"Our Native Allies": The Denver Art Museum's WWII Outreach Exhibits

Nancy Parezo

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    During times of crises, museums have tried to support their communities, both on a local and national level, by undertaking socially relevant activities in addition to their regular functions of collecting, research, displaying artifacts and educating the public on a wide variety of topics. During World War II American museums across the country undertook a variety of important programs to build citizens' and soldiers' morale, to fight the enemy's propaganda, and to demonstrate what people were fighting for—the American way of life and to free the world from tyranny. Anthropology as a discipline followed the same course, focusing on using their knowledge of cultural values and cultural diversity to educate the United States about the culture and personality of the enemy and to assist the military in intelligence gathering as well as home front morale boosting and education. This paper documents how the anthropologists in the Denver Art Museum's Indian Arts Department developed an innovative and highly successful exhibition program to educate U. S. soldiers in training facilities around Denver about the Native peoples and places they would encounter as they were sent overseas to fight Germany and Japan. In a textual and illustrational analysis of the armed forces wall case displays, I demonstrate how disciplinary and museological goals were welded with the national war needs to educate and boost morale by using standard and innovative exhibition techniques and rhetoric that emphasized indigenous peoples in occupied territories not as strange, exotic peoples but as America's natural allies. I also address more questionable parts of the exhibits that attempted to battle stereotypes but were probably less successful.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)9-50
    Number of pages42
    JournalMuseum History Journal
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2008

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • History
    • Museology
    • Conservation


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