Rod Dreher

Writing in Saturday’s Washington Post, Marc Fisher uses his review of the new German-American museum to remark critically on the essential fraudulence of museums of ethnic heritage. Excerpt:

But when each ethnic group creates its own museum, visitors are left without the tools to put each ethnicity’s take on history in any useful context. The National Museum of the American Indian proudly opened in 2004 as the Smithsonian Institution’s first museum to abdicate its responsibility to present a narrative that seeks to let visitors question the past, warts and all. Instead, the American Indian museum set a new tone by offering what it calls “self-told histories of selected native communities,” allowing, for example, a California tribe to offer a display of artifacts from its gambling casino, with not a word about the economic impact of Indian casinos, gambling addiction or conflicts between the tribe and its neighbors.
The German museum presents a different problem, but one that also undermines the public’s ability to trust that curators are at least attempting to present facts that visitors can then interpret as they wish: Although [museum director Rudiger] Lentz says he wants to show the good and the bad in German American history, he readily admits that the purpose of the museum is to promote German culture — there’s even a kiosk offering travel information on Germany.
“I am dancing on the edge of the volcano,” Lentz says. His funding comes mainly from the umbrella group of German American social and fraternal clubs, whose leaders tend to favor a boosterish approach to telling their story. So Lentz says that when he proposed to feature Dwight D. Eisenhower as one of the German American icons at the museum, “some people said, oh, no, Eisenhower treated German POWs badly,” an allegation that many historians consider spurious. Lentz was able to persuade his donors to allow the tribute to Eisenhower because as president, “he brought West Germany back into the family of nations through NATO.” But the incident illustrates the threat to credibility when each group creates a museum to further its own interests.

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