Public programs facilitate dialogue between academics and professionals, informing scholarship and strengthening practice.

Multiple day conferences, year-long colloquia, individual lectures, “conversations” between individuals, hands-on workshops, and Museums at Noon talks featuring our graduate students all contribute to the remarkable richness of MSP offerings.

Video recordings of some MSP lectures are archived for viewing in our Media Gallery.

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“The Unvarnished Truth”: Reframing the National Narrative at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

October 22, 2019 @ 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Presentation by William S. Pretzer, Senior Curator of History, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture


The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture opened on the National Mall in Washington, DC, in September 2016.  More than six million individuals have visited the museum in its first three years of operation.

The Presidential Commission created in 2001 directed the museum to “give voice to the centrality of the African American experience and make it possible for all people to understand the depth, complexity, and promise of the American experience.”

From the beginning, Founding Director Lonnie G. Bunch III and his staff heeded the exhortation of historian John Hope Franklin, chair of the museum’s Scholarly Advisory Committee, “to tell the unvarnished truth.” That principle energized an exhibition plan informed by public conversations, a collecting program relying on individual and family legacies, a narrative format balancing the personal with the social, and a funding strategy emphasizing the “African American experience as the lens through which we understand what it is to be American.”

This presentation demonstrates the impact of these foundational principles and strategies through an illustrated tour of the inaugural exhibitions.


William Pretzer is the Senior Curator for History at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture where he is developing the museum’s Center for African American Innovation and Entrepreneurship. He co-curated “A Changing America: 1968 and Beyond,” one of the museum’s twelve inaugural exhibitions.  Pretzer began his museum career as a historian at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History from 1980-1984.  Following tenure as a Project Director at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, he then spent 21 years as a curator and educator at The Henry Ford in Michigan where he developed exhibitions, chaired the museum’s Collection and Publication committees, and served as Director of Educational Programs.  From 2006 to 2009 he served as Director of the Museum of Cultural & Natural History as well as Director of the Museum Studies Program and Associate Professor of History at Central Michigan University.




October 22, 2019
7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Event Category:


U-M Museum of Art, Helmut Stern Auditorium
525 S. State St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109 United States
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