Contested Histories in Public Space

Memory, Race, and Nation

Contested Histories in Public Space

Radical Perspectives

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Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: 65 illustrations, 1 map Published: January 2009

Anthropology > Museum Studies, Cultural Studies, History > World History

Contested Histories in Public Space brings multiple perspectives to bear on historical narratives presented to the public in museums, monuments, texts, and festivals around the world, from Paris to Kathmandu, from the Mexican state of Oaxaca to the waterfront of Wellington, New Zealand. Paying particular attention to how race and empire are implicated in the creation and display of national narratives, the contributing historians, anthropologists, and other scholars delve into representations of contested histories at such “sites” as a British Library exhibition on the East India Company, a Rio de Janeiro shantytown known as “the cradle of samba,” the Ellis Island immigration museum, and high-school history textbooks in Ecuador.

Several contributors examine how the experiences of indigenous groups and the imperial past are incorporated into public histories in British Commonwealth nations: in Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum; in the First Peoples’ Hall at the Canadian Museum of Civilization; and, more broadly, in late-twentieth-century Australian culture. Still others focus on the role of governments in mediating contested racialized histories: for example, the post-apartheid history of South Africa’s Voortrekker Monument, originally designed as a tribute to the Voortrekkers who colonized the country’s interior. Among several essays describing how national narratives have been challenged are pieces on a dispute over how to represent Nepali history and identity, on representations of Afrocuban religions in contemporary Cuba, and on the installation in the French Pantheon in Paris of a plaque honoring Louis Delgrès, a leader of Guadeloupean resistance to French colonialism.

Contributors. Paul Amar, Paul Ashton, O. Hugo Benavides, Laurent Dubois, Richard Flores, Durba Ghosh, Albert Grundlingh, Paula Hamilton, Lisa Maya Knauer, Charlotte Macdonald, Mark Salber Phillips, Ruth B. Phillips, Deborah Poole, Anne M. Rademacher, Daniel J. Walkowitz


“Solid and valuable in describing the world we live in.” — Ray B. Browne, Journal of American Culture

“[T]he edited collection contains nuanced and detailed discussions of the role of public commemorative spaces in generating national sentiments among the audiences they address. Many of the articles illustrate that public memory projects come at the expense of disenfranchised communities of color who are supposed to legitimize the nation-state in symbolic form, without obtaining economic and social justice. The articles should make the reader a more critical consumer of heritage, history, and memory sites.” — Lucia Volk, American Ethnologist

Contested Histories will be very valuable for those interested in public history and memory studies. . .will appeal to readers interested in sociopolitical understandings of race, citizenship, and nation in postcolonial and global contexts.” — Manuella Meyer, Ethnohistory

“The volume is a worthy contribution for those interested in museum studies, history, and anthropology. The volume presents a number of theoretical, ethnographic, and professional examples that can inform both academic and practice-based treatments of work that addresses the representation of race, nation, and memory in its attendant forms.” — Raymond Codrington, Museum Anthropology

“At the heart of this volume lie the concerns common to all historians: who are the custodians of the (public) past and what constitutes the boundary of their project? Public historians, museum curators, and those interested in questions of public space, empire, and the challenges of public history will find in this volume a sense of publicity in crisis, and a sense of possibility about public spaces that could transcend the framework of the nation.” — Darryl Flaherty, Journal of World History

“The findings of this book should be of interest to museum profesionals, public historians, and scholars interested in the power of public presentations of history. In addition, the international perspective provided in this text makes in particularly useful for graduate courses.” — Jennifer Lisa Koslow, History: Reviews of New Books

“Walkowitz and Knauer offer an important collection of essays for people interested in memory studies more broadly. This book will also appeal to readers concerned with the intersections of collective remembering and social understandings of race and nation in postcolonial contexts. Contested Histories would be a particularly useful collection of readings for courses across the humanities and social sciences on race, ethnicity, and nationality, history and memory, as well as postcolonial studies. It would also be very valuable for anyone interested in public history work. The essays shed light on the complicated networks of scholars (traditional “historians”), museum employees, and government officials as well as the dilemmas public historians face when trying to engage audiences in more complex (often ugly and uncomfortable) historical stories, while still maintaining people’s interest and securing potential funding resources.”
— Brooke Neely, Spaces for Difference

"The volume is well crafted to reach a variety of audiences, including students, scholars and activists concerned with public history, memory studies more broadly, and most certainly anthropologists interested in unpacking the contested terrain of racial and national narratives in postcolonial settings." — Aspasia Theodosiou, Anthropological Notebooks

