Postmodernism in a History Museum

By Colton Kirby

With the increasing rise of Postmodern philosophy in regular life, we can begin to see its delirious effects everywhere. Some may like to claim that things can exist in one domain; viz. something is said to be only biological, or only cultural, or only religious. However, if something is, if it exists in the real world in any concrete way, it exists at every level simultaneously. This is true of Postmodern ideology. And while some may like to say that Postmodernism has affected every area of life, this is not the case.

I wish to take a recent example, gathered from a personal anecdote, to explain this: A couple of weekends ago my family and I had the opportunity to visit The Museum of Idaho (Idaho is where I live). Due to the working of which I have no knowledge, (perhaps a coalition of museums), the Museum of Idaho switches displays and exhibits on a more or less annual basis. When I visited there was one exhibit dealing with the biology of mammals (mostly, at least), and one with the history of Idaho along with some facts on 19th century Western Expansionism. The latter is where our attention lays.

In most all the exhibits in the museum, there is a large heading title to grab a person’s attention and typify the information, and then there is smaller text detailing some information of significance. Most of the headers did their jobs well and most of the body texts carried some useful information. For instance, next to a display of a bull-cow in the biology exhibit, part of the text relayed that the average bull makes a total of 30,000 chewing motions per day to go along with 40 gallons of saliva. Another, next to a display of a camel, revealed that the humps on camels do not store water but rather store body fat.

Despite this, there was one section of the museum (in the aforementioned Idaho History exhibit) that was apparently dedicated to Postmodern philosophy using history as its Zarathustra. There were three particularly outrageous signs posted on the gray walls here, and none of them had a display to which they were referring. We will look at these each separately and then see what they mean together, in the context of the museum, and in the context of broader life.

The first claimed follows for its title: “How do you know what you know?” Even someone who knows less than Ayn Rand did about philosophy would know that this is the basic epistemological question. Although it may seem silly to the motivated, modern utilitarian man or woman, one does have their own answer to this if only they choose to look. How do you know that you are reading this sentence? Because you see it? But who’s to say that the things you see are real? You see cartoons; they aren’t real. And so, even if one is not particularly interested in epistemology, everyone is an epistemologist. This sign in the museum had its own words to give about epistemology: “LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, etc.) became a widely used term in the 1990s, but LGBTQ+ history in Idaho goes back much further. Most readily available historical research is found through prejudicial practices and laws, like the diagnosis of homosexuality as a mental illness, and sodomy and sterilization laws dating as far back as 1864 in Idaho. Communities of LGBTQ+ people and allies started to become more visible in the 1950s, and even more so with the establishment of Boise Pride in 1989. Many communities in Idaho, including Idaho Falls [the town where the museum is located], now host Pride celebrations, but as of 2020, Idaho has no statewide legal protections for LGBTQ+ people.”