Fifteen scholars and museum staffers critically review American history museums. They note exhibit form and content, social and political contexts, and suggest improvements. Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or.
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By Timothy Mckenna
Daughter is studying archival history and will work in one of these museums. Excellent book.
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Museums in the context of historical scholarship
By William QC Chun, III
Nazi Germany in 1934 established the Gestapo museum, to help educate the public about the "Red menace." The museum displayed confiscated weapons from the German Communist Party, and displayed the methods they were concealed. The political motivation for this museum is apparent, to instill fear in the public about the communist threat. This is an extreme example of political influence on museums, but also an example of how museums can be manipulated to present an obscure message. Part I of Warren Leon and Roy Rosenzweig's History Museums in the United States deals with the constraints imposed on museums, and the necessity for them to be evaluated like any historian would judge written work. The structure of Part I is separated by essays that deal with: gallery exhibitions, big-city museums, outside gallery, historical homes, and case studies concerned with the Gettysburg battlefield and EPCOT Center at Disneyland, and are evaluated like a book review. Despite the various methods of presenting and evaluating history, these essays, and their authors, hold a common purpose of critically evaluating museums as the "central means of presenting history to the public" (xiii).
The constraints of institution politics, audience, and financing influence museum presentations, and bind these museum critiques (xx). Part I covers different types of museum presentations, which range from gallery exhibitions to Disneyland. One of the fundamental problems of these presentations is the idea of museums as "shrines" (31). Whether the museum is trying to illustrate progress through technology, or promote the "great man" theory through historic houses, these presentations do not deal with the conflict and darker sides of history. To the credit of these presentations their employees are relatively trained and attempt to represent history accurately, but like professional historians can never get to the truth, because history is not about truth but the pursuit of it. The fundamental problem is when corporate ventures become involved as is the case with Gettysburg and more interestingly EPCOT center.
Michael Wallace argues, "The past is too important to be left to the private sector. If we wish to restore our social health, we had better get beyond Mickey Mouse history," and is the main argument of his essay, "Mickey Mouse History: Portraying the Past at Disney World," (179). Wallace's essay presents the fundamental problems of presenting history to the public, and a fundamental flaw in reviewing Disneyland as museum. Walt Disney's portrayal of history was utopian in nature; Disney wanted to improve the past not reproduce it; a Disney designer refers to this as "Disney Realism," which is possibly influenced by the Soviet Union's idea of "Socialist Realism," or the idea that art can mold the human soul (161). This is a fundamental problem with Corporate Disney, and their presentations at EPCOT center, which takes audiences from the dim past to a model society of the future; the audiences become participants in the corporate vision of the past and future (169). The problem resides with the audience. Is the audience there becomes of some fascination with the past or just entertainment? Wallace is correct that history should not be left to the private sector, but I doubt the majority of people view the world through the idea of "Disney Realism."
Leon and Rosenzweig's compilation of essays effectively place museums in the context of historical works that need to be reviewed and scrutinized; especially given the fact that museums are one of the core methods of presenting history to the public. The essays in Part I demonstrate the constraints of museum presentation, and the ultimate problem of corporate intervention and entertainment on historical presentation. History should not be in the hands of corporations, or authoritarian regimes, but the people who question, evaluate, and attempt to synthesize historical documentation, to obtain the closest interpretation of truth.
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History Museums in the United States : A Critical Assessment
By A Customer
A must have! Being a new student to the museum studies field this book's importance can not be understated. The editors collected 15 essays from the most predominant scholars in the field of museum studies. If you do not know who they are you will after reading this book. The book provides a great indrodution to all the problems, or another way of saying it philosophical thinking ,that goes into developing museums and exhibits. Once you read this book you can concentrate on a specific area, but this book is a great overview.