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Published on Apr 30, 2012
"Native Americans and the Anthropology Community," David Hurst Thomas, Curator, Department of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History, New York.
The National Museum of the American Latino Commission's report recommending the establishment of a Smithsonian National Museum of the American Latino prompts debate concerning the value of "ethnic" or "culturally specific" museums. Thoughtful people ask whether the proliferation of museums dedicated to particular experiences or cultures contributes to the "balkanization" of the United States. Others observe that traditional museums have not represented our country's people and their achievements as fully as they should be. Ethnic/culturally specific museums, they note, provide different portals into what it means to be an American, and their programs provide depth and fullness of perspective, enriching our national narrative.
These are serious questions that the Smithsonian seeks to address in a comprehensive, insightful way. By presenting various facets of the existence and practices of "ethnic/culturally specific" museums at the Smithsonian and elsewhere, this special symposium advances a vital discussion of a challenging subject. It provides an important step toward understanding the history of museums in matters of race, the development of "ethnic/culturally specific" museums, and the development of a cogent philosophy on these museums.