The museums that we visited in Washington D.C. simply exploded with rhetoric. For one, the American Presidency exhibit in the National Museum of American History tactically positioned the presidents, their actions and their lives in certain lights so as to make the audience in the museum believe certain things of them. For instance, one of the rooms in the exhibit has cases each labeled with the president’s various jobs. The cases are gloriously decorated with awards, uniforms, flags, and an abundancy of passages about how much the president has to care for and bring out during his time in office. This room puts an idea in the audience’s mind that the president is one of the most important people in America because they do absolutely so many things that normal people cannot do. Next, one can walk into a room about the daily life of a president. It encompasses pictures of presidents with their families, dollhouses, games of chess, cards, paintings and more. This suggests the normality of the lives of the presidents… that they are average people even though they are considered a hero in American history. The exhibit that acknowledges the deaths of the former presidents is drab in dim lighting, black backgrounds, and sad passages on how each president died. This exhibit’s lighting, colors, and more suggest the tragedy of losing an American president. Young children who would not understand how “sad” it is considered to lose an American president would be persuaded by this room to believe that the U.S.A. wants anything but the loss of their leader.
On a different note, the First Ladies exhibit in the National Museum of American History does much less justice for the women in the White House. Almost the entire exhibit showcases the various dressed that the first ladies have worn, along with a few mementos such as their china and their accessories. Like the presidential exhibit, the first lady exhibit does include a line of the first ladies, their years in the white house, and some simple information about them along one wall of the room, but unlike the glorifying presidential exhibit, the first lady exhibit does very little to acknowledge their work. The first lady exhibit had tiny plaques on the way high and far low of the walls telling about what the first ladies had done during their time. This suggests that the work of the first ladies holds much less importance or impact, and the fact that the first lady exhibit mainly only showcases their wardrobe and some household decorations persuades an audience member to believe that their appearance in public was what the Americans felt was most important to keep historically remembered. This exhibit uses its artifacts, so to speak, to show the audience how America felt about women within the past 300 years, before the women’s rights movement and how pleasing the eyes of the public, and specifically white men of power, was one of their most important jobs. Both these very contrasting exhibits show how the National Museum of American History used rhetoric in what types of items they displayed, the setting in which they displayed them, and what their set-up suggested about the importance and roles of American presidents and their wives historically.