“[A] rich and interesting volume. . . . The contributors are well chosen, the essays unusually consistent, and the topics, juxtaposed rather than braided, convey precisely what the editors hoped for: that public spaces are used, abused, and ‘contested,’ perhaps especially when the subject turns to the commemoration of empire, no matter where they are. . . . It is sure to have a powerful impact on the way we think about the struggle over space and representation in the dusk of older empires and in the dawn of newer
ones.” — Matthew Pratt Guterl, Museum Anthropology Review

“[T]his is an intellectually stimulating volume with great applicability for many new and future venues for analysis.” — Hong-Ming Liang, Journal of Intercultural Studies

“Perhaps the greatest strength of this compilation is how the authors capture the vigorous contestation that can arise between advocates with radically opposed sentiments, allegiances, outlooks and agendas. With the devil generally being in the details, the particulars in these examples reflect the categorical messiness, the fluidity, the complexities, the shifting loyalties, the unpredictability and the undeniably fascinating nature of such cultural conflicts. . . . [A] reader hungry for insight into the politics of representation on an international scale will find much to chew on in Contested Histories in Public Spaces.” — Steven Dublin, Reviews in History

“Public historians—whether academics or practitioners—will find much of value within the pages of Contested Histories. . . . Walkowitz and Knauer have compiled a rich and instructive collection of essays that, together, demonstrate the ‘international and spatial reach’ of complex historical debates as they played out in a diverse array of public spaces.” — Andrea Thabet, The Public Historian

“The wide range of geographical areas covered (six continents and fourteen countries) offers a fascinating study on the impacts of globalization, including the resulting emergence of localisms. . . . The incorporation into memory studies of the rich fruits of postcolonial studies to interrogate how the postcolonial condition might challenge our understanding of the relationship between history and memory is an important and much needed endeavor, for which that I hope this volume has broken ground.” — Akiko Takenaka, Pacific Historical Review

“By offering studies from six continents, this volume makes the important point that globalization on the one hand and new sorts of localism on the other have powerfully affected discussions of how an often dark and morally compromised past can be critically assimilated into the nearly universal state of fractured national consciousness.” — Thomas W. Laqueur, University of California, Berkeley

“This is an exceptionally strong and interesting collection about public history in the context of evolving sensibilities about nation, race, culture, ‘identity,’ and public representation itself. It features great essays instructively organized, as well as a thoughtful, focused introduction that sets them all in a broader context.” — Michael Frisch, University at Buffalo, SUNY


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Daniel J. Walkowitz is Professor of History, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, and Director of Experiential Education at New York University. Lisa Maya Knauer is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and African and African American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. They are editors of Memory and the Impact of Political Transformation in Public Space, also published by Duke University Press.

Lisa Maya Knauer is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and African/African-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.

Table of Contents Back to Top
About the Series vii

Introduction / Lisa Maya Knauer and Daniel J. Walkowitz 1

First Things First

Two Peoples, One Museum: Biculturalism and Visitor "Experience" at Te Papa—Our Place, New Zealand's National Museum / Charlotte J. MacDonald 29

Contesting Time, Place, and Nation in the First Peoples' Hall of the Canadian Museum of Civilization / Ruth B. Phillips and Mark Salber Phillips 49

"Unfinished Business": Public History in a Postcolonial Nation / Paul Ashton and Paula Hamilton 71

Colonial Legacies and Winners' Tales

Exhibiting Asia in Britain: Commerce, Consumption, and Globalization / Durba Ghosh 99

The Alamo: Myth, Public History, and the Politics of Inclusion / Richard R. Flores 122

Ellis Island Redux: The Imperial Turn and the Race of Ethnicity / Daniel J. Walkowitz 136

State Stories

A Cultural Conundrum? Old Monuments and New Regimes: The Voortrekker Monument as Symbol of Afrikaner Power in a Postapartheid South Africa / Albert Grundlingh 155

Narratives of Power, the Power of Narratives: The Failing Foundational Narrative of the Ecuadorian Nation / O. Hugo Benavides 178

Affective Distinctions: Race and Place in Oaxaca / Deborah Poole 197

Under-Stated Stories

Marking Remembrance: Nation and Ecology in Two Riverbank Monuments in Kathmandu / Anne M. Rademacher 227

Saving Rio's "Cradle of Samba": Outlaw Uprisings, Racial Tourism and the Progressive State in Brazil / Paul Amar 239

Afrocuban Religion, Museums, and the Cuban Nation / Lisa Maya Knauer 280

Haunting Delgrès / Laurent Dubois 311

Bibliography 329

Contributors 353

Index 357
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4236-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4217-5
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