National Museum Idea Is in Line with Lowell Story

As long as this new museum would include everyone’s roots, then I think it has merit. If it comes from a backlash against national museums for Native Americans and African Americans, then it’s not starting with a positive spirit. I’m picking up more than a whiff of complaint in this news. There is, however, a missing social history link in the museum experience in Washington, D.C. You don’t find this narrative at the museums about American history or the National Portrait Gallery. The Native American and African American experiences would have to be integrated into the larger, multi-group narrative.

Congressmen James P. Moran, a Democrat from Virginia, and John Duncan, a Republican from Tennessee, are proposing a national museum that tells the story of the peoples of America, people from 140 or more different ethnic heritages that make up the national mosaic. In its own way, Lowell National Historical Park tells these stories in the form of folklife programs, the “immigrants exhibit” at the Mogan Cultural Center, education programs at the Tsongas  Industrial History Center, and the Lowell Folk Festival (coming the last weekend of July).

If such a museum were created in Washington, D.C., it would have a natural link to what’s going on in Lowell, which is a microcosm of the American story. Dr Patrick Mogan sometimes said the Lowell Park picks up the American story after Ellis Island, which is about coming to America (who, when, why, how?). The social history in Lowell is a window onto the way new people settled in their new country, assimiliated into American life, and began to influence the national culture.

With the immigrants exhibit at the Mogan Center, the planners said there were four questions to answer in the exhibit: Who came to Lowell? Why did they come here? How were they changed by America? How did they in turn change America? On a much grander scale, the idea of a national museum about the American people or peoples would address these questions and more.

Here’s a link to Moran’s opinion piece in He’s been a loud critic of national museums oriented toward specific racial or ethnic groups of Americans, like Native Americans and African Americans, which are popular attractions in Washington, D.C. There is a proposal on the table for a national Latino culture museum.

Read the note in the NYTimes about Congressman Moran’s idea, and get the NYT if you want more.

Here’s a bulletin from the in Richmond, Va.

WASHINGTON  — Several members of Congress are calling for a presidential commission to study the formation of a National Museum of the American People in Washington to tell the history of immigration and migration that formed the nation.

Rep. Jim Moran, D-8th,  and Rep. John Duncan,  R-Tenn., are expected to introduce legislation today that calls for studying the feasibility of creating such a museum without any federal taxpayer funds.

Moran has been a chief critic of building individual ethnic museums on the National Mall for fear they appeal to segregated audiences. Another presidential commission recently called for a Latino museum to be added to the Smithsonian Institution.

A group that wants to build a Museum of the American People says more than 130 minority groups support the idea

2 Responses to National Museum Idea Is in Line with Lowell Story

  1. Bob Forrant says:

    Here is a link to a report that UMass Lowell History professor Christoph Strobel and I just completed for the Lowell National Historical Park taking a careful look at how the city’s 19th century and early 20th century immigration stories compare to what’s been happening in the city and region since approx. 1975. It very much speaks to questions Paul raises and as well speaks to the need for us to consider the current story as part and parcel of the nation’s complex, complicated, and important immigration history. Maybe through the power of the blog world we can convene a public conversation sometime soon to discuss what the research reveals. And, we should make the pitch that this national museum, should it be built, be built here in Lowell! Why not?

  2. George DeLuca says:

    Conceptualizing, designing and building a “National Museum of Immigration and Naturalization” here in Lowell is a brilliant idea Bob. As you say, what better place to do it?

    I’m currently reading “The Big Move”, your book in collaboration with Christopher Strobel. I trust that the museum would be approached with similar objectivity. The LNHP also approaches history in this manner, blending a mountain of eye witness accounts and photographs into the presentations without embellishing or lavishing praise on individuals. I’m confident that the LNHP would be wary of such revisionist accounts as they have been in the past.

    A comprehensive account would tend to be cathartic, especially to all those who suffered through the process as the inhabitation unfolded and the melting pot proliferated; and, it would also help clear the air about where we are as a nation in general at this point in history.

    We need this story told and anchored in one place, as we’re on the precipice now of a world in severe crisis. People of the world need to be working together to find and implement sustainable solutions to climactic, social and economic dilemmas.

    Having such a museum in Lowell would be a tremendous challenge, but again, I can see no better place for it to happen.