Rural museums: harnessing the power of place to confront silences and revitalize communities

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Date

2023

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science

Abstract

In the United States, 43 percent of all museums are in rural towns; in Montana, rural towns account for 56.5 percent of museums. Contemporary research has neglected museums based in rural communities. While scholarship on libraries and education in rural communities thrives, there is a gap in research on rural museums. This dissertation acknowledges that gap. It explores how rural museums, like the Carter County Museum in Ekalaka, Montana, can employ the Rural Social Space Model to identify and confront the usual silences about the land and its settlement and explore the ways that power is exercised in the practices of place. Using this framework, this dissertation draws connections between the museum and the areas of environment, social well-being, and economic development, which produce rural social space and contribute to community vitality. This strategy recognizes the value of a physical place, its unique and varied histories, and the diversity of people within and connected to that place, both past and present. Rural communities have distinctive histories embedded within the culture and historical context of a broader region. Rural museums foster the experience of these histories as meaningful and personal, nurturing identity and connection to local places. As such, museums play a vital role in rural community life and provide tools to address equity challenges facing rural places. These museums regularly engage in civic work and can leverage their positions as community congregant spaces and trusted institutions to further civic action, including fostering deliberate discussion, offering volunteer opportunities, hosting public meetings, and engaging visitors in exhibits that explore the connection of past history to present action.

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Citizen science

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