76. 400 Years Post-Mayflower, the Provincetown Museum Rethinks Its Historical Branding

Welcome to Museum Archipelago in Your Inbox, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Museum Archipelago, your audio guide to the rocky landscape of museums, is hosted by me, Ian Elsner.

Sometimes, a historical event is all about the branding. And the brand of Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts as the spot where the Mayflower Pilgrims first disembarked 400 years ago this year is pretty strong.

The branding is strong enough to override the fact that the Mayflower actually first landed on the other side of Cape Cod, in what is now Provincetown. The Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum commemorates that site. And even within a museum that’s trying to correct an inaccuracy, it has its own to grapple with: the museum used to portray the meetings between the members of the Wampanoag Nation and the Mayflower pilgrims with dehumanizing murals.

In this episode, Courtney Hurst, board president of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, describes how the museum is working to correct these inaccuracies by working closely with the Wampanoag Nation. And as the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower arrival approaches, the museum is in the middle of yet another rebrand. Just as the word pilgrim was reframed by Mayflower passenger William Bradford as a way to tie his journey to stories in the Christian Bible, the museum is reframing the word pilgrim to include recent Provincetown history.

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Gallery Continues

The Provincetown Museum episode is why I love doing the show. As I was making my way back to Boston after the interview, I suddenly realized that the phrase "historical branding" would unify not only the threads of the episode, but many episodes of Museum Archipelago.

Take the Tiagarra Cultural Centre and Museum in Devonport, Tasmania. The murals and exhibits in the museum were created in 1976 by non-indigenous citizens and scientists without consulting Aboriginal Tasmanians. David Gough remembers visiting the museum when he was younger and seeing his own culture presented as extinct.

Today, Gough is the manager of Tiagarra, but he is not willing to take down every racist mural. Instead, he sees a museum that interprets the erasure by making them part of the exhibit. I'd like to reexamine various museums approach to this kind of thing in a future episode, but until then, the episode about Tiagarra is a great listen.

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Coming Soon 🎟️ Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Last week, filmmaker Ian Kelly and I recorded our Archipelago at the Movies episode about Night at the Museum's 2009 sequel, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.

The movie is even more nuts than its predecessor (listen to the trailer here), and we dive deep into what the movie says about the museum landscape and the likelihood that the various museums that make up the Smithsonian are all connected via an enormous underground storage area like portrayed in the movie. Watch for the release of the episode later this week!

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