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.
Defining Memory is an important and long-overdue piece of work that not only highlights the significant influence of local museums in their communities but also discloses them as lenses for understanding our greater contemporary American community. Because there has been no sustained support for local museums in the United States, their growth and even survival continues to be uncertain. It is through the work of authors like those in this book that local museums have a chance to shine as important cultural and educational assets for all citizens.
This collection of essays edited by Amy Levin illuminates the rich diversity of America's lesser-known local museums. Levin and her colleagues provide rich descriptions of a remarkable diversity of institutions. . . . Their selections reflect the wide variety of museums spread across the land and ranging from professionally to haphazardly administered, from well to precariously supported, and from broadly representative to highly unusual in content. More important, the authors raise significant questions about the functions of museums and the way in which they should be organized, employed, and explained. . . . Levin and company force readers to think about what to expect from museums, what to demand, what to enjoy, and what might be best not to encounter. . . . Anyone interested in a nearby past will find themselves constantly intrigued, frequently amused, occasionally astonished, repeatedly enlightened, and, above all, amply rewarded.
Anyone interested in museums or historical societies will find something of interest here.
Some people will find comfort in these pages, seeing similar situations; others will be surprised at the sorts of problems other museums face; while still others will think that their own situation is not so bad after all. Within these pages, everyone will encounter museum directors and educators attempting to keep up with the field and represent the past in as careful a manner as possible. This is a fine contribution to the field.
Patterson B. Williams
This book captures the cacophonous bouquet(to mix metaphors) that are our local museums. How often have each of us been captivated by such a museum! The thoughtful insights this book provides certainly expanded my sense of what the museum universe is and should be. Hooray for cacophony as opposed to the sedate murmurs of proper museums.
Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains, Winter 2007
- Rebecca Conrad
The contributors to Defining Memory combine intriguing subject matter with reflective commentary to provide highly readable, stimulating essays that will be equally useful in the classroom, the staff conference room, and the boardroom.
Chapter 1 Acknowledgements Chapter 2 Foreword Part 3 I. Frameworks Chapter 4 1. Why Local Museums Matter Chapter 5 2. Local History, "Old Things to Look At," and a Sculptor's Vision: Exploring Local Museums through Curriculum Theory Part 6 II. The Rebirth of a Nation Chapter 7 3. Public History, Private Memory: Notes from the Ethnography of Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, USA Chapter 8 4. The House of Seven Gables: A House Museum's Adaptation to Changing Societal Expectations since 1910 Chapter 9 5. Louisiana's Old State Capitol Museum: Castle on the Mississippi Part 10 III. Nostalgia as Epistemology Chapter 11 6. The Small Town We Never Were: Old Cowtown Museum Faces an Urban Past Chapter 12 7. Democratic Nostalgia: Arthurdale, West Virginia, as a 'Living Museum' Chapter 13 8. History Lessons: Selling the John Dillinger Museum Part 14 IV. Museums at Risk Chapter 15 9. Dickson Mounds Museum: Conflict and Resolution Chapter 16 10. 'Such is Our Heritage:' Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museums Chapter 17 11. Curating America's Army Medical Museum Part 18 V. Challenging the Major Museum Chapter 19 12. Objects of Dis/order: Articulating Curiosities and Engaging People at the Freakatorium Chapter 20 13. Cities, Museums, and City Museums Part 21 VI. No Business Like Show Business Chapter 22 14. Business as Usual: Can Museums be Bought? Chapter 23 15. Conclusion: Museums and the American Imagination Chapter 24 Selected Bibliography