Desegregating the past : the public life of memory in the United States and South Africa / Robyn Autry.

By: Autry, Robyn KMaterial type: TextTextSeries: JSTOR eBooksPublisher: New York : Columbia University Press, 2017Description: 1 online resource (269 pages)Content type: text Media type: computer Carrier type: online resourceISBN: 9780231542517; 0231542518Subject(s): African Americans -- Historiography | Blacks -- South Africa -- Historiography | Racism -- United States -- Historiography | Racism -- South Africa -- Historiography | Historical museums -- United States | Historical museums -- South Africa | Memory -- Social aspects -- United States | Memory -- Social aspects -- South AfricaAdditional physical formats: Print version:: Desegregating the Past : The Public Life of Memory in the United States and South Africa.DDC classification: 305.896/073 LOC classification: E184.65Online resources: Click here to view this ebook.
Contents:
1. Memory Entrepreneurs: History in the Making; 2. The Curated Past: Remembering the Collective ; 3. Managing Collective Representations; 4. Memory Deviants: Breaking the Collective ; Conclusion: Museumification of Memory.
Summary: "At the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, visitors confront the past upon arrival. They must decide whether to enter the museum through a door marked 'whites' or another marked 'non-whites.' Inside, along with text, they encounter hanging nooses and other reminders of apartheid-era atrocities. In the United States, museum exhibitions about racial violence and segregation are mostly confined to black history museums, with national history museums sidelining such difficult material. Even the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture is dedicated not to violent histories of racial domination but to a more generalized narrative about black identity and culture. The scale at which violent racial pasts have been incorporated into South African national historical narratives is lacking in the U.S. 'Desegregating the Past' considers why this is the case, tracking the production and display of historical representations of racial pasts at museums in both countries and what it reveals about underlying social anxieties, unsettled emotions, and aspirations surrounding contemporary social fault lines around race. Robyn Autry consults museum archives, conducts interviews with staff, and recounts the public and private battles fought over the creation and content of history museums. Despite vast differences in the development of South African and U.S. society, Autry finds a common set of ideological, political, economic, and institutional dilemmas arising out of the selective reconstruction of the past. Museums have played a major role in shaping public memory, at times recognizing and at other times blurring the ongoing influence of historical crimes. The narratives museums produce to engage with difficult, violent histories expose present anxieties concerning identity, (mis)recognition, and ongoing conflict."--JSTOR website (viewed February 24, 2017).
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"At the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, visitors confront the past upon arrival. They must decide whether to enter the museum through a door marked 'whites' or another marked 'non-whites.' Inside, along with text, they encounter hanging nooses and other reminders of apartheid-era atrocities. In the United States, museum exhibitions about racial violence and segregation are mostly confined to black history museums, with national history museums sidelining such difficult material. Even the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture is dedicated not to violent histories of racial domination but to a more generalized narrative about black identity and culture. The scale at which violent racial pasts have been incorporated into South African national historical narratives is lacking in the U.S. 'Desegregating the Past' considers why this is the case, tracking the production and display of historical representations of racial pasts at museums in both countries and what it reveals about underlying social anxieties, unsettled emotions, and aspirations surrounding contemporary social fault lines around race. Robyn Autry consults museum archives, conducts interviews with staff, and recounts the public and private battles fought over the creation and content of history museums. Despite vast differences in the development of South African and U.S. society, Autry finds a common set of ideological, political, economic, and institutional dilemmas arising out of the selective reconstruction of the past. Museums have played a major role in shaping public memory, at times recognizing and at other times blurring the ongoing influence of historical crimes. The narratives museums produce to engage with difficult, violent histories expose present anxieties concerning identity, (mis)recognition, and ongoing conflict."--JSTOR website (viewed February 24, 2017).

1. Memory Entrepreneurs: History in the Making; 2. The Curated Past: Remembering the Collective ; 3. Managing Collective Representations; 4. Memory Deviants: Breaking the Collective ; Conclusion: Museumification of Memory.

Print version record.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

Reviews provided by Syndetics

CHOICE Review

Sociologist Autry (Wesleyan) explores how history, memory, and politics intertwine in history museums in two countries defined by long histories of racial division, the US and South Africa. Autry's main interest is in how the "production of the past" as manifested in museums in the two countries reflects various projects of nation-building and construction of historical narratives that may or may not reflect the full historical experience. At heart, these are political questions and can create controversies and dissent, with what she calls "memory deviants" oftentimes challenging the presentations in exhibits. The comparative framework allows the author to explore both similarities and differences. For example, in the US, museums devoted to questions of civil rights tend to emphasize racial bonds, where in South Africa the push has been for "nation-building." In both countries the tendency in public history has been to push a "consensus-driven memory" that sands off the roughest edges. Although the book is about history as presented in the museum environment, because it emphasizes public memory it will also help historians and sociologists understand the challenges, pitfalls, and opportunities that translating public memory into a visually consumable form provides. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. --Derek Charles Catsam, University of Texas of the Permian Basin

Author notes provided by Syndetics

Robyn Autry is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Wesleyan University. Her work has been published in Theory, Culture, and Society , Theory & Society , Contexts , and Museum & Society .

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