Date of Award

1-1-2011

Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Department

History

Sub-Department

Public History

First Advisor

Allison C Marsh

Second Advisor

Thomas J Brown

Abstract

This thesis evaluates the creation process for the National D-Day Museum (renamed the National World War II Museum) in New Orleans. By tracing the history of this institution from its inception to its current status as one of the leading war museums in the country, this thesis explores how the museum has preserved, institutionalized, and valorized the personal testimony of soldiers through public display. In addition, this study evaluates a growing trend in the museum's interpretation: the simulation of soldiers' experiences. Shifting away from a focus on interpretive displays of the artifacts and testimonies of veterans, the museum has attempted to recreate soldiers' struggles on the battlefield, offering immersive environments for visitors to pretend to experience warfare for themselves. As these commemorative practices rose in prominence, so too did the role of celebrity in the museum's claim to institutional authority, creating an entanglement between history and Hollywood. This thesis explores the implications of this transformation, arguing that this immersive entertainment has ushered in a new form of reverence in public commemoration. Rather than replacing earlier forms of display, however, these two interpretive strategies coexisted in the museum, offering distinct but complementary portrayals of citizen soldiers. The story of the National D-Day Museum prompts historians to reconsider the role of mass culture in the shaping of the contemporary memory of war as the boundaries blurred between personal testimony and public display, celebrity and heroism, and simulation and commemoration.

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