Re-envisioning the Museum

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  • Title: Re-envisioning the Museum: Developing the International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina during an Economic Crisis
  • Author(s): Mary Battle
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: The Inclusive Museum
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum
  • Keywords: African American Museum, Charleston, South Carolina, Economic Downturn, Digital Humanities, Historic Tourism, Cultural Heritage
  • Volume: 5
  • Issue: 1
  • Year: 2013
  • ISSN: 1835-2014 (Print)
  • ISSN: 1835-2022 (Online)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: Battle, Mary. 2013. "Re-envisioning the Museum: Developing the International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina during an Economic Crisis." The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum 5 (1): 11-24. doi:10.18848/1835-2014/CGP/v05i01/44392.
  • Extent: 13 pages


Charleston, South Carolina is one of the most acclaimed tourism destinations in the United States, but until recently there have been few effectively inclusive representations of African American history and culture in the city’s highly trafficked public history landscape. As the dominant North American port during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, in a plantation region with an African American population majority from the early 1700s into the mid-1900s, comprehensively acknowledging and representing African American history in “Historic Charleston” is long overdue. For over a decade, developers of the International African American Museum (IAAM) have worked to address this glaring oversight in Charleston and the Lowcountry region, but they relied predominantly on funding from the federal government to launch this eighty million dollar project. In 2010, IAAM lost twenty-five million dollars of federal start-up support due to the economic downturn, which forced the museum board to reassess their development strategies. The result is a new design and implementation plan that suggests a significantly downsized museum building, but also introduces a range of innovative uses of various physical and virtual spaces throughout the Charleston area for implementing an influential African American history museum. This paper presents a case study of IAAM’s fluctuating development process, with a particular focus on outlining these new, more cost- effective development strategies, which include: collaborating with existing historic tourism sites to improve their African American history representations; operating as a trailhead to inclusive history sites in the region; developing digital interpretation projects such as online tours, interactive maps, and online exhibitions; and interpreting the landscape around the museum, rather confining interpretation to the interior of the building.