A new exhibit is opening at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans this weekend, featuring a more direct approach to reach its museum audience. The new wing attempts to engage museum visitors by prompting viewer identification with individuals who experienced specific episodes of the Second World War.
Techniques of viewer identification invite each museum-goer to consider the perspective of an individual while viewing an exhibit. The National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., distributes small information cards to each visitor with a photo and brief biography of a Holocaust victim in order for viewers to consider this individual’s experience within the broader nightmare of the Nazi state and its extermination programs.
NPR reports on the new exhibit at the museum. I have not yet been able to visit the National World War II Museum, so I cannot assess its use of viewer identification. I am troubled that the techniques described by NPR seems to be restricted to showing American perspectives of the conflict, however. Teaching the history of the Second World War requires a multiplicity of non-American perspectives to avoid serious distortion, I would argue. Offering Japanese-American points-of-view on the war is not the same as offering Japanese perspectives. Does the museum offer British, German, Russian, Western European, Eastern European, Jewish, Chinese, Australian, Indian, or Oceanian perspectives?
That the new wing is entitled “US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center” does not bode well for presenting a sophisticated historical view of the Second World War.
The association of Stephen Ambrose with the project of the National World War II Museum’s work is unfortunate. Ambrose, a former professor at the University of New Orleans who is now deceased, helped launch the New Orleans-based museum and served as its President. Ambrose was accused of serial and rampant plagiarism in 2002 in one of the most famous modern cases of plagiarism and academic dishonesty.
The National World War II Museum should think about how to disassociate itself from Stephen Ambrose’s influence and approaches.
Read about Stephen Ambrose in a separate post at this site.