Museological Representations of African-American History, Cultures, and Experiences


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Over 50 years since the emergence of the African-American museum movement, black history museums still maintain a special place within communities across the nation. Their appeal, however, has since transcended these communities as they attract visitors from across the nation and around the world. They are institutions whose purpose evolves with time, continuously adapting to whatever visitors, communities, and national moods require at that particular moment. During the civil rights and black power eras of the 1960s and 1970s, black history museums complemented cultural messages of historical appreciation, pride, and community uplift. After President Barack Obama’s 2008 election victory, they worked toward countering the myth of the ‘post-racial’ society propagated by those who argued that racism had become extinct when America’s first black president was elected. Nearly a decade later, African-American history museums have settled into their most recent purpose: teaching Americans about the nation’s turbulent racial history during a time in which facts, truth, history, and experts are under siege from the highest levels of political power.2
This thesis examines black history museums in their modern state, exploring museological representations of African-American history, cultures, and experiences in four museums: the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) in Birmingham, Alabama; the DuSable Museum of African American History (DuSable) in Chicago, Illinois; the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C.; and the International Slavery Museum (ISM) in Liverpool, England.3 This research critically and comparatively analyzes how each institution represents slavery and the long civil rights era, as well as how these representations compare to those of other institutions in this study. In addition to analyzing how histories are represented in these museums, this thesis also considers what is left out of these displays and how omissions impact overall narratives. Moreover, this thesis questions how museums approach racial histories in our modern world and how the complicated relationship between past and present manifests itself in each institution. Amid a contentious political climate in which truth and fiction have been falsely equated, this thesis explores how institutions of knowledge represent a history that people need to understand to continue working toward a more equal society.4
4 This
Date of Award11 Jul 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorKEVERN VERNEY (Director of Studies) & PAUL WARD (Supervisor)


  • African-American museum studies
  • black history museums
  • museum narrative
  • museum methods

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