Museum and Identities: The Example of African American Museums

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Gwennaëlle Cariou, Université Paris Diderot


    Museums are spaces where the past can be brought out to the public. It is especially important for communities that have suffered from a lack of representation in museums, such as the African Americans. They are part of American history, as they have been present in North America since the beginning of the 17th century. Yet, due to slavery and segregation, they have not been considered as being part of the USA for centuries. Museums devoted to African Americans in the USA have a special place in the American landscape of museums. Indeed, the first African American museums were funded in the 1960s such as the DuSable African American Museum in Chicago (1961), the African American Museum in Boston (1964) and the Charles H. Wright of African American History in Detroit (1967). Since the 1990s and especially during the 2000s, many other black museums were created such as the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids (2003) or the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture in Baltimore (2005). Those museums are evoking different historical periods and themes devoted to the African American experience in the USA, either at a local or a national stage. Representing African American history and culture is a way to reflect on African American identity and its relationship to American identity. Museums can play a role in the creation of an identity of a state or a country (like in 19th century Europe), and for communities, to show their importance and the part they took in the American history and culture, and the way they are different from that. For African Americans, the situation is peculiar: African American being both part of American history and culture and being different from that. Is it possible to define an African American identity? If so, what type of objects or displays can be representative of this identity? How can museums contribute to the understanding of an African American in a mainstream white culture landscape in the USA?