Exhibiting Bias

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  • The author uses this article to argue his view that the Smithsonian is in the process of losing its renowned reputation for even-handedness in the content of its exhibitions due to increased ideological pressures and threatened funding cutbacks by a conservative U. S. Congress. Zengerle opens with the example of an exhibition being prepared at the Museum of American History for the Spring of 1998 that would include the recreation of a California sweatshop. He comments that the apparel industry disagrees with presentation of the exhibit as planned and hopes to change its content. The author notes changes had occurred in an exhibition's content a couple of years earlier when the Enola Gay exhibition had been planned; controversy erupted over its content, resulting in exhibition content changes.
  • Blame for this is put on Smithsonian Secretary I. Michael Heyman, seen by the author as caving in to outside criticism. The author takes a dim view of this type of action, as he believes curators are made to become their own censors when they are forced to take a selective view of history. Through a spokesperson, Heyman responds that Smithsonian staff do not have the same claim to academic freedom that university faculty members do, as a museum exhibition is a reflection of the institution itself while a faculty member may speak and write as an individual. The author sees Heyman responding to threatened funding cuts by seeking more private sector deals and partnerships that will yield money to the Smithsonian without surrendering control of corporate-sponsored exhibitions.
  • The author admits that Heyman is performing a tough balancing act between what curators believe the Smithsonian's best interest to be and what the present U. S. Congress will approve of. He hopes Heyman does not carry his appeasement approach too far and give in to ideological demands, as the Institution's intellectual freedom and educational mission will be jeopardized.


  • Heyman, Ira Michael 5/30/1930-11/19/2011
  • United States Congress
  • National Museum of History and Technology (U.S.)
  • National Museum of American History (U.S.) (NMAH)
  • Enola Gay (Bomber)


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography

Contained within

The New Republic Vol. 217, No. 16 (Journal)

Contact information

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


October 20, 1997


  • Museum finance
  • Education
  • Controversies
  • Secretaries
  • Professional ethics
  • Exhibitions
  • Museums
  • Federal Government, Relations with SI
  • Museums--Educational aspects
  • Museum curators





Physical description

pgs. 18-19

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