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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 things) the stories of America's struggles with issues of race,

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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Date Created
2013

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The public face of history: the New Western History from the academy to Southwestern history museum exhibits

Description

This study examines history museums in Arizona and New Mexico to determine whether New Western History themes are prevalent, twenty years after the term was conceived. Patricia Limerick is credited with using the expression in the 1980s, but she had

This study examines history museums in Arizona and New Mexico to determine whether New Western History themes are prevalent, twenty years after the term was conceived. Patricia Limerick is credited with using the expression in the 1980s, but she had to promote the concept frequently and for many years. There was resistance to changing from the Frederick Jackson Turner thesis of looking at the frontier as an expansion from the East, even while others were already writing more current historiography.

Limerick’s four “Cs”—continuity, convergence, conquest, and complexity—took a view of the West from the West, worthy of a separate perspective. These themes also allowed historians to reflect on what was happening locally, how and why various people were interacting, how there was less of a benevolent imbuing of European culture on Native Americans than there was a conquest of indigenous people, and how resource extraction created complex situations for all living things. While scholarly works were changing to provide relevant material based on these themes, museums were receiving thousands of visitors every year and may have been providing the Anglo-centric view of events or creating more inclusive displays. Label texts could have been either clarifying or confusing to a history loving audience.

Three types of museums were visited to determine whether there was a difference in display based on governing body. National Park Service sites, state sponsored institutions, and local city-based museums served as the study material. The age of the existing long-term exhibits ranged from brand new to fifty-one years extant. As important to the use of New Western History themes as the term of the current exhibit was the type of governing body.

Monographs, essays, and museum exhibits are all important to the dissemination of history. How they relate and how current they are to each other creates an opportunity for both academic and museum professional historians to reflect on the delivery systems used to enlighten a history-loving public.

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Date Created
2015