Sharing pasts, sharing stories : representations of colonial contact history in three Columbia River Basin museums
Meghan Marie Bill
May 9, 2012
Department or Program
Race and Ethnic Studies
This thesis investigates local representations of the Columbia River Basin’s colonial contact histories—framed roughly between the years 1805 and 1855—as exhibited at three of the area’s local museums: the Fort Walla Walla Museum, the Whitman Mission National Historic Site, and Tamástslikt Cultural Institute. I investigate the design, curatorial intent, and historical narratives of each institution’s exhibits as relates to Andrea Smith’s concept of “settler-colonial historical consciousness.” I propose that history museums are powerful storytellers whose narratives shape visitors’ contemporary understandings of local histories, colonialism, race relations, and contemporary communities. I argue that, as storytellers, museums have responsibilities for the interpretations they present to their viewers. Given the pervasiveness of whitewashed and colonially amnesic representations of American history in mainstream media, particularly in the Columbia River Basin, I advocate for museum exhibits more critically aware of historical narrative multiplicity and for exhibits that more explicitly address colonialism—pulling its stories of oppression and survivance from an almost exclusively historic past into contemporary relevance.