors for a bit of self-reflection as they depart.
Schuessler, Jennifer. "A New Museum of the American Revolution, warts and all.." New York Times. April 13, 2017. Accessed August 28, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/13/arts/design/a-new-museum-of-the-american-revolution-warts-and-all...
Pompilio, Natalie. "Museum of the American Revolution set to open in Philadelphia." Washington Post. April 14, 2017. Accessed August 28, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/museums/museum-of-the-american-revolution-opens-in-phil...
Nickels, Thom. "What the Museum of the American Revolution Gets Wrong -- and Right." Philadelphia Magazine. April 19, 2017. Accessed August 28, 2017. http://www.phillymag.com/news/2017/04/19/revolution-museum-philadelphia/
Wilson, Jillian. "The Museum of the American Revolution Stuns with a Wealth of Inclusive History." UWISHUNU Philadelphia. April 14, 2017. Accessed August 28, 2017. http://www.uwishunu.com/2017/04/new-museum-american-revolution-stuns-wealth-inclusive-history/