The Passing of the Indians Behind Glass | Why natural history museums are taking down their indigenous cultures dioramas—and what can take their place

Visitors and museum staff say that by displaying American Indian cultures alongside dinosaur fossils, gemstones and animals, dioramas make their subjects seem less than fully human. And because they depict a culture in a freeze-frame moment in time—often during the seventeenth century, around when many tribes first contacted Europeans—they make children think that all the American Indians are dead.

These disagreements arise because dioramas aren’t the soul of the problem. The problem is the culture that put American Indians in dioramas in the first place—in natural history museums, alongside the dinosaurs, in these sometimes-beautiful, contained worlds meant to record what the assumed viewer’s ancestors had wiped out. Different museums and cultural centers try to move away and move on from that history in different ways.

Read more: The Appendix | Futures of the Past

DIORAMA

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