In the following pages I assert that important rhetorical work is being carried out by aesthetic means in museums and memorials in order to facilitate experiences of identification. I describe in rhetorical terms how that work is done, especially within my primary artifact of study, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Specifically, this paper explores concepts developed in studies of epideictic rhetoric, the rhetoric of place, and museology. The theoretical framework of this paper is founded on the ideas of John Dewey and Kenneth Burke. Deweys theories discuss how we learn from experience and the role of the aesthetic in creating such an experience. Burke asserts that people are primed for rhetorical identification by specific settings or œscenes, which he expounds upon in his theory of the dramatic pentad. I believe that the setting of an aesthetically vivid scene creates an emotional ecology in which museum and memorial patrons can have meaningful experiences. Furthermore, these experiences educate the patrons emotions by allowing them to identify with (and develop empathy for) narratives and groups that they had not previously. In short, aesthetic elements set the stage for a meaningful rhetorical experience to take place, which ideally allows patrons to congregate and identify with the values and ideas they are presented with in the exhibit.



College and Department

Humanities; English

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rhetoric, museums, museum studies, place, Holocaust, Washington D.C., Kenneth Burke, John Dewey, dramatic pentad, experience, scene, identification, identity, rhetorical experience, aesthetic