The Trayvon Martin Case: Do Museums Have a Role?

Those who have read my March 26. 2012  post on Trayvon Martin will know that my answer to the question about museums’ role is “yes.” This case is a part of U.S. history, African American history, social and cultural studies, research on race relations, the history of social media, and digital humanities, to name just a few relevant areas of study.  Many of these are curatorial specialties and collection domains in our museums, so attention must be paid.  It’s too soon to say, however, exactly what museums’ role(s) might be.

As of this moment I think the big divide is between those museums that recognize that they might have some relevant response because of their mission, collections, or communities, and those that, despite these connections, say not out loud but by their silence or inaction: “Trayvon Martin?  We wouldn’t touch that topic with a ten-foot pole.”

Who will collect Trayvon Martin’s hoodie, or that of Marian Wright Edelman,
President of the Children’s Defense Fund?  She and many others, both prominent and ordinary people,  donned hoodies as part of the “We are all Trayvon Martin” movement that developed after the teen was killed.

At a minimum, museums with relevant disciplines should be collecting material culture, images, social and print media, and other forms of documentation of this case and its surrounding subtexts in American culture. Whether or not they develop educational programs, post blogs, host Twitter chats or take on any other more public roles depends on how this story develops over the next few weeks.  Only time will tell, but I believe that museums with a strong sense of community and mission, (not to mention empathy) especially those with relevant collections and areas of expertise, could provide historical context and safe places for discussion and debate of this multilayered issue.

What are your thoughts?

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