Exhibits

NOLA Pasts

At the mouth of the Mississippi, New Orleans occupies a liminal space geographically, bringing the Caribbean into contact with the vast interior of North America. This location made the Crescent City a cultural crossroads where Afro-Caribbean traditions blended with French and Spanish colonial legacies and westward-moving Anglo-American southern society.

This exhibit considers the ways this unique milieu has shaped New Orleanians' experiences of the nation's larger political and economic forces, and explores the roots of the city's distinctive food, music, and performance culture.

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Community radio station WWOZ marks the 30th anniversary of going on the air with a Second Line Parade in the Marigny and French Quarter neighborhoods. Treme Brass Band, 2010.

Moving Pictures

For well over a century, people have been flocking to the movies. This exhibit traces the history of Americans' relationships with the silver screen, from film's earliest days to the cinematic creations of our own times.

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Lithograph by Art Chantry [ca. 1980-1995]

Doing Black History

Almost a century ago, historian Carter G. Woodson declared the second week in February to be "Negro History Week." The focus on African American history eventually expanded to encompass the entire month, and little by little, to permeate curricula throughout the rest of the year as well. This exhibit explores the ways African American history has been learned and taught in schools, museums, and popular culture.

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"The Georgia Negro: A Social Study," By W. E. B. Du Bois, 1900.

Frisco Bound

From the Gold rush to the tech boom, people have come to San Francisco from all directions in search of fortune. The resulting diversity has given rise to creativity and exploitation, resistance and innovation. The subcultures that formed, from Chinatown to the Castro district, from Haight-Ashbury to Angel Island and Alcatraz, themselves drew more people to San Francisco, making the city famous for its cultural innovation and political activism.

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"Painted Ladies" houses and San Francisco skyline.

Traffic Jam

In the mid-20th century, Americans restructured their lives around automobiles. Cars assumed a central role in everything from the national economy to the routines of daily life. But the costs of car culture have been steep. Crashes and pollution have taken a toll on human bodies, highway construction and zoning changes have reshaped our landscape, and industry marketing has shifted individuals' perceptions of their fundamental needs, wants, and rights. The automobile in the U.S. is both a symbol of freedom and modernization, and the engine of a system that encourages dependency, threatens public health, and resists change.

Car culture is so pervasive that many people take it for granted as the natural order of American life. But by revealing the political, industry, and consumer decisions that have brought us to this point, history can serve as our “blind spot detection,” equipping us to envision new possibilities for the future.

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Parking lot in downtown Cleveland, 1973.

Climate Crisis

The levels of carbon currently in the Earth's atmosphere are unprecedented in both the historical and geological records. Still, the climate crisis does have a history. Humans have created the situation in which we now find ourselves, and must continue to make choices about what to do about it. This exhibit explores the causes and impacts of climate change through a historical lens, and draws on the past to help frame the best courses of action for the future.

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1973, 50 Years Later

Roe v. Wade. The occupation of Wounded Knee. Hip-hop's emergence in the Bronx. These were a few of the big cultural and political events that took place in the U.S. in 1973. To mark that year's 50th anniversary, we compiled this exhibit looking back on what in retrospect appears to have been a very consequential year.

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Crimes of War

When we think about the battles waged by Americans both at home and abroad, we tend to remember the big picture questions. Why were Americans fighting? Who else was involved? What were the outcomes?

Less remembered are the civilian victims of the violence wrought by Americans in the course of their wars. In this exhibit, you'll find a range of writing about those victims, and about the extent to which Americans have acknowledged and accounted for the atrocities committed in their name.

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Mass grave of dead Lakota Indians after the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre.

Higher Callings

American history is filled with stories of religiously minded people who have attempted to live their values in community with others. Some of these groups have been motivated to change the larger society, while others have focused their efforts on their own communities. This exhibit explores the contours and legacies of some of the nation's most prominent religious movements.

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Truth and Truthiness

We are told that Americans' trust in their news media remains near record lows. But do public opinion polls obscure a longer history of debate about the media that stretches back to the founding era?

This exhibit explores some of the ways Americans have defined and wrestled with the appropriate role of journalists in a democracy.

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Archives in the Digital Age

Digital technology has facilitated new and more efficient methods for accessing the records of our past. This exhibit explores the challenges and rewards of archiving in the digital age, as well as the ways in which new technologies are shaping historical research and collective memory.

