Repurposing Museum Interpretation in American Historic House Museums

2018-01-31T16:03:10Z (GMT) by Lesley Aileen Pendleton Barker
To investigate whether the American historic house museum sector preserves evidence of past inter-cultural encounters that could increase its relevance to today’s scholars and audiences, I charged a seven-member team made up of members from different ethnic, socio-economic, educational and generational backgrounds to visit and produce photographs at three historic house museums in St. Louis, Missouri. The photo-voice data was created, gathered, and submitted by the participant team members at the height of the social unrest triggered by Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement. It argues for the relevance and sustainability of the historic house museum sector as a venue for the development of new approaches to understanding past intercultural encounters and, in fact, to suggest redesigning the way museum interpretation is practiced. The visual data provided by the participant team for this dissertation demonstrates how people bring their own perspectives to respond to, critique, question and embrace what the museum asserts and displays about past inter-cultural encounters. The research suggests that the museum has the potential to shift its interpretive role and practice from knowledge broker and expert to become an interpretive space where new hermeneutics-informed understanding in the tradition of Gadamer continually emerges iteratively through the interaction invited between the museum, its content, and the various members of its audiences. It argues that, if the museum is to remain relevant, especially in particularly difficult moments, it has to provide a space to honor and respectfully both solicit and receive the voices, understandings, and even the pain experienced by each member of the affected community.

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