The Human Library project (27-8), documented by Nina Simon, is intriguing. Instead of checking out a book you review a list of stereotypes/prejudices and pick out one you hold, or are interested in understanding. Then you are paired up with a person who represents the stereotype to talk about the stereotype/prejudice. I wonder if anything like that has ever been organized here on campus? I wonder how difficult it would be to organize. Or maybe just a small/trial effort to see how much interest people would have in it. Hmmmm.
I enjoyed Kathleen McLean’s recounting in “Whose Questions, Whose Conversations?” of Oakland teenagers creating an exhibit in a counterpoint to an Orange County Museum of Art’s display. Some “museum stakeholders” (73) denigrated the Oakland efforts as a ‘community exhibition’ (73) unworthy of serious attention or promotion. However, as McLean tells us the exhibit was a big hit with visitors and parts of it were copied in a later exhibition.
Without being disrespectful (especially after reading Katrinaj’s sad news) to those who sacrificed, in all forms, I did wonder about the title the “Greatest Generation” for an exhibit. I assume it was taken from Tom Brokaw’s book that was immensely popular in the late 1990s. Of course, anyone could make a case for other generations and eras to be the greatest in our history, but it made me think more about the naming process, and how naming is a form of power, and can be a way to include and exclude, and a way to legitimize a cause or position.
Matthew MacArthur informs us of the advantages technology brings through digitizing, making a museum’s entire collection available online and searchable. For him this helps remove the dictatorial power curators or trustees had in deciding what artifacts would, and would not be seen by the public. It enables the visitor to choose what is noteworthy and of importance rather than blindly accepting someone else’s choice. And perhaps one of the biggest benefits of technology is that digitizing facilitates encounters with museums and galleries that we could never visit in person.
If, since the 1960s we, or large sections of the country at least, have struggled to make history a more inclusive land, reflective of all people’s experience it follows that a similar struggle would play out in museums or spaces that display history. Several of the authors in Letting Go? tout technology as the tool to fix “subaltern” (82) history where the “hegemonic” (61) version of history, expounded as “The One and Only Official and Correct History” is countered by demotic access and action through technology. Steve Zeitlin believes technology is a “major democratizing force in American culture” (37) presumably bringing people closer together. So how is it that history has seemingly become more inclusive, as the subject examples in the text show (African American, Chinese, immigrants, ordinary people, teenagers, women) though as always there is a lot of room for improvement, how is it as a country we are still stubbornly divided by color and class? Isn’t part of the point of history to illuminate a shared past, a common bond and a mutual interest in flourishing together? Or is that just giving some positivist or teleological character to history, wanting it to be a force of good in a very Enlightenment linear progression. Maybe our national history and national narrative is not really inclusive. Despite the efforts illuminated by the authors, perhaps overall we just pay lip service to the ideas of inclusive history, history from the bottom up, but in reality that is just a veneer to appease certain interest groups, or communities, or make us feel better about ourselves, and the version of history that still predominates is white, male, wealthy and Christian, and if you aren’t in those categories to a large degree, your story doesn’t count. And if your story doesn’t count, you don’t count, so you are further marginalized and pushed away.