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Finding Ancestors

Family histories can inspire a deep sense of connection to the past. This exhibit traces the different paths people are taking to find their ancestors, through methods both new (like crowdsourced genealogy and DNA testing) and old (like archival research, community commemoration, and oral tradition and storytelling).

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Philadelphia Story

From the revolutionary era to the present, this exhibit traces 250 years of politics, resistance, law, and medicine in the City of Brotherly Love.

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Living With the Dead

Over the years, there's been a wide range of ways in which Americans have experienced the presence of those who have departed. This exhibit collects writing about the ritual practices, folklore, and art that have emerged out of Americans' attempts to connect with what we cannot see.
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Public Education

Recent debates over how to teach schoolchildren about race and racism have deep roots in American history. Fundamentally, each of these battles has centered on questions that are as old as public education itself: What – and who – are public schools for? To whom are they "accountable," and what does it mean to run schools "democratically?" The resources in this exhibit explore the ideals, and realities, of public education in America.
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The Great Depression

The economic collapse of the Great Depression, and the accompanying environmental crisis of the Dust Bowl, posed tough challenges to Americans in the 1930s. The crises prompted many innovative responses, from social movements and works of art to the New Deal's infrastructure and social safety net. This exhibit highlights how this turbulent decade ushered in a new era for labor, culture, and government.

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Supreme Thwart

The U.S. Supreme Court, as we all learn in school, was intended to be a check on the other two branches of federal government. But at various points in history, many Americans have seen it instead as impeding the will of the people. This exhibit explores debates about the judicial power and how the Court has wielded it.
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Scientific Americans

From Enlightenment naturalists to Cold War physicists to contemporary biotech researchers, Americans have been fascinated by science. Professionals and amateurs alike have used science to improve lives, to debate policy, to justify exploitation, or simply to have fun. This exhibit highlights how Americans' pursuit of the natural and physical sciences has driven historical change and helped us understand our world.
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Abortion in America

In recent debates over abortion laws, history has been front and center. The intent of the Constitution's framers is invoked by both sides, as is the nature of the state laws that existed in pre-Roe America. This exhibit collects writing about the ways that women terminated unwanted pregnancies in the past, and about what activists, politicians, and the courts have had to say about it.
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Boston Commons

From the revolutionary era to the present, this exhibit traces 250 years of society, politics, and memory in one of America's oldest cities.
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Native Pasts

From the period before European colonization to the present, this exhibit showcases the cultural, political, and environmental histories of American Indians. Explore the legacies of both dispossession and resistance, and the ways that depictions of Native Americans have been constructed in textbooks and popular culture.
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Gender in America

Gender norms have shaped our social lives, from how we dress and act, to how we play and work. At the same time, people have always pushed back against the social expectations that constrain them. This exhibit looks at some of the ways in which gender norms have shaped — and been shaped by — the everyday lives of Americans.
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Social Safety Net

What is the government's obligation to those in need? Who should be responsible for funding that assistance, and how do we define "needy" in the fist place? As this exhibit demonstrates, these are questions that many generations of Americans have struggled to answer.
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Nuestra América

More than 62 million Americans identified as "Hispanic" in the 2020 Census, making them the nation's largest "ethnic" group. But how much do they and their families share in common? In this exhibit, we explore the multi-layered histories of Latinos in the United States.
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9/11 at 20

On the 20th anniversary of the tragedy that so many pledged to "never forget," we pause to take stock. To what extent did that day alter the course of American history? In what ways are we still living in its shadow? And what will 9/11 mean for Americans who weren't yet born in 2001?
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Voting Rights: A Retrospective

This exhibit chronicles the ebb and flow of voting rights in America, from the Founding Era to the current day.
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Housing Injustice

More than a half-century after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, American cities are still profoundly segregated. Who and what is to blame? This exhibit explores the complex legacies of redlining, urban renewal, and financial deregulation to explain the persistence – and costs – of residential segregation today.
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AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

COVID-19 in History

As unprecedented as life recent experience has felt, the past has a lot to teach us about why the pandemic has taken the shape that it has – and what we can do about it. This exhibit features historical reflections on scientific, political, and social responses to COVID-19.
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Election of 2020

A look back at what historians have had to say about this epic contest over the nation's future.

