Exhibiting Memories

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  • Article examines the complex relationship shared by history and memory when curators attempt to combine the two in efforts to fairly present museum exhibits to the public. The author states that curators of history museums have a difficult task, as their goal should be to show exhibits that are not limited to reminiscence or commemoration, but also add perspective by bringing a greater critical distance to the exhibit and by putting the artifacts in context. The Enola Gay exhibition, which ran from mid-1995 through mid-1998 at the National Air and Space Museum, is used as an example of the problems that can arise when curators allow either memory or history to dominate an exhibit's presentation.
  • The author writes that lessons learned from the Enola Gay situation were kept in mind when planning the "World War II: Sharing Memories" exhibit at the National Museum of American History; curators experimented with ways in which memory and history allow the past to be comprehended, and worked to share interpretation of the exhibit's artifacts by eliciting participation from visitors. The author suggests that in the post-Enola Gay era, curators must think carefully about the tone of exhibitions, as the public is demanding to be considered a partner in the creation of an exhibit's meaning. He concludes that curators should share interpretation authority with the public, but not abandon the job of curator and historian in the process.


  • World War II: Sharing Memories (Exhibition) (1996: Washington, D.C.)
  • National Museum of American History (U.S.) (NMAH)
  • National Air and Space Museum
  • Enola Gay (Bomber)


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


The author is chairman of the Division of History of Technology at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, and was curator of the exhibit "World War II: Sharing Memories."

Contained within

Museum News Vol. 75, No. 4 (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu


July/August 1996


  • Education
  • Controversies
  • Exhibitions
  • Museums
  • World War, 1939-1945
  • Museum curators
  • Museums--Educational aspects
  • Museum exhibits


  • United States
  • Washington (D.C.)



Physical description

"Forum" section, pages 60-72

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