Prison Museums on Trial: The Politics of Remembrance and Reform at Eastern State Penitentiary, Sing Sing Prison Museum, and Angola Museum
Division: Social Sciences
Dept/Program: Political Science
Document Type: Undergraduate Student Research
Mentor(s): Marie Gottschalk
Date of this Version: 30 April 2022
Prison museums provide a critical bridge between historical penal practice and contemporary criminal legal issues in the United States. Over the past 15 years, challenges to museum neutrality, heightened awareness of mass incarceration and racial and ethnic disparities in the incarcerated population, social justice protests and museums, and Confederate statue controversies have redefined prison museums’ roles and responsibilities. A comparative case study of Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP), Sing Sing Prison Museum, and Angola Museum demonstrates the various ways these factors have spurred change in exhibitions, programming, and public statements. Notably, the composition of leadership and staff is highly predictive of prison museums’ ability to respond to criticism and engage with socio-political events. Centering justice impacted individuals in decision-making—e.g., ESP and Sing Sing—enables prison museums to contribute more effectively to criminal legal debates. By contrast, a greater influence of state corrections departments on museums’ interpretative aims—e.g., Angola—hinders reform efforts. All prison museums, however, must be strategic in their reforms, so they can both foster dialogue across the political spectrum and engage in policy debates without appearing partisan. Importantly, growing awareness of a broader prison museum community has created new possibilities for informal knowledge sharing networks and collaborations.
American Politics | Political History | Public History | Social Justice | United States History
Fuchs, Ashley A., "Prison Museums on Trial: The Politics of Remembrance and Reform at Eastern State Penitentiary, Sing Sing Prison Museum, and Angola Museum" 30 April 2022. CUREJ: College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania, https://repository.upenn.edu/curej/261.
Date Posted: 20 May 2022