This passage is based on material from an opinion piece published in 2007.

Cultures are not objects that can be adequately understood from the outside, but neither can cultures speak for themselves. Yet this is precisely the goal celebrants of cultural identity often embrace. The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.; is a good example. In designing exhibits, the curators abandoned traditional museum classifications (such as geographical distribution or era). Being extraneous to the cultures presented, such categories, the curators think, distort interpretation of those cultures.

Since some ordering of objects is unavoidable, the museum's magnificent collections are presented under themes like cosmology or landscape. It is not evident, however, that these categories derive from the mental universe of the cultures presented. An interpretation, that avoids all borrowed concepts, following the museum's stated philosophy, would require that all things Huron, for example, be presented in the Huron language—not very useful if the purpose is to present a culture to those outside of it.

The museum's displays gather objects found anyplace between Newfoundland and Argentina, and made anytime between today and thousands of years ago/ under headings such as animals, or containers. All things are treated as if they are of equal, indeterminate value. Such critical abstinence is often accompanied in museums by the desire to entertain. However, populism and a misplaced business mentality risk transforming the institutional custodians of cultural heritage into theme parks.

The author of the passage indicates that, in abandoning traditional classifications in their display of American Indian objects, the museum curators have

generally failed in their attempt to entertain the museum’s audiences

been more successful than other museums at using the objects to help present American Indian cultures to those outside of these cultures

done more of a service to American Indian cultures than museums that display cultural objects using traditional museum classifications

nonetheless used classifications of the objects in ways that are not always consistent with American Indian cultures

become overly critical of the classifications traditionally used by museums that display cultural objects


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