Exhibiting Difference at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History: Examining the Many Voices, One Nation Exhibition (permanent exhibition, launched 28 June 2017)

Ohnona, Michelle. 2022. Exhibiting Difference at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History: Examining the Many Voices, One Nation Exhibition (permanent exhibition, launched 28 June 2017). Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis investigates the role of national history museums in mediating messages about national identity, social difference, belonging, and citizenship. Using the historical survey exhibit Many Voices, One Nation that opened in 2017 as a case study, it provides an investigation of the role of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the National Museum of American History more specifically, in shaping national narratives of belonging as they relate to the national past, present, and future envisaged by the exhibit. As a vehicle for examining these functions, the thesis follows the trajectory of the exhibit by exploring the exhibitional and narrative strategies employed in each of its sections, and considers these alongside the correlating chapters in the exhibit anthology, published by the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press.

As two distinct but connected registers of the exhibit, the physical display and the anthology provide the basis for a comparison of the methods employed in narrativizing the exhibit objects for different audiences. In analyzing the physical exhibit and anthology against the backdrop of the history of the modern museum in the United States, the thesis works within the fraught past of object collection and display, and considers the impact of movements for restorative museological justice on the work of the Smithsonian Institution. In doing so, the thesis considers how the Many Voices, One Nation exhibit contends with the violence of settler-colonialism, chattel slavery, and white supremacist immigration policies, in recounting the past, and how these accounts culminate in perceptions of national futurity that attempt to sever their relationship to these structures. The thesis conceptualizes museum temporalities as intimately connected to the speculative work of producing national narratives, and argues that the exhibitional space is a consequential site of intervention in the design and building of liberatory futures.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):

https://doi.org/10.25602/GOLD.00031566

Keywords:

Museum, national identity, settler-colonialism, repatriation, decoloniality, exhibition, race, futurity

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies

Date:

28 February 2022

Item ID:

31566

Date Deposited:

08 Mar 2022 10:39

Last Modified:

08 Mar 2022 15:35

URI:

https://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/31566

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