Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Edwin Martini

Second Advisor

Dr. Lynne Heasley

Third Advisor

Dr. Mitch Kachun

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Nicolas Witschi


American west, museum studies, American history, popular culture


This dissertation examines the role played by museums in shaping our understanding of the American West. The history of the American West holds a place in American popular culture, evidenced by music, movies and television shows, novels, art, architecture, clothing, and numerous other examples. However, such examples raise questions of authenticity depending on medium and setting, Representations of the American West depict certain images or beliefs held by society. At the same time, the United States houses nearly 1,500 historic sites and museums focusing on the American West. These museums and sites are found scattered throughout thirty-eight states, in addition to the District of Columbia. As educational institutions, it is reasonable to assume that museums and historic sites offer a more authentic and reliable representation of the West than versions found throughout popular culture, such as films, television programs, and other forms of media. This work seeks to examine the ways in which four museums depict, explore, and preserve the history of the American West.

This study critically analyzes four of the largest Western Heritage Museums that focus on depictions of the American West: the Museum of Westward Expansion, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, and the Autry National Center. Through an analysis of historical documents, oral histories, and museum exhibitions, this work establishes a historical record of each institution, provides a critical examination of the exhibits found within each institution, and explores the ways in which each institution fits into the larger place of the American West.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access