The Responsibilities of Museums in the Representation of the Past and the Present: The Need for Communication and Context

Stephanie Allen

Abstract: This article investigates a range of case studies focusing on the display of Pre-Columbian artifacts in Texas and Mexico City by visiting six museums housing permanent Pre-Columbian collections. For each institution, I focused on two modes of communication. The first was the amount of information the museum provided to the public through the set-up and organization of the galleries. This included the size of the exhibit, the number of cultures portrayed, and the types of visual tools utilized (videos, computers, dioramas, reconstructed buildings, etc). For the second part, I documented the textual information about the collections and the represented cultures. I conducted a content analysis on this text, looking in particular at the vocabulary used to describe each culture. I wanted to know how these institutions dealt with the flow of information between museum and visitor and how they functioned in representing the diversity of Pre-Columbian groups and their cultural traditions. Here, in the interest of space, I focus on one institution, the San Antonio Museum of Art. Ultimately, I determined that the San Antonio Museum of Art, and museums in general, should incorporate anthropological outlooks in their portrayals of other cultures. They have a responsibility to communicate information that reflects a multiplicity of viewpoints because of their roles as sites of identity construction.

Publication date: 2010

Page 16-22

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