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The Chicago History Museum

“The biggest lesson we’ve learned as an organization is that community engagement should never be thought of as a one-and-done project. It isn’t a case of, ‘if we offer an exhibit they will come.’ The exhibit has to represent something or someone that resonates with our community and becomes part of who we are.”
– Gary Johnson, President

A Place Where Sharing Occurs

The Chicago History Museum was established to curate Chicago’s story, providing an outlet where visitors can see themselves and their communities reflected within the city’s larger urban history.  Founded in 1856 as the Chicago Historical Society, the museum is the city’s oldest cultural institution, priding itself as the teller of Chicago’s stories, honing its ability to mine the depth and breadth of the city’s history. The museum provides a variety of touch points for visitors, including exhibitions, educational programs, public tours, extensive collections, research center, publications, and innovative digital access. 

Leveraging Community Partnerships to Tell Community Stories

Placing importance on partnerships with like-minded organizations allows the museum to deepen its commitment to robust storytelling of different communities, such as the Chinese-American population. Through collaboration with the Chinese American Museum of Chicago, the museum hosted “My Chinatown,” presenting oral histories from the city’s Chinese residents and recent immigrants. This exhibit provides an insider view of the culture that surrounds Chinese food, medicine, family, business, and the celebration of the Chinese New Year. “My Chinatown” pays tribute to the people who keep the neighborhood and culture of Chinatown alive today.

Highlighting History Through Chicago's Residents

The 2015 “Chicago Authored” exhibit resulted from a unique community engagement initiative. When the museum asked the city what new exhibition they should create, they received 572 ideas which were winnowed down through a series of public online voting sessions with the museum serving only as the vote counter.  The winning topic was “Chicago Writers.”  The resulting exhibit, about writers who have shaped the popular view of Chicago, came to life as a multi-media experience containing interactive components that encourage the “Chicago Author” in every visitor, using their own words to share their story.

As the Chicago History Museum continues as a curator of the city’s stories, its hope is to expand school visits to the institution, instilling the importance of history and storytelling in even the youngest of children. The museum’s ultimate goal is to encourage each classroom to install their own “Chicago History Museum” in a corner of the room, reminding students that their story is important to Chicago, and important to tell.