Research Manuscript Series


Amy C. Raimundo

Document Type


Publication Date



Santa Clara, Calif. : Santa Clara University, Department of Anthropology and Sociology


Representations of culture, cultural empowerment and the politics that accompany these issues are currently at the center of debates regarding anthropological museum displays. Contemporary museology has come under fire recently because of the narrow, one-sided or slanted views that some groups feel museums have presented to the public in the past. Many museums are recognizing this misrepresentation and are trying to look into ways of creating partnerships with the people whose histories and cultures they present to the public (Herle 1994:2). The anticipated result is that a more balanced representation of a culture will emerge.

Viewing museum displays is a prominent way in which most non-Native Americans gain information on the history and culture of indigenous peoples of North America. Because ' of this, museums influence the opinions of those people who view these exhibits. Most of these people, including school children and tourists, do not take into account the potentially biased nature of most displays and take for granted the idea that the display that they have just walked through is an absolute truth. This is just one of the reasons that balanced representation of cultures in exhibits is important.

Questions about the process of moving toward balanced representation remain. Is enough being done to encourage the participation of Native Americans? Is the Native American community sati ~fied with the status quo of area museums? If changes are to be made, where will the funding come from? And, finally, is it felt universally in the museum community that such changes need to be made?

Ideally, museums would have adequate funding to renew stale exhibits, the indigenous communities would have a significant voice in deciding what goes into the exhibits, and through these exhibits the public would gain a more balanced understanding of the histories and the current conditions of these peoples. We don't, however, live in a perfect world, so those involved in and concerned with the museum community must learn to cope with the setbacks and speedbumps that economics, politics and bureaucracy may set in the path of exhibit development.

In the following pages these issues are examined as they pertain to the representation of Native Americans in San Francisco Bay area museums. Prior to this work, only limited study has been concentrated on this issue and no extensive studies have been completed in this area of California. This work will first review the issues as they have been explored previously in other parts of the country and the world. A synopsis of the life and history of the Ohlone will follow so that we can understand something of the information that the museums should be trying to convey. An examination of twelve museums around the Bay Area follows the cultural overview. Included in these profiles are, as often as possible, interviews with key museum staff members, as well as an analysis of each exhibit. This paper concludes with a comparison of the areas museums and a basic design for an "ideal" exhibit which may, sometime in the future, be achieved.

Part of

Research Manuscript Series; 6


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