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Entering sacred ground: public history at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Baseball is the quintessential American game. To understand the country one must also understand the role baseball played in the nation's maturation process. Embedded in baseball's history are (among other

Baseball is the quintessential American game. To understand the country one must also understand the role baseball played in the nation's maturation process. Embedded in baseball's history are (among other things) the stories of America's struggles with issues of race, gender, immigration, organized labor, drug abuse, and rampant consumerism. Over the better part of two centuries, the national pastime both reflected changes to American culture and helped shape them as well. Documenting these changes and packaging them for consumption is the responsibility of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Founded as a tourist attraction promoting largely patriotic values, in recent decades the Baseball Hall of Fame made a concerted effort to transform itself into a respected member of the history museum community--dedicated to displaying American history through the lens of baseball. This dissertation explores the evolution of the Baseball Hall of Fame from celebratory shrine to history museum through an analysis of public history practice within the museum. In particular, this study examines the ways the Hall both reflected and reinforced changes to American values and ideologies through the evolution of public history practice in the museum. The primary focus of this study is the museum's exhibits and analyzing what their content and presentation convey about the social climate during the various stages of the Baseball Hall of Fame's evolution. The principal resources utilized to identify these stages include promotional materials, exhibit reviews, periodicals, and photographic records, as well as interviews with past and present Hall-of-Fame staff. What this research uncovers is the story of an institution in the midst of a slow transition. Throughout the past half century, the Hall of Fame staff struggled with a variety of obstacles to change (including the museum's traditionally conservative roots, the unquestioning devotion Americans display for baseball and its mythology, and the Hall of Fame's idyllic setting in a quaint corner of small-town America) that undermined their efforts to become the type of socially relevant institution many envisioned. Contending with these challenges continues to characterize much of the museum's operations today.

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  • 2013

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The ",field_main_title:"Art of Civilization: America on display at Peale's Museum

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In this thesis, I examine the inclusion of American Indians as museum subjects and participants in Charles Willson Peale's Philadelphia Museum. To determine the forces that informed Peale's curatorship, I

In this thesis, I examine the inclusion of American Indians as museum subjects and participants in Charles Willson Peale's Philadelphia Museum. To determine the forces that informed Peale's curatorship, I analyze Peale's experiences, personal views on education and scientific influences, specifically Carl Linnaeus, George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon and Thomas Jefferson. Peale created a polarized natural history narrative divided between Anglo-Americans and races that existed in a “natural state.” Within the museum's historical narrative, Peale presented Native individuals as either hostile enemies of the state or enlightened peacekeepers who accepted the supremacy of Americans. Peale's embrace of Native visitors demonstrated a mixture of racial tolerance and belief in racial hierarchy that also characterized democratic pedagogy. I derive the results by examining Peale's correspondence, diaries and public addresses, as well as administrative documents from the museum such as accession records, guidebooks, lectures and museum labels. I conclude that although Peale believed his museum succeeded in promoting tolerance and harmony among all cultures, his message nevertheless promoted prejudice through the exaltation of “civilized men.” By studying the social and intellectual constraints under which Peale operated, it is possible to see the extent to which observation of and commentary on ethnic and racial groups existed in America's earliest public culture and shaped early American museum history. Contemporary museums strive for cultural preservation and tolerance, therefore analysis of Peale's intentions and effects may increase the self-awareness of today's museum professionals.

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  • 2015