Curator at the Smithsonian

You and your group members are curators at the Smithsonian in charge of the Enola Gay exhibit staged to mark the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Exhibit planning has been embattled from the start. War veterans were outraged by the initial proposal, which included documentation and commentary about the devastation that the bomb wrought on the Japanese. Historians from across the country call your office daily to voice their opinions that the exhibit should not be watered down. Representatives from Congress have also contacted your office to voice their opinion that the exhibit honor the valor of the U.S. Troops who served in World War II. To quell the rising tensions, you decide that a final proposal must be drawn up and presented to the public at a press conference. The public forum will allow others to ask questions, but will also give you a chance to put the matter to rest.

This will be a two day exercise in role-playing. On Wednesday your group will discuss some of the general controversies surrounding the exhibit, putting the concerns of all parties on the table and trying to come to a consensus on the basic approach the Smithsonian should take in displaying the Enola Gay. We will continue this discussion in our group discussion pages between now and Friday (I will open a discussion thread on this in your discussion group).

On Friday each group will present to the class a brief statement about what the exhibit should include and provide a few examples of the text and images or documents, utilizing the resources provided on the class web page for this week.. We will (briefly) present the views of each group to our peers and have a class discussion of some of the pitfalls public history and how we as "the public" decide to "remember" historical events and what role historians (and others) should and do play in shaping those memories.

Your investigation should involve the primary and secondary sources we have compiled and from the links below and on the main Week 5 page. You do not need to do additional outside research for this paper, but are free to do so if you choose. This perspectives involves a dilemma which you have to explore and about which you must make a decision. Keep in mind, however, that there is not one "correct" answer. It is more important, in other words, to present adequate historical evidence for your argument (whatever that argument is) than to simply choose a solution that seems "correct."

Good luck!

Related Links

“Historical Cleansing”: An article by historian Gar Alperovitz which decries both the decision leading up to the final exhibit script and the final focus of the exhibit. 


Air Force Association analysis of proposed revisions of Enola Gay exhibit script



Geoffrey S. Smith, "Beware, the Historian! Hiroshima, the Enola Gay, and theDangers of History." Diplomatic History (Winter 1996), 121-131.

Historian's Letter to the Smithsonian: Historians write to the Smithsonian's director to explain why the proposed script to the exhibit is not as neutral as it claims.

The Smithsonian's Enola Gay Exhibit: The exhibit is now closed, but the web site is still available.


The Enola Gay and the Smithsonian: A Chronology of the controversy and key documents

Activists and the Enola Gay Air Force Association article about the debate


Silencing History  An article about the Enola Gay Exhibit from The Nation.

”The War on History: Silencing the Smithsonian”:
A discussion, based on the Enola Gay exhibit, of who gets to tell our history, how it gets told, and why it should matter to us.


Photograph Exhibits

A-bomb WWW Museum - An excellent site providing background information on the two bombs, as well as survivor stories and damage statistics.

Hiroshima-Photo Exhibit: Photographs of the effects of the bombing.

Hiroshima Archive - Photography gallery of pictures taken after the bombing.

Photos - Photos provided by Hiroshima Institute for Peace Education.  Pictures taken around time of bombing.

Damages Caused by Atomic Bombs - Statistics of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

Pictures of Bombing - Excellent photos of the effects of the bomb