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History Buff: Understanding the Goals of Physical Activity Programs and Exhibits at History Museums

Thesis by Jennifer MacDowell (2015)

Physical activity has been proven to result in a number of health benefits, yet many Americans do not get the recommended amount of exercise. Museums have started to address this issue by developing programs and exhibits that incorporate physical activity. However, little is known about the specific goals of these programs and the impact they have on their participants. Furthermore, history museums represent a very small percentage of museums that offer opportunity for physical activity, despite the fact that they are well-suited for this type of program and exhibit.

This mixed-methods study, which included a document analysis, questionnaire, and interviews with museum professionals, sought to understand the goals that physical activity programs and exhibits at history museums are working to achieve, and to create a framework that can be used to evaluate these programs. Findings suggest that the goals that are most common to physical activity programs and exhibits include learning information about museum content, ways to be physically active, and the importance of a healthy lifestyle; engaging in physical activity; having fun; and learning new skills. These findings were used to create a framework consisting of outcomes and indicators that can be used to evaluate these programs and exhibits. Recommendations for future research include considering the ways in which partnerships with other organizations can benefit physical activity in museums, as well as studying the long-term impact of these programs and exhibits.


Keywords: history museums, health, physical exercise, evaluation


MacDowell, J. (2015). History buff: Understanding the goals of physical activity programs and exhibits at history museums. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. (Order No. 1599857). Available from Dissertations & Theses @ University of Washington WCLP; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1730399458). Retrieved from