1st Edition

U.S. Museum Histories and the Politics of Interpretation Never Neutral

Edited By Laura Schiavo Copyright 2024
    292 Pages 7 Color & 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    292 Pages 7 Color & 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    292 Pages 7 Color & 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    U.S. Museum Histories and the Politics of Interpretation is the first collection to examine the history of museums in the United States through the lens of the political and ideological underpinnings at the heart of exhibitions, collecting, and programming.

    Including contributions from historians, art historians, anthropologists, academics, and museum professionals, the book argues that museums have always been embedded in the politics and culture of their time – whether that means a reification of hegemonic notions of race, gender, and progress or a challenge to those normative structures. Contributions probe the political nature of collection and interpretation as concept and practice, and museum work as both reflective of and contributing to the politics and circulation of power in different historical moments. As a whole, the volume provides detailed readings of museums that demonstrate the ways in which these trusted cultural institutions have intervened in shifting concepts of nation, community, indigeneity, race, citizenship, inclusion, identity, localism, and memory.

    U.S. Museum Histories and the Politics of Interpretation makes arguments about the historically and politically rooted nature of cultural production in museums that apply to institutions across the globe. It is essential reading for students and scholars of museum studies, public history, cultural history, art history, and memory.

    List of Figures

    List of Contributors



    Laura Schiavo

    1. Indigeneity and Empire in William Clark’s Museum of Indian Curiosities, c. 1816–1835

    Lisa Strong

    2. "As an Adjunct to the Documents": The Purpose and Politics of Nineteenth-Century History Collections

    Laura Schiavo

    3. Collecting Lincoln: Osborn H. Oldroyd and His Lincoln Memorial Collection, in the House Where Lincoln Died

    Sara Bhatia and David McKenzie

    4. Media Technologies and Salvage Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution: An Exploration of Archival Documents and Museum Power Relations

    Diana E. Marsh, Peyton Moriarty, Elena Myers, and Joshua A. Bell

    5. Early 20th-Century Museums of Technology and Industry: Linking Progress to Capitalism

    Steven Lubar

    6. The Witte Museum and Frontiers of Public History: Building Stories of Anglo Supremacy, 1920s1940s

    Kathleen Franz and Verónica A. Méndez

    7. Vassar Social Museum’s "Great Idea" Challenges a Nation at War to Live Up to Its Ideals

    Clarissa J. Ceglio

    8. Black Activism and the Museum in the Interwar Period: A Baltimore Case Study

    Jennifer P. Kingsley

    9. "All the Art Is White": The Flint Institute of Arts and the Movement from Black Power to Black Lives Matter

    Andrea A. Burns

    10. Persistence in Error: Science, Society, and the U.S. Museum in an Age of Urgency

    Sarah J. Chicone and Richard A. Kissel

    11. Tribal Museums as Domains of Sovereignty

    Courtney Cottrell

    12. Native Hawaiians and the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum: Historical Reckoning, Truth-telling, and Healing

    Halena Kapuni-Reynolds and Noelle M.K.Y. Kahanu



    Laura Schiavo is an Associate Professor of Museum Studies at George Washington University.