Abstract

“The Changing Face of the American Indian in U.S. Museums: Encoding/Decoding, Symbolic Interactionism, and the ‘Other’” 

Michaela Shifley

This paper examines the ways in which museums encode meanings about American Indian nations into their exhibitions. Characteristics such as the physical objects used, the layout of the exhibit, the ideals and values of the curators as well as the museum itself, and society’s overarching ideological views all play roles in determining the types of meanings that are encoded. An in-depth theoretical framework utilizing research from Stuart Hall and scholars of symbolic interactionism was used in this study; these theories were selected due to their insights as to how messages and meanings are created in society through symbols and ideology. Case studies of three museums – the National Museum of the American Indian, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, and the Custer Battlefield Museum – were conducted in order to analyze the features of their Native American exhibitions.

 
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