Memorial Museums, Exhibition Practices and Collective Past

A tourist checks out the exhibition, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April, 2014 | © Courtesy of shankar s./Flickr.
A tourist checks out the exhibition, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April, 2014 | © Courtesy of shankar s./Flickr.

The book Exhibiting Atrocity by Amy Sodaro (2017) addresses the reasons for which societies attempt to come to terms with past atrocities and trauma through the creation of memorial museums, as a novel cultural form of commemoration.

A Blog Post by Pablo Markin.


Sodaro (2017) explores memorial museums as forms that express an ambiguous relationship to the violence of the past, despite their missions to strengthen the democratic values of freedom, tolerance, and human rights. As this author argues, political legitimacy for regimes emerging from conflict and transitioning to democracy increasingly relies on coming to terms with their collective past. Through her comparative case study analyses, Sodaro (2017) enquires into how societies deploy memorial museums as mechanisms for dealing with their past, while using the methodology of institutional ethnography.

This allows Sodaro (2017) to perform a close reading of the museums’ exhibitions, with a focus on their presentation of the past through narrative tools, exhibition design, presented artifacts, documentary materials, recorded testimonies, and exhibition strategies. This book, thus, seeks to demonstrate how memorial museums, as unique cultural forms, engage and educate the general public through the use of experiential and affective strategies, such as the encouragement of identification with the victims. Among the aims of her comparative analyses is the examination of museums as public institutions that engage communities in past-related discussions and contribute to public dialogue. Through its cases studies, such as of Budapest’s Terrorhaza, House of Terror, and the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, this book raises the questions of what demands the past makes on the present in terms of remembrance, commemoration and societies’ relationships to the past that museums embody.

Similarly, in her paper titled “Americanizations of Holocaust Memory and Museum Aesthetic Experience,” Karolina Krasuska (2018) has concentrated on its multimedia narrative exhibition, opened in 2014 in the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, that displays chronologically a the history of Polish Jews, while revolving around its representation of Polish-Jewish relations. Krasuska (2018), thus, explores POLIN’s installation on Jedwabne on the 1941-1942 pogroms in Nazi-occupied Poland, while discussing how it echoes local Polish debates on the participation of Poles in the murder of Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland. This article also establishes an interrelationship between American representations of the Holocaust generated, also in relation to museum aesthetic experience and installation practices of this museum.

Likewise, Elisa Mandelli (2015) in her article “Spectacular Attractions: Museums, Audio-Visuals and the Ghosts of Memory” focuses on the audio-visual aspects of the exhibition design in relation to history and memory museums. Mandelli (2015) argues that exhibition practices can serve as means for achieving not only spectacular effects but also eliciting visitors’ emotional responses and augmenting their experiential engagement that constitute the primary objective of contemporary art and memorial museums.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: A tourist checks out the exhibition, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April, 2014 | © Courtesy of shankar s./Flickr.


Cite this article as: Pablo Markin, "Memorial Museums, Exhibition Practices and Collective Past," in Open Culture, 23/03/2020, https://oc.hypotheses.org/2495.

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