Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture

23 Jan

Lots of news related to public history this week! The New York Times has a long, fascinating article about the creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I can’t do it justice with a blog post, so please take a few minutes to read it yourself. The article addresses some of the big questions we’ll discuss this semester. How should academic historians communicate with the public? What stories or themes should a museum emphasize? Here’s how the questions were framed in the Times article:

What story will [the museum] tell? As part of the Smithsonian, the museum bears the burden of being the “official” — that is, the government’s — version of black history, but it will also carry the hopes and aspirations of African-Americans. Will its tale be primarily one of pain, focused on America’s history of slavery and racial oppression, and memorializing black suffering? Or will it emphasize the uplifting part of the story, highlighting the richness of African-American culture, celebrating the bravery of civil rights heroes and documenting black “firsts” in fields like music, art, science and sports? Will the story end with the country’s having overcome its shameful history and approaching a state of racial harmony and equality? Or will the museum argue that the legacy of racism is still dominant — and, if so, how will it make that case?

Check it out and feel free to comment on the blog or in class on Thursday.


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