The trip we recently took to our nation’s capital intrigued me and allowed me a glimpse at the style of museum and architectural rhetoric. Although difficult to grasp, it is interesting to see how even the smallest touches on a particular exhibit or memorial may have been intentionally included to rhetorically persuade its’ viewers. The use of design and layout to connect the intended audience to the past, as opposed to speeches or words, allows the creator to apply rhetoric in different, more complex ways, which gives the viewers the enjoyment of trying to understand the rhetorical reasons behind each exhibit.
At the National Museum of American History, I found it particularly interesting to look at the similarities and differences of the “American Presidency” and “First Lady” exhibits in the ways they apply rhetoric. While I do think there was a similar rhetorical style to both exhibits and an overall related argument, I did recognize a slight difference between the two in the commentaries about each exhibit. For instance, I read countless commentaries about individual First Ladies, and I did not see the slightest mention of a negative comment whatsoever; if I had known nothing about these First Ladies going into the museum, I would have left thinking each of these women exercised their power perfectly, and it would be impossible for me to determine which women used her position the most effectively. This contrasts several of the commentaries regarding the presidents. For instance, a particular commentary about Lyndon B. Johnson I read, mentioned that he struggled through some difficult times in office, and several other commentaries pointed out struggles the presidents faced in office. While most of these commentaries concluded by praising these men for contributing the best they can to the office, I found it interesting how each exhibit differs slightly in rhetoric. I think that perhaps the reason behind this difference is to draw more attention to the importance of First Ladies because presidents often overshadow them. Overall, each exhibit did attempt to rhetorically convey that these men and women are among the greatest in our nation’s history and they deserve to be honored.
In the National Portrait Museum, I saw slight differences in the application of rhetoric in the portraits. For example, in most of the presidential portraits I looked at the president himself was the focal point with the environment around him often overshadowed and neglecting attention. Furthermore, each of the portraits represented the presidents in a positive light and inspired its’ viewers to look at them in awe. The main rhetorical goal of these portraits I think is similar to that of the presidential exhibits of the National Museum of American History, which is to paint the presidents in a realm of men worth honoring and commanding respect.
I found the analyzing of memorials to be the most compelling part of the trip because I think that the rhetorical goals of these grand structures are more apparent. I particularly enjoyed attempting to analyze the Washington Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, as I found their rhetorical goals to be the most intriguing. While there is an obvious goal of honor and praise for these men in their respective monuments, I was fascinated by some of the smaller details which I believe attempt to rhetorically suggest something about each of these men through symbolism. The structure of the Washington Memorial suggests Washington’s figurative “launching off” of America as an independent country, and its’ unique form rhetorically portrays his role as the first president to the viewers. I also found it very interesting to see how the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is not entirely removed from the stone slab, rhetorically suggesting incompleteness. I believe this conveys the message that while King Jr.’s message is worth respect and honor, his ultimate goal still has not been achieved yet, and this stresses the importance to continue working towards his goals for our nation.
I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to enact my rhetorical analysis skills on actual exhibits and memorials that we have discussed in class. This trip allowed me to apply my knowledge about the rhetorical nature of visual objects, which I found to be rewarding and intriguing.