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Front doors to freedom, portal to the past: history at the Ellis Island immigration museum, New York

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Heritage sites and museums play a significant role in the production and legitimization of historical knowledges and social identities. The potential for these institutions to act in ways that maintain deep-rooted inequalities in the relative power of social groups has long been noted by academic commentators. A critique of the role of museums in reproducing ‘official' histories is now well established. In this paper we explore new ways of conceptualizing and empirically exploring the production and politics of museum histories. By tracing the historical development of museums, we explore the power play between individual actors and institutions involved in production of the museum, and the multi-vocal histories and landscapes which result from the interaction between these actors. We illustrate these arguments through a case study of Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York Harbor.

Keywords: New York; heritage; immigration; multicultural diversity; museums; social identity

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, SY23 3DB, UK

Publication date: September 1, 2004

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