I recently visited the Black Country Museum. It was superb.

The atmosphere was amazing. Often museums and heritage sites are fairly empty or have a really slow feel to them – reserved for MA students looking intently at just one cabinet in the museum. But this one was buzzing with excitement. There was lots of participation, immersion, and people were having a great time.

It reminded me of some of the sites I got to visit in America over the past couple of years.

For a long time, historical re-enactment seemed to be one of the biggest differences between UK and US museums. It’s pretty standard over the Atlantic, but it somehow feels a bit goofy over here. Generally, us Brits seem to be a bit more reserved in our patriotism and more reluctant to make ourselves stand out in any way. The re-enactments I got to see in Boston were absolute spectacles, with thousands of people participating and lots of shouts of passion from the audience. It wasn’t pantomime. The crowd were actually passionate about their history and responded positively to the historical re-enactors in front of them. None of the self-conscious cries you can hear in more local affairs.

The Black Country Museum was a breath of fresh air. During lockdown, the site had pushed boundaries and achieved something unexpected on a platform that most other museums wouldn’t have dreamed to look at: TikTok. Amassing millions of fans through their funny and silly history lessons, it grew fast and many other sites tried to follow suit – despite really understanding the undertaking and planning that goes into these pieces of content.

As most sites have since realised, what the Black Country Museum does is incredibly hard to achieve. The way that they achieved this was through the excess amount of staffing they had during a time where no visitors were allowed (lockdown 1). This gave them ample opportunity to ambush an impossibly underserved market and platform with little – to – no financial risk. What most sites are realising now, is that this takes a lot of time. To generate the amount of high-quality content necessary to create an audience on TikTok would be a full-time job. It’s also a job that would require a lot of fact-checking and approval from curators (you don’t want to sugar-coat or make light of sensitive historical issues) and it needs to be instant. Realistically, with most museums back open again, most museums won’t have the staffing to maintain another social media platform. This means that most museums will be reluctant to invest heavily in social media campaigns or role-play on-site. Sadly, this means that for most UK museums, the costumes will only be seen during special Summer holiday family events or school visits.