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The Bully Pulpit on Display: How Presidential Libraries Present Presidential History

Thesis by Becky Forsberg (2018)

Scholars have portrayed presidential libraries and museums as either whitewashed and propagandist temples to presidents or highly valuable institutions of American democracy. However, the literature lacks a discussion of the curatorial process for creating the contested exhibits and the choices that were made in that process, leaving out a conversation of curatorial voice and authority in presidential libraries. The purpose of this study was to identify the curatorial choices made in presenting presidential history in presidential library and museum exhibitions. Qualitative data collected from curators at nine of the 13 presidential libraries operated by the National Archives and Records Association (NARA) were collected in this phenomenological study. Findings suggested that a major goal of presenting presidential history was to showcase the significance of the president, especially focused on accomplishments, relevancy, and legacy. Additionally, findings indicate that curatorial authority was kept to the individual libraries rather than NARA or the president’s private foundation.

Keywords: Class of 2018, museology, American History, Library Science, Museum Studies, Communication and the Arts, Social Sciences, Curatorial Authority, NARA, National Archives, Presidential Libraries


Forsberg, B., O’Donnell, Wilson, Hildreth, Susan, & Moy, Patricia. (2018). The Bully Pulpit on Display: How Presidential Libraries Present Presidential History. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.