Who Owns America's Past?

Un libro in lingua di Post Robert C. edito da Johns Hopkins Univ Pr, 2013

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In 2003, when the Smithsonian Institution announced plans to display the Enola Gay, the B-29 used in the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the ensuing political uproar caught the museum entirely unprepared. As the largest such complex in the world, the Smithsonian cares for and displays hundreds of thousands of objects and has exhibited everything from deadly weapons to taxidermic trophy animals to Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. Why did this particular object arouse such controversy? In Who Owns America’s Past?, Robert C. Post, a retired curator with more than thirty years of experience, offers insight into the politics of display and the interpretation of history from an insider’s perspective.

Never before has a book about the Smithsonian detailed the recent and dramatic shift from collection-driven shows, in which artifacts were sparsely labeled and presented in taxonomic groupings, to concept-driven exhibitions, in which objects aim to tell a story, displayed like illustrations in a book. Even more recently, the trend is to show artifacts with props—such as sound, light, and digital elements—to create "stage sets" for an immersive environment. Rather than looking at a piece of history, visitors are invited to experience it.

Who Owns America’s Past examines the different ways that the Smithsonian’s exhibitions have been conceived and designed—whether to educate visitors, celebrate an important historical moment, or satisfy donor demands or partisan agendas. Post gives the reader a behind-the-scenes view of internal tempests as they brewed and how different personalities and experts passionately argued about the best way to present the story of America.

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