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1968 @50

For those who lived through it, 1968 was a doozy of a year. Fifty years later, historians and other thinkers are reflecting on the legacy of some of the year's most important events. Here are a few of the highlights, organized by event.
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1918 Flu Pandemic

Despite its name, some have argued that the Spanish Flu actually originated in Kansas. Whether or not they're right, there's no doubt that the epidemic took a terrible toll in the U.S., leaving an estimated 675 thousand Americans dead. This exhibit explores the epidemic's impact in 1918-19, and the way it's been remembered in the years since.
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Epidemic Proportions

A roughly chronological collection of recent stories about the ways Americans have understood and responded to the ravages of epidemic disease.
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The History of History

A collection of resources exploring the ways that historians and history educators have approached some key themes in the American past.
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President Precedents

To mark Presidents' Day, we compiled an exhibit that explores the shifting ways Americans have conceived of the U.S. presidency.
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MLK's Three Evils

In 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a searing diagnosis of the national health. "I suspect that we are now experiencing the coming to the surface of a triple prong sickness that has been lurking within our body politic from its very beginning. That is the sickness of racism, excessive materialism and militarism." In the half-century since, this structural critique of American society has been largely supplanted by a sanitized version of King's message. But recently, a number of writers have been exploring the more radical aspects of King's philosophy. This collection sorts their work roughly along the lines of the three evils he identified in 1967: the evil of racism, the evil of poverty, and the evil of war.
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The Lives of War Veterans

Throughout America's history, the nation's treatment of its returning troops has often left something to be desired. The following resources, grouped by era, meditate on themes of memory, sacrifice, and collective obligation to those who have put their lives on the line for their nation.
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American Corruption

“[I]f we do not provide against corruption, our government will soon be at an end.” That was the dire warning offered by George Mason at the constitutional convention in 1787. Why were the stakes so high for the framers, and in what ways has corruption continued to infect the system they created?
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“All Persons Born or Naturalized in the United States...”

On July 9, 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted, granting basic citizenship rights to formerly enslaved people. To mark the amendment's 150th anniversary, we compiled this collection of resources exploring the evolving meanings and constraints of American citizenship.
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Declaring Independence

A collection of resources about the meanings of the 1776 document in its own time – and in ours.
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Guns in America

Contemporary debates about gun control inevitably invoke the founders' thinking about individual liberties. But that wasn't always the case. This collection features reflections on the Second Amendment's original meaning, and how views about gun rights have evolved in the centuries since.
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The Way We Tax

The United States is often said to have been born out of a tax revolt. But since then, debates about how federal, state, and local taxes should be structured have hardly abated. This collection features writing about how we wound up with the tax system we have, and who has benefited the most from it.
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“Natural” Disasters

As millions of Americans struggle to recover from this year's devastating hurricanes, we offer up this collection of stories about previous generations' ways of dealing with meteorological calamity.
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Vietnam in American Memory

The national conversation about "The Vietnam War," the new documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, suggests that America's involvement in that conflict remains a contested historical landscape. Beyond the history itself, questions about how the war should be remembered remain just as divisive. Whose memories should be given priority? Who has the right to tell these stories? This collection highlights some of the ways in which we are still living with Vietnam.
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Civil War Memory

While the stories Americans tell about the Civil War have evolved over the past 150 years, there is little debate among historians today that it was fundamentally a struggle over the future of slavery. And yet, many continue to frame it as a story about states' rights, or a failure to compromise, or core values like honor and dignity. On the Civil War's centennial, Robert Penn Warren wrote that the war is "our only ‘felt’ history–history lived in the national imagination.” It seems that he may have been right.
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Trumpism

A presidency often referred to as "unprecedented" has deep roots in American history.
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The Many Faces of Nativism

While many Americans would prefer to think of their homeland as a "nation of immigrants," nativism has been a potent social and political force for most of the nation's history. This exhibit centers on a few of the high-water marks of anti-immigrant sentiment.
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Monument Wars

The 2015 massacre of nine churchgoers by a white supremacist in Charleston touched off a wave of soul-searching about Confederate monuments around the country. Since then, dozens of towns and cities have decided to remove the statues in their communities. This exhibit explores discussions about what we choose to memorialize – and why.
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