Lifeguards. Hotels. Surfboards. Bathing Suits. All parts of daily life in Virginia Beach, and all things that have a long history.

One of the best parts of small museums is that they tell the history of the everyday and seemingly ordinary things. A lot of museums center around “big” events—wars, politicians—and “grand” objects—famous artwork, fancy things. Small museums, on the other hand, offer something different by interpreting things familiar to the community.

This makes small museums exciting because people come in and recognize themselves and their own experiences in the exhibits. Talking with any visitor is interesting, but I especially love showing locals around the Virginia Beach Surf & Rescue Museum. If someone served as a lifeguard decades ago, they will recognize people from the pictures, see familiar names on the lifeguard plaques, and have their own stories to add. Others will look at our old beach pictures and find bathing suits similar to theirs, remember hotels they stayed in, and reminisce about the first time they came to the beach. Some will talk about their memories of surfing in Virginia Beach in the 1960s and recall the famous surf shops that dotted Atlantic Avenue.

When this happens, visitors reconnect with their own pasts, but also learn the broader contexts of their experiences. Sometimes it takes people aback to see something so related to their own lives shown in a museum. They joke that it makes them feel old, or that they’re not gone yet so it can’t be history.

But I see it in a different way: they lived through history and were part of trends that began long before them, which continue to develop and evolve even today. I think the ordinary and everyday history interpreted by small museums is actually pretty extraordinary because it reveals something most people overlook: everything has a history and everyone is part of history.