A field guide to the memorials, museums, and practices that commemorate white supremacy in the United States—and how to reimagine a more deeply shared cultural infrastructure for the future
Cultural infrastructure has been designed to maintain structures of inequality, and while it doesn’t seem to be explicitly about race, it often is. Blunt Instruments helps readers identify, contextualize, and name elements of our everyday landscapes and cultural practices that are designed to seem benign or natural but which, in fact, work tirelessly to tell us vital stories about who we are, how we came to be, and who belongs.
Examining landmark moments such as the erection of the first American museum and Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling pledge of allegiance, historian Kristin Hass explores the complicated histories of sites of cultural infrastructure, such as:
· the American Museum of Natural History · the Bridge to Freedom in Selma · the Washington Monument · Mount Auburn Cemetery · Kehinde Wiley’s 2019 sculpture Rumors of War · the Victory Highway · the Alamo Cenotaph
With sharp analysis and a broad lens, Hass makes the undeniable case that understanding what cultural infrastructure is, and the deep and broad impact that it has, is essential to understanding how structures of inequity are maintained and how they might be dismantled.
About the Author
Kristin Ann Hass is a professor in the Department of American Culture and director of the Humanities Collaboratory at the University of Michigan. Her previous books include Sacrificing Soldiers on the National Mall and Carried to the Wall: American Memory and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. She was also the cofounder and associate director of Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life.
“If you have ever wanted to understand how and why monuments work, this stunning book is your decoder ring. Blunt Instruments is a sharp tool for interpreting the racial implications of America’s cultural and physical landscape, from the town square to the National Mall. Bursting with keen insights rendered in a lively, conversational tone, Kristin Hass’s timely guide breaks down the hidden meanings behind monuments, museums, and patriotic traditions, revealing not only that no act of memorialization can ever be neutral but also that the claim of neutrality is itself a weapon of cultural combat.” —Tiya Miles, author of All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake
“In Blunt Instruments, Kristen Hass deftly interrogates the hidden messages—those clearly understood but rarely spoken aloud—that shape what it means to be American today. It is a fascinating, urgent, eye-opening, and necessary read, offering a vision for a nation where all can thrive.” —Mark Clague, author of O Say Can You Hear? A Cultural Biography of “The Star-Spangled Banner”
"For anyone and everyone interested in creating a more socially just world, this is essential reading! Blunt Instruments is an indispensable field guide that helps us all to understand and navigate debates surrounding memorials and monuments, museums, and everyday patriotic practices that have rocked our nation. Kristen Hass provides concise historical context, new language, and a powerful analysis that makes it impossible to see or unsee the world around us in the same way ever again. The lesson of this book is clear: cultural infrastructure plays a huge role in maintaining crushing inequities. Once we understand this, we can and must contribute to challenging and changing it." —Dr. Lisa Yun Lee, executive director, National Public Housing Museum, and Associate Professor of Public Practice and Museum Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago