Cultural Landscapes Bibliography

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Handler, Richard and Eric Gable. The New History in an Old Museum: Creating the Past at Colonial Williamsburg. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997.

This book is the product of a two-year research project conducted by anthropologists studying Colonial Williamsburg. Four themes run continually throughout the book: how museums combine education and entertainment, representations of nostalgia versus progress, opposing historical theories of constructionalism verses realism, and conflicts between wanting to present “critical social history” and “celebratory patriotic history” within the organization. The authors outline the history of Colonial Williamsburg, as well as the hierarchical relationships within the organization’s umbrella. The authors’ report that CW, originally created to represent the elite 18th- century society in Virginia, are now trying to focus on the social, and therefore more inclusive and diverse, history. The study’s key question is whether or not CW is actually accomplishing this feat. Sources for the study include employees and documents from a broad range of branches within the organization, from ‘front line’ interpreters to members of the hotel and restaurant workers’ union. Upon reviewing the museum’s programs and research, distribution, and interpretation techniques, the authors unfavorably concluded that Colonial Williamsburg’s social historians were not reaching the visiting public, and that the museum “was still a Republican Disneyland” (220). This book asks important questions about interpreting social history, balancing money requirements, education, and entertainment, and organizations’ communication networks. [L. Plumley]