Becoming “Us”

The evolution of the "Museum of Us" name over time: from history to significance

By Museum of Us

Museum of Us Front Façade (2020-08-03) by Bertram Goodhue (architect)Museum of Us

What's in a name?
Words have power. Names are no different. Names hold memories, emotions, values, and legacy.

California Tower From Alcazar Garden (July 2020) by Alexander Adams (photographer)Museum of Us

After operating as the San Diego Museum of Man for over 40 years, on August 2nd, 2020, the Museum announced a new name for a new era – Museum of Us.

The change reflects the Museum’s commitment to equity, anti-racism, and decolonization.

Community Feedback to Name Change (2020-09-25) by San Diego Union-Tribune (publisher)Museum of Us

Why now?

The Museum’s name was under debate for decades, but over three years ago plans were formally launched to choose a new name.

With the catalyst of a Museum closure due to the Coronavirus pandemic, that process was accelerated and the new name was announced during the nation’s ongoing reckoning with systemic racial injustice.

Not only did the name “San Diego Museum of Man” exclude on the basis of gender, but it also holds a legacy of colonial pain in the memories of Black, Indigenous, and communities of color.

Museum of Us West Banner Change (2020-08-03) by Kelsey Pickert (photographer)Museum of Us

Today, we are actively working to redress harm caused to communities in a number of ways. We are committed to changing systems, policies, and practices to be a more equitable and inclusive museum.

To learn more about decolonizing initiatives at the Museum of Us, click here.

Land Acknowledgement Infographic (2020-08-22) by Museum of UsMuseum of Us

Balboa Park and the Museum of Us reside on the unceded territory and homeland of the Kumeyaay Nation, the Indigenous peoples of this land. Kumeyaay people have lived on this land since time immemorial, and their ancestral relationship with the land continues to this day.

To learn more about land acknowledgements at the Museum of Us, click here.


Since its establishment, the Museum's name has been in motion. Let’s take a closer look at the evolution of the Museum of Us over time:

California Building West Entrance (1915) by Unknown (photographer)Museum of Us

On January 1st, 1915, the California Building and Tower, which house the Museum, was opened as the primary entry point for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. The exposition celebrated the international opening of the Panama Canal.

For more information about the exposition, please visit the San Diego History Center's website on the Panama-California Exposition.

California Building (1925) by Unknown (photographer)Museum of Us

In November 1915, the San Diego Museum Association was formed, recognizing the interior displays and building as The San Diego Museum, with a focus on physical anthropology.

Wooden San Diego Museum of Man Sign (2020-08-03) by Kelsey Pickert (photographer)Museum of Us

In 1942, the San Diego Museum was changed to the Museum of Man as the Museum's "collections" (now referred to as "cultural resources") narrowed in focus.

In the 1970's, “San Diego” was added to the Museum of Man’s name and this well-known wooden sign was placed on the California Building.

Organizing Community Opposition Flyer (1991) by A. Thomas (Sender)Museum of Us

In 1991, serious discussions about changing the Museum’s name came at the request of community members. A more inclusive name was requested, one that did not rely on an antiquated definition of “man” as a proxy for humankind.

As supported by the Oxford English Dictionary's principle etymologist, Philip Durkin, “The word man is now rare in the meaning 'human being in general'... Already in the 1800s it was largely confined to literary or proverbial use in this meaning, other words such as person or people being more commonly used instead.” (2012)

To read the full article about the etymology of "mankind," click here.

"Museum of Man gets jab in the gender" (1991-04-30) by San Diego Union-Tribune (publisher)Museum of Us

From 1990 - 2010, the Board of Trustees of the Museum decided to keep the name.

As stated by Mason Freeman, chairperson of the 1991 name review committee, "If you were to poll our membership, they would overwhelmingly say just stay where you are."

California Building West Side (July 2020) by Alexander Adams (photographer)Museum of Us

From 2010 - 2018, the San Diego Museum of Man departed from its traditional roots as a physical anthropology museum and embraced a new mission of “Inspiring human connections by exploring the human experience.”

The Museum committed to pursue a set of decolonizing initiatives that would address the impacts of its colonial legacy. The Museum implemented changes to exhibit development, educational programs, cultural resource stewardship, employment practices, and more.

All the while, community members continued to speak out against the museum’s exclusionary and outdated name.

Rotunda Community Feedback Collection Cube (2018) by San Diego Museum of ManMuseum of Us

In 2018, the Museum collected extensive feedback about the name. Input was gathered through community conversations, focus