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date: 16 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

In the nineteenth century, elites saw museums as a tool to shape a citizenry, to mold a national identity. Even as the New Social History of the 1960s pushed for a more inclusive history, the idea of a shared American identity remained largely intact. In the 1990s, however, museums started to think of identity as more multifaceted and fragmented. History became a collection of stories whose morals and even main characters varied according to one’s perspective. Exhibitions encouraged visitors to explore their individual identities, and ethnically specific museums emerged to reinforce particular community identities. Recent years have seen another shift: some museums see their job less as to reinforce visitors’ identities than to show how identity works—how it is continually negotiated by individuals, communities, and cultures.

Keywords: history museums, identity, ethnic museums, New Social History, Lower East Side Tenement Museum, National Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of American History, public history

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