Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Harriet F. Senie

Committee Members

Rosemarie Haag Bletter

Sally Webster

Kirk Savage

Subject Categories

American Art and Architecture | American Material Culture | American Politics | American Studies | Architectural History and Criticism | Architecture | Art and Design | Fine Arts | Historic Preservation and Conservation | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Modern Art and Architecture | Museum Studies | Political Science | Public History | Sculpture | United States History


public art, memorial museums, memorials, memory, communication and the arts, war museums


This dissertation discusses 20th-century war memorials in the United States that were the subject of campaigns to build interpretive additions decades after their construction. It establishes the added interpretive center at a U.S. war memorial as an emerging memorial paradigm that does not easily fit into existing categories of spaces of mourning, war museums, or memorial museums. I argue that interpretive centers redirect the rhetorical experience of the war memorial site away from remembrance and toward reinforcement of U.S. cultural myths on war participation and military dominance. This dissertation is the first scholarly work to address interpretive centers built after their war memorials.

A series of case studies on the National World War I Museum at the Liberty Memorial (Kansas City, Missouri), the Virginia War Memorial Galanti Education Center (Richmond, Virginia), and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Education Center project (National Mall, Washington, D.C.) analyzes the campaigns to build the interpretive centers and their didactic contents against the campaigns to build the original war memorials to demonstrate this rhetorical shift. In contrast to the war memorials, which hold the potential to prompt reflection on the purpose of war and frequently feature the names of the deceased, interpretive centers explicitly engage with the facts of war to emphasize a legacy of U.S. military power while minimizing discussions of human losses. This effect is realized through interpretive displays such as immersive multimedia installations, historical objects of war including weaponry, and timelines of war that avoid consideration of difficult political topics. To establish this memorial paradigm I take an interdisciplinary approach incorporating memorial studies, museum studies, and memory studies.

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Thursday, September 30, 2021

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