Defining and Redefining American Indian Identity: an Examination of the Role of the Museum in Contemporary Ethnogenesis in the United States

Katelyn L. Bolhofner

Abstract


As a platform for the display of cultures and a structuring agent in their formation, museums play a unique role in the negotiation of social identities. A museum’s approach to the interpretation of identity is shaped by the socio-political climate in which it exists. In the United States, a nation-state atmosphere celebratory of diversity, but not quite post-colonial, acts as the lens through which museums engage with issues of identity. Here, notions of difference, immigration, an indigenous past, and emerging ethnic identities are all at play in the negotiation of social identities. In this context, the acceptance of the generalized designation ‘American Indian’ as an ethnic identity is seen not only in national museums, but also in private museum exhibits and in local museums constructed by source communities. Through the definition, display, and reinforcement of specific cultural traits, these museums are contributing to the ethnogenesis of an American Indian identity.


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Copyright (c) 2015 Katelyn L. Bolhofner

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360