Defining Memory: Local Museums and the Construction of History in America's Changing Communities (American Association for State and Local History)
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Defining Memory uses case studies of exhibits from around the country to examine how local museums, defined as museums whose collections are local in scope or whose audiences are primarily local, have both shaped and been shaped by evolving community values and sense of history. Levin and her contributors argue that these small institutions play a key role in defining America's self-identity and should be studied as seriously as more national institutions like the Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
stronger political base in the community), but most museums, dependent on goodwill and visitors’ comfort, are generally more attentive to this criterion than traditional public schools have been. Huebner’s five criteria, then, show that museums emphasize a different mix of qualities in their evaluations than do traditional educational institutions. It is arguable that museums lag behind schools and educational research in understanding why what works works, because some very large museums have
completely reorient how a local museum might use its collections. This chapter suggests how these dimensions of curriculum theory can help us understand what makes small, local museums—and larger, quirkier museums such as St. Louis’s City Museum— so memorable. Further research using these theories may show exactly how small, local museums differ from large and traditional ones, and how to document and quantify their community impact. We who love museums have always enjoyed these unusual places,
person. The parents’ desires have the strength of Huebner’s ethical rationale. Another kind of remembered connection to the past, as mediated by the museum, concerns the association of Colonial Williamsburg scenes with a past understood in terms of biographical or familial time. In such cases, people use the museum to remember their own childhood or that of their ancestors. For example, we had a long conversation with the father and grandfather of a three-generation family that was touring the
the past. While the museum’s basic theme has centered on 1870s Wichita, the history that appears to today’s visitor is really an amalgam of several different versions of that past. The museum has fused the trading post era of the 1860s, the Victorian propriety and boosterism of the 1870s, the rowdiness of the cattle era, the agriculture of Sedgwick County, and the mythology of the Western. Even if Cowtown’s founders had wanted to emphasize an urban, booster image, they would have had a hard time
notorious in their communities, and who are not necessarily venerated by citizens, such as criminal John Dillinger. Such subjects can be tricky because of their controversial natures. While the stories of these individuals create dramatic displays, museum staff must beware of creating hagiographies or of supporting values that the dominant public does not endorse, such as criminal behavior. Thus, in the end, many of these small and medium-sized museums continue to support the aims of late