Presidential Libraries as Performance: Curating Character from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush

By Owens, Patricia Ann | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Fall 2018 | Go to article overview

Presidential Libraries as Performance: Curating Character from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush


Owens, Patricia Ann, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


Presidential Libraries as Performance: Curating Character from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush. By Jodi Kanter. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2016. Pp. xxi, 179, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Paper, $35.00.)

Presidential libraries are administered by a branch of the National Archives and Records Administration and are the repositories of the papers, records and other materials from the administration of the designated president. Every president since Herbert Hoover has a presidential library and museum and each library makes collections available to researchers, and the museums offer exhibits highlighting the presidents' achievements and histories. Presidential libraries and museums honor and preserve their legacies and shape people's perspectives and remembrances of history-sometimes a history not so far in the past.

Kanter, associate professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the George Washington University, presents a thought-provoking book that utilizes the concept of "performance"-a term one might associate with the theatre-to describe the presidential libraries and examine how their locations, architecture, and exhibit arrangement are cultivated to present a museum experience that shapes visitors' perception of self as well as the men at the center of it all. Employing this basic idea, Kanter posits that visitors leave the museums with a sense of being a part of history and vital to the continuation of the American story and a crucial factor in the ongoing formation of the American character.

The book is divided into six chapters organized into three sections. Key ideas include the ways that museums are funded and by whom and why (an example being the Nixon Library prior to it coming under the auspices of the National Archives and Records Administration), library locations and their architectural features (examples being the open, spacious layout of the Reagan museum and the design of the Clinton library that suggests that the work of the president continues), and how the libraries can use their exhibits to motivate and inspire visitors as they incorporate new and ever changing technology. …

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