Crafting emotional comfort: interpreting the painful past at living history museums in the new economy

Amy M. Tyson


This essay offers ethnographic accounts of two living history museums, Historic Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Conner Prairie, in Fishers, Indiana. While Snelling’s programming worked to erase the history of slavery at the site, Conner Prairie fore-grounded the trauma of slavery in a special after-hours event wherein customers paid to role-play for 90 minutes as fugitive slaves on Indiana’s underground railroad in 1836. As different as the sites were with regards to how they dealt with slavery, both shared a common goal of ‘keeping the customer satisfied’. The author argues that in practice, this service economy directive translated into a preoccupation with keeping the customer comfortable, and that this preoccupation with comfort ultimately shaped the delivery of interpretation at both sites.

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Copyright (c) 2015 Amy M. Tyson

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360