Museum Rhetoric

Building Civic Identity in National Spaces

By (author) M. Elizabeth Weiser

Paperback - £27.95

Publication date:

30 November 2018

Length of book:

232 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271079042

In today’s diverse societies, museums are the primary institutions within the public sphere in which individuals can both engage critical thought and celebrate community. This volume uses the lens of rhetoric to explore the role these societal repositories play in establishing and altering cultural heritage and national identity.

Based on fieldwork conducted in over sixty museums in twenty-two countries across six continents, Museum Rhetoric explores how heritage museum exhibits persuade visitors to unite their own sense of identity with that of the broader civic society and how the latter changes in response. Elizabeth Weiser examines what compels communities, organizations, and nations to create museum spaces, and how museums operate as sites of both civic engagement and rhetorical persuasion. Moving beyond rhetorical explorations of museums as “memory sites,” she shows how they intentionally straddle the divides between style and content, intellect and affect, and unity and diversity, and why their portrayal of the past matters to civic life—and particularly studies of nationalism—in the present and future.

Deeply researched and artfully argued, Museum Rhetoric sheds light on the public impact of cultural and aesthetic heritage and opens avenues of inquiry for scholars of museum studies and public history.

“M. Elizabeth Weiser crosses more national and disciplinary borders than any previous scholar in the search for unifying analyses of the identity work of museums. She investigates a wide array of material and a multidimensional set of productive dilemmas. The result is a complex, innovative, and yet clear and elegantly presented analysis of the work done by and through museums in placing their orchestrated and authorized rhetoric in dialogue with the experiences of visiting citizens.”

—Peter Aronsson, coeditor of National Museums and Nation-Building in Europe, 1750-2010: Mobilization and Legitimacy, Continuity and Change