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It is known that the process of globalization has been going on for a very long time. In modern history, it has been powered significantly by industrialization and development of technology that, in turn, facilitate economic and trade relationships between the cultures of the globe. Today, the advancements in technology and communication lead to a variety of factors pushing different nations and cultures of the world together and facilitating their interaction, integration, and assimilation to one another’s ways and lifestyles. However, living in a highly diverse and fragmented society, the contemporary people are to be well-educated and informed about the basic principles of coexistence, one of which is mutual respect and recognition of various social groups and communities.
As a result, the need for knowledge and information these days is more significant than ever in human history; and it is particularly important for the regions of the world where many cultures come together and have to interact on a daily basis (the United States, the European Union, among other areas and states). A virtual field trip to several museums of ethnic history is a great educational opportunity to help the visitors learn about different cultures and their backgrounds for the purpose of promoting respect and raise awareness about the problems faced by these groups in the past and the present.
In my virtual field trip, I visited three museums dedicated to the exploration and preservation of the cultural backgrounds of American Indian, African American, and Latino communities; the fourth museum was the United States Holocaust Memorial and told the stories of the First and the Second World Wars.
I found the field trip extremely useful and important for myself as a reminder of different historical and cultural paths that various groups belonging to the same nation tend to go through. As it was noticed by Koppelman and Goodhart (2016), for a very long time in the American history, the dominant perspective of history, development, society, and culture used to be that of the white settlers of Anglo-Saxon background, whose primary intention as colonizers was to re-create their original motherlands in the newly conquered lands and establish their orders despite the preferences and views of the cultures who had already been living there or the ones brought in as slave laborers.
Recognition based on education is one of the cornerstones of the coexistence of diverse cultural groups in a society without discriminating against one another’s worldviews, lifestyles, and beliefs, but using diversity as a path towards cultural enrichment. I must admit, prior to my virtual field trip, I knew very little details about the historical backgrounds of Native American, African-American, and Latino communities living in the USA. Some of the most overwhelming and touching pieces of knowledge for me were that of the Mississippi River flood, the Black Power Era (“A changing America,” n.d.), The Great Inka Road (2016), the establishment of the Latino identity and its role in the American culture (“Our America: The Latino Presence in American art,” n.d.).
Cultural diversity is the concept dominating contemporary American culture. It took centuries for the people of this country to even start seeing beyond the Anglo-conformity and facing the numerous challenges of the melting pot of a society that is growing in its territory.
The three museums focused on the exploration of African, Latino, and Native cultures in the United States tend to adhere to the strategy of research when presenting their exhibits and stories. However, very often, the stories shed light on the strategies of violence and confrontation that took place in the past and are rather common nowadays. In particular, it is important to note that some of the explored cultures keep emphasizing the fact that many parts and aspects of their heritage were lost or destroyed due to the persistence of Anglo-conformity that dominated American society for hundreds of years. However, while the losses of Native American heritage and cultural objects are attributed to the lengthy history of Mesoamerican cultures and peoples (“Significance of the collection,” 2017), those of African-American community are explained as caused by the years of intentional disregard to the representatives of this ethnicity and everything related (National Museum of African American History & Culture, n.d.).
Moreover, in today’s advanced and democratic society of the United States, the perspective of cultural pluralism is taken as the major viewpoint for the exploration of social relations between different groups and communities, as well as the identities of the latter within the nation. Being a melting pot filled with a multitude of cultures and ethnicities, the USA was one of the first countries in the world to raise the issues of social equality, fair treatment, recognition, prejudice, and representation. The exhibits and stories presented by the museums made it clear that the fight for equal rights for the diverse minority groups in the country is the result of developing democracy and the expanding perspectives on rights providing the oppressed and communities with the opportunities to speak up and demand a new treatment.
I found it very enlightening that the explored museum websites had a very inclusive approach to the cultures they presented. For example, the Museum of African American History & Culture offered stories from the history of slavery, the lives of African-Americans during the Great Depression, years of segregation, their fight for equality throughout the 60s and 70s, alongside emphasizing the creativity of African-American people and their drive for music, performance arts, literature, and poetry. A similar strategy was taken by the National Museum of the American Indian, and Smithsonian Latino Center.
Additionally, I believe it is important to mention the impact produced on me perspectives by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the “The Path to Nazi Genocide” (n.d.) film that provided a highly objective and analytical view of the root causes of Nazism in Germany during the 1930s-1940s. The film explored the topic of propaganda and the effects it may have on its audiences, as well as the social and economic struggles of German people that eventually resulted in the support for the nationalistic ideology, without attempting to judge the politicians involved and the society. In my opinion, studying the development that the German society underwent at that time is critical for a better understanding of all the other nationalistic and ethnocentric narratives practiced or promoted today around the globe because, we seen from the example of Nazi Germany, a group or an entire nation that has been facing economic and social challenges and oppression for several decades can be easily provoked and encouraged to draw to extreme and violent behaviors in relation to the surrounding nations and groups.
