Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Susan V. Donaldson

Committee Member

Michelle A. Lelièvre

Committee Member

Charles F. McGovern

Committee Member

Eric G. Anderson


Ghosts haunt historic sites in metaphorical and literal ways. Visitors, regional communities, museum staff, historic preservationists, interpreters, anthropologists, archeologists, folklorists, tourism bureaus, and schoolchildren tell the stories. Some scholars attribute these specters to the nation’s repressed histories as they disrupt linear narratives of American progress. Ghost stories tend to depict histories missing from archives constructed by universities, historical societies, and other research institutions. Public history’s ghost stories also highlight the field’s long practice of delineating race through the creation of a specific American history. This project illustrates how ghost stories operate in museum discourse and how they reach out through a myriad of interpretive efforts: in exhibit panels, on guided tours, via tourist publications and online articles, with first-person actor interpretation, through program development and architectural reconstruction. These “new histories” require museums and public history sites to acknowledge openly who and what haunts their institutional narratives and the larger public discourse. Public history’s ghosts gesture towards the layered histories at locations obsessed with mythic white nationalism. Using Virginia’s sites of public history, this dissertation explores how ghostly discourse preserves lesser-known histories only recently shared at museums. Despite their problematic elements, ghost stories document how the public understands historic sites and who is missing from museum interpretations. The sites examined are varied, from physical locations to literary fictions, and transdisicplinary. Ultimately, “Ghosts in the Museum” argues that an acknowledgement of ghosts benefits the project(s) of public history. It re-places narratives of enslavement, genocide, dispossession, and violence on commemorative landscapes initially designed to privilege whiteness.



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Available for download on Wednesday, August 14, 2024