Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis open access




The goal of this thesis is to investigate the nature of cultural identity as represented in, and connected to museums and the artifacts they contain. In particular, I will focus on the different ways anthropologists, archaeologists and many museums approach the problem of representation within a museum setting. Based upon a review of the literature within the fields of anthropology, museum studies, and archaeology, I will discuss how cultural identity is constructed and represented in a museum setting, demonstrating that the collective identities of both those who view archaeological collections, and the descendents of those represented may be influenced by the information they receive. Using examples of Pre‐Columbian art collections (in particular, Olmec, West Mexican, Maya and Aztec cultures) at six museums in Texas and Mexico City, I will examine the messages projected to the viewer through the layout, organization, displays, and text of exhibits on Pre‐Columbian cultures. I will argue that these messages are conveyed to the public in an attempt to influence or guide the viewer to certain conclusions about the culture. In so doing, a museum is participating in the creation of a mythology surrounding that culture. In my concluding remarks, I propose, based on the way visitors assimilate information, the adoption of a specific communication model intended to reduce these kinds of messages, which may very well be unintentional. I also suggest ways in which museums can work together with various stakeholders, including indigenous communities, the general public, archaeology and academia for the purposes of sharing cultural heritage in a more ethically responsible and representative manner.

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Anthropology Commons