The National Museum of the American Indian: Critical Conversations

The National Museum of the American Indian: Critical Conversations

The National Museum of the American Indian: Critical Conversations

The National Museum of the American Indian: Critical Conversations

Synopsis

The first American national museum designed and run by indigenous peoples, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC opened in 2004. It represents both the United States as a singular nation and the myriad indigenous nations within its borders. Constructed with materials closely connected to Native communities across the continent, the museum contains more than 800,000 objects and three permanent galleries and routinely holds workshops and seminar series.
This first comprehensive look at the National Museum of the American Indian encompasses a variety of perspectives, including those of Natives and non-Natives, museum employees, and outside scholars across disciplines such as cultural studies and criticism, art history, history, museum studies, anthropology, ethnic studies, and Native American studies. The contributors engage in critical dialogues about key aspects of the museum's origin, exhibits, significance, and the relationship between Native Americans and other related museums.

Excerpt

Amy Lonetree and Amanda J. Cobb

Beginnings

Critical Conversations grew out of two special issues of American Indian Quarterly that we guest-edited. Although both issues took the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) as their subject matter, the issues were markedly different in voice, perspective, and sense of audience. Through lengthy discussions we realized that each journal issue represented the ongoing conversations of distinct communities of scholars. These communities, working from specific interdisciplinary traditions and bodies of literature, find different sets of issues at stake in the study of the nmai. We recognized that the nmai is at the center of many such conversations — spirited, robust conversations rooted in specific traditions and perspectives.

Through a close analysis of our special issues, we identified four such sets of conversations that we used to shape and organize the collection, placing them in conversation with each other. the essays here exemplify the multiplicity of responses people have had to the National Museum of the American Indian (e.g., celebratory, critical, or political) and the diversity of theoretical and practical lenses they have used to engage with it (e.g., historical, museological, interpretive, or curatorial). This collection's strength comes not in a unity of voice but from the complexity of voices, each offering a unique perspective on a collective effort to take meaning from the nmai.

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