Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Cultural Studies, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Joshua Goode

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Eve Oishi

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Janet Farrell Brodie

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2020 Hillary Kirkham


Memorial museums, Memorialization, Memory studies, Trauma

Subject Categories

American Studies | Museum Studies


This dissertation explores the relationship between memorial museums and visitors, reexamining the process of remembering traumatic events in United States history. My work examines this meaning-making dynamic in case studies of four memorial museums: The 9/11 Memorial Museum, The Legacy Museum: From Slavery to Mass Incarceration, Manzanar National Historic Site, and Carthage Jail. By combining textual analysis of museums with data from visitor-produced materials such as guestbooks, letters, periodicals, and Instagram posts, I examine memorial museums' aims and rhetorical strategies while analyzing visitors' roles and contributions, illustrating how both guest and site collaborate to create memory and meaning. Drawing and building upon cultural studies, museum studies, and memory studies, this dissertation expands our understanding of participation at memorial museums, engagement with traumatic pasts, and the ways in which museums and audiences negotiate meaning. My particular focus on visitor participation illustrates how audiences exercise agency and contribute to the interpretive process at this complex museum genre.