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 politico.com. 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.
Here’s a bulletin from the timesdispatch.com 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.
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