Museums as Public Memory Texts: A Comparison of Holocaust Museum Narratives and their Implications

Open Access
Boscia, Nina Theresa
Area of Honors:
Communication Arts and Sciences
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Stephen Howard Browne, Thesis Supervisor
  • Lori Ann Bedell, Honors Advisor
  • Holocaust
  • Museum
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • Memory
  • Rhetoric
This research project explores the topics of public and collective memory within the realm of rhetoric in relationship to the Holocaust, and, more specifically, in relationship to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The research is particularly focused on the rhetoric of space and place and helps to further the claims made about the implications of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Separated into three chapters, the project first contextualizes the landscape of two museums presenting information on the Holocaust: the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. The second chapter analyzes, in detail, the specific aspects of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum that are 'rhetorical' and do some type of persuasive work for visitors. Finally, the third section presents itself as an ethnography to show an example of one visitor’s perceptions of remembering the information in the USHMM. The discussion of the influence the museum has on visitors through its work dealing with remembrance-- especially analyzing the Hall of Remembrance, Days of Remembrance, and the museum's mission statement that promotes the act of “never forgetting” works to establish evidence necessary for the argument that the museum itself wants visitors to remember this period in a certain way. This provides convincing proof that museums, but, more specifically, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, act in rhetorical ways and promote or encourage certain factors or aspects of a particular event, person, object, or place. The research questions mainly address the ways museums and their content affect visitors. Does the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum only focus on the act and importance of “remembering” because it would be frowned upon by society to do otherwise? Does society frown upon 'forgetting' these events BECAUSE of the continual pressure of the museum and other memorials to not do so? Do the museum's rhetorical strategies (images, set-up, architecture, and focus) provoke collective feelings about this time period, or is it the actual content provided that does this type of work? Does society trust the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum more than other venues because of its legitimate reputation? This culminates in an argument that society remembers specific messages from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum instead of coming away with only a broad knowledge base and educational foundation. Furthermore, this project seeks to show the implications of understanding that each individual may have different perceptions of the same event.