Domesticating History

The Political Origins of America's House Museums

Publisher: Smithsonian Books
Celebrating the lives of famous men and women, historic house museums showcase restored rooms and period furnishings, and portray in detail their former occupants' daily lives. But behind the gilded molding and curtain brocade lie the largely unknown, politically charged stories of how the homes were first established as museums. Focusing on George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and the Booker T. Washington National Monument, Patricia West shows how historic houses reflect less the lives and times of their famous inhabitants than the political pressures of the eras during which they were transformed into museums.


“Extremely well-researched and judicious. . . . The most distinctive aspect of the book is the author's persistent emphasis upon the political context that shaped the creation of those house museums. . . . [F]illed with delicious ironies.”—Michael Kammen, The Journal of American History

“[A] nuanced account. . . . [and] crisp little book.”—American Historical Review

Domesticating History will undoubtedly become required reading for students and teachers of public history, museum practitioners, and, I hope, historians of women and public life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as well. The historical perspective West provides is especially welcome amid public perception that historic house museums are falling prey to pandemic political correctness.”—The Public Historian