PublicHistoryRoundtable Museums as Sacred Spaces: Constructions of National Identity

AHA Session 99
Immigration and Ethnic History Society 3
Friday, January 7, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Wellesley Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Franklin Odo, Smithsonian Institution
Jason Chang, University of California at Berkeley , Anna Pegler-Gordon, Michigan State University and Suzy Seriff, University of Texas at Austin
Franklin Odo, Smithsonian Institution

Session Abstract

Museums have been sanctified as sites that preserve and represent essential truths concerning history, art, and communal identities.  The reality is messier with politically and economically fraught processes that seek to capture and to shape contemporary understandings of these powerful frames and the exclusions and inclusions that they impose.  This panel brings together scholars and museum curators to explore these complexities and to suggest strategies for critical readings and construction of public history accounts.  Franklin Odo, former curator of the APA section at the Smithsonian provides the overview “Museums as Temples: The Smithsonian and Asian Pacific Americans” that examines the interplay of economic pressures with efforts to broaden the ethnic representativeness of what is arguably the U.S.’s national museum.  In “Asians at Ellis Island: Rethinking the Immigration Station as a Detention Center,” Anna Pegler-Gordon tackles the historic site most associated with American claims to be “a nation of immigrants” to describe how this “gateway” closed for certain racial and national categories of aspiring immigrants.  Jason Oliver Chang further explores the exclusionary powers of selectively constructed national narratives in “’…even the dead will not be safe…’ : El Cementerio de Los Pioneros and the History of Chinese in Baja California” to describe how early Chinese settlers, and the physical remains of their presence, were erased from local historical accounts.  Suzy Seriff suggests strategies and solutions for curating more integrated representations in “’Bring Us Your Tired, Your Poor, and Your Hungry’ or Not: Dialoguing About Immigration in a Public Museum” by reflecting on her production of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum’s exhibit, “Forgotten Gateway: Coming to America Through Galveston Island.”

See more of: AHA Sessions