Discussions about, toward,
around, and alongside the
New England American Studies
Association's Fall 2011 Conference.
See the schedule at the bottom of
the page, and please add your voice
and perspective to the mix!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Activating Public Memory: Elena Gonzales's Post

[Panel's overall statement: As a panel, we're interested in the many ways in which history and memory have influenced the construction, dissemination, and reception of racialized national mythologies. In each case, the central question revolves around how national mythologies and narratives at the core of an American collective memory have be activated to challenge, bolster, or erase certain issues concerning race and social justice.]

Here is a 2.5 minute video from the National Museum of the American Indian: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZpd4V1eqNs. This film takes place on the grounds of NMAI during the summer of 2007 when Nora Naranjo-Morse created Always Becoming, a monumental, yet ephemeral, outdoor family of sculptures. The artist collaborated with a large team of native community members and as many other visitors, staff, and as many local residents as they could recruit in order to construct the piece. (Here's a link to the whole project: http://www.nmai.si.edu/alwaysbecoming/AlwaysBecoming.html)

The film and the Always Becoming project provide an opportunity to think about the position of various national cultural institutions in the national landscape and in the making of national identities and common public memory. I wanted to whet your appetite for the session with thoughts of NMAI because, among the various kinds of museums I'll consider in my presentation - culturally specific museums, museums dedicated to civil rights, federal museums, and museums that deal with atrocities - NMAI is the least bound by these categories. That this museum is neither fish nor fowl should inspire us to further inquiry about the nature of the category of "national" and the role of culturally specific museums.

With that, I leave you with a couple of questions in the hopes of learning from you as I prepare for the conference.

- How does this video cause you to see NMAI as an American institution or as more of a pan-American Indian one? Which nation is the one the museum's name refers to?

- What does it mean about the US that culturally specific institutions are also Smithsonian Museums on the national mall?

- What does NMAI's existence mean about international relations between the US and Native nations?

Can't wait to see you at our session!

Elena Gonzales, Brown University

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