Memory, Museums, and the National Imagination

This week's review explores the curation, memorialization, and national memory of the American past. How do US museums and memorials commemorate—or minimize—painful historical events?

Curating America’s Painful Past: Memory, Museums, and the National Imagination

Gruenewald, Tim. University Press of Kansas, 2021
304p bibl index, 9780700632398 $34.95, 9780700632404

Curating America's Painful Past: Memory, Museums, and the National Imagination book cover. Silhouettes stand in front of museum exhibit of American flag.

This is a timely book as American museums are striving to acknowledge that their history has not reflected the cultural contributions of minorities or addressed ethnic and gender diversity in exhibitions, educational programs, and collection development. Gruenewald (American studies, Univ. of Hong Kong) chose four museums on Washington’s National Mall—National Museum of American History, National Museum of African American History and Culture, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and National Museum of the American Indian—as the subjects of a comparative study of the ways institutions in the US capital have presented the subject of social injustice. Recognizing the impact that national memory has on contemporary American justice, the book explores how effective each museum has been in memorializing the painful US past. A concluding chapter discusses the ways in which the outdoor spaces of the National Mall, for example the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, use a visual language to express feelings that written narratives alone cannot convey. Including extensive notes and bibliography, this book is a required resource for anyone studying or working in the field of museology.

Summing Up: Essential. Graduate students through faculty and professionals.
E. M. Hansen, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
Subject: Humanities – Art & Architecture
Choice Issue: Jun 2022

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