Memory, distortion, and history in the museum

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121 Scopus citations


Museums are conventionally viewed as institutions dedicated to the conservation of valued objects and the education of the public. Recently, controversies have arisen regarding the representation of history in museums. National museums in America and Germany considered here, such as the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the German Historical Museum, have become sites of contention where national histories and personal memories are often at odds. Contemporary art installations in museums which take historical consciousness as their theme similarly raise contentious issues about public knowledge of and personal interest in the past. When members of publics find that their memories of the past or their expectations for museum experiences are not being met, a kind of "distortion" occurs. The "distortion" related to memory and history in the museum is not so much of facts or interpretations, but rather a distortion from the lack of congruity between personal experience and expectation, on the one hand, and the institutional representation of the past on the other. This essay explores the possibilities for a redefined relationship between personal memory and history that is experienced in contemporary museums.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)44-63
Number of pages20
JournalHistory and Theory
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Philosophy


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