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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2021

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Donyale Padgett


I advance a theory of sublime argument, an experiential, extrarational form of persuasion common at sites of public memory. Sublime objects at memory places are often curated in such a way as to make the grand, large, and incomprehensible legible. I examined Grand Canyon National Park using the method of participatory critical rhetoric and attended to the curation strategies deployed there. The curation at Grand Canyon isolates the canyon as an ethnographic object or object of ethnography and is placed in situ such that its meaning is taken from the larger context. The infrastructure, architecture, interpretive exhibits, museums, and gift shops are imbued with the cultural markers of Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism. The result is that the canyon is filled with meaning, which comes from the contextual clues of the built environment through which the canyon is experienced by virtually all of the 6 million annual visitors. By treating the canyon as an ethnographic object, the actual cultural history of Native ownership of the canyon is erased, which also erases the violence of settler colonialism. Ergo, the curation of Grand Canyon by the National Park Service re-enforces settler colonialism as Native representation is minimized and Anglo narratives are amplified. Finally, I critique the mission statement of the National Park Service and suggest a way forward that recognizes that National Park Service properties continue to be sites of contested meaning. I recommend that they be curated to represent the unfinished nature of the colonial and the American project.

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