Representation of Contested Narratives in the Anthropological Museum: Case Studies on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and the Northern Paiutes of Central Oregon
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History is contentious by its nature. Researchers constantly question, challenge, and compete against each other in efforts to advance their own ideas, theories, and conclusions. History is also often unpleasant or disturbing. Humans have done – and continue to do – horrible things to one another. How are these difficult topics researched, written about, and represented to the public? The same event or time period can be interpreted numerous ways, with researchers examining different evidence and viewing the information through a variety of lenses. An event or period which one publication focuses on may be completely absent from another. These varying historical narratives are selectively incorporated into museums, where visitors come to learn and enjoy themselves. Museums mold the narratives in their exhibits through the selection of information they draw on, and the degree to which they address historical topics. This project is an investigation of the selection or creation of narratives in small, local museums, drawing on two case studies: the history of the Northern Paiute tribe in central Oregon museums, and the history of Rapa Nui represented in the Museo Padre Sebastián Englert (MAPSE) and around the island. The conclusions of the project reveal the relative absence of information relating to difficult and unpleasant topics in these cultures' histories, the sanitization of historical narrative, and the complex relationship between indigenous sovereignty, academia, modern indigenous communities, and the sociopolitical repercussions.