Museum Politics, Pt. 1

For me, this week’s readings really reinforced the power that historians wield through museums and interpretive signs and displays. The word “interpretive” is incredibly significant. Museums are far from simple presentations of artifacts. The stories told through museum exhibits are not told through the items and information that are present, but are instead told through the items not present, the labeling and interpretation, and even through the positioning of items within exhibits. I do agree with Timothy W. Luke that “cultural realities are defined” in museums.

I found myself laughing as I read his descriptions of the “West as America” exhibition. Not because the exhibit’s subject matter was humorous, but because I kept thinking, “what’s wrong with that?” For someone educated in the manner that I have been, the ideas put forth in “The West as America” do not seem radical at all. I would guess that an exhibition of this nature would not cause as much of an uproar today, and I think this is a reflection of cultural realities being defined through the interpretive work of historians. Exhibitions, especially ones as notable as this one, increase debate, which then works to help our thoughts evolve.

I spent quite a bit of time after reading this week’s chapters digging up more information on the “West as America” exhibition, and I thought I’d link to a couple articles I found the most interesting (the catalog for the exhibit has already been posted, thanks Ellen!)

This is a Time Magazine review of the exhibition from 1991: www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,972933,00.html

And a History News Network article from 2002 titled, “The Smithsonian Scandal That Wasn’t.” hnn.us/articles/748.html

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