One of the historical events that were interesting for me to explore and learn about was the Mississippi River Flood that happened in 1927 and is still considered the most destructive flood in the history of the United States (“The Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927,” n.d.).
The recent cataclysms and natural disasters such as Baton Rouge and Katrina, resulting in the displacement of many communities and the permanent damage to their lives are still fresh in the memory of the American society. However, the addition of another story describing the most severe flood in the U.S. history expanded my perspective on the struggles the African-American community has faced throughout the 20th century that resulted in their massive social and economic disadvantage as a population group and led to the modern challenges such as racial profiling, police brutality, negative stereotypes promoted by the media, and the need for Womanism (the Black feminist movement, as the one separate from that of white feminism) and Black Lives Matter – the social movements that emphasize the individual and unique struggles of the African-American people that require immediate solutions and attention of political leaders. Moreover, when it comes to the Latino communities, I was unaware of the diverse forms of discrimination experienced by different Latino ethnicities and how the environments of their integration into the American society were dictated by the historical events that surrounded them. The two museums point out the diversity of concepts and issues associated with the African-American and Latino communities and offer a holistic approach to the formation of their modern identities as driven by a wide range of contributing factors.
Due to the elaborate perspectives presented by the museums, one can understand the bases for the contemporary social movements fighting institutional racism, negative stereotypes, media underrepresentation, and cultural appropriation – the phenomena to which little attention was paid before the early 2000s.
The visits to the four museums and the exploration of stories and materials they had to offer served as a very enlightening experience for me as it provided me with new knowledge concerning the backgrounds of different ethnicities and the struggles they had and still have to face attempting to find their places in a highly fragmented and pluralistic society of the United States.
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The visits also helped me understand that Anglo-conformity is a much more powerful phenomenon that many like to believe today. The aftermath of the white domination in the United States is still very real for the non-white minority groups. Also, the film about the birth of the German Nazism and its root causes helped me understand the concepts of confrontation and violence as the strategies for the achievement of social change. From the perspective of nations and communities that have been facing various forms of discrimination and disadvantage for many decades, the outbursts of aggression and anger are natural manifestations the accumulated dissatisfaction with their lives and a desire to promote change as quickly as possible.
Today, the American society is deeply divided in their beliefs and vision of the future. Social uprisings, protests, and riots have become very common and are mostly triggered by the issues of equal rights, recognition, and safety of different groups and communities. It is possible that the American society has achieved a higher level of social and cultural literacy, and so its members are starting to notice the weaknesses of the contemporary economic and political structure and demand that they are addressed. Of course, very often such reactions tend to cross lines and result in open aggressions and violent clashes between the opposing groups.
In my opinion, it is the visits to the museums of cultural history that could help all of the conflicting sides to understand one another’s points of view and begin working out solutions that would not be seen as threatening by any of the parties. Personally, I felt like my understanding of the narratives and rationales supported by different groups has expanded, helping me think critically of the modern social and political events that bring the fighting sides apart even though they are initiated for the purpose of inclusion.
I believe that education covering the issues of cultural diversity is a very important sphere of knowledge in the contemporary world driven by the process of globalization, social change, and multicultural environments where many different communities and individuals are forced to interact and coexist. In that way, I would definitely recommend visiting all of the four museums included in my virtual fieldtrip.
The value of the education facilitated by the excursion is significant for me as a member of a multicultural society and an individual who interacts with diverse members of the society on a daily basis. In the past, I have witnessed many cases of intolerance and prejudice directed against different groups including myself. In the contemporary tense and sensitive social environment, it is very important to use critical thinking and keep an open mind when reflecting on cultural issues. The fieldtrip provided me with information helping to maintain an objective perspective on the most emotional subjects.
If I were to recommend the museums to a friend, I would emphasize the film about the path towards Nazism in Germany and the Holocaust as an excellent educational experience helping connect the economic, social, and political challenges to a nation’s or a group’s desperate desire for change, ability fight in unity for what they believe to deserve, and justify their strategies even if they are violent. Also, I would recommend exploring the grounds for the appearance of such movements as Black Lives Matter and Black feminism as resulting from extreme challenges faced by African-American communities and the reasons why they sometimes result in riots and looting.
Also, I would emphasize that in order to keep a leveled approach in the discussions heated with emotions and personal feelings and avoid engaging in verbal fights that one would regret later, it is critical to explore deeper backgrounds of various social issues with the help of professional and multifaceted collections presented by the museums of history and culture.
A changing America. (n.d.). Web.
The Great Inka Road. (2016). Retrieved from http://nmai.si.edu/inkaroad/
The Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories/collection/great-mississippi-river-flood-1927
Koppelman, K., & Goodhart, L. (2016). Understanding human differences:
Multicultural education for a diverse America (5th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson
The National Museum of African American History & Culture. (n.d.). A people’s journey, a nation’s story. Retrieved from https://nmaahc.si.edu/
Our America: The Latino presence in American art. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/archive/2013/our_america/
The path to Nazi genocide [Video file]. (n.d.). Web.
Significance of the collection. (2017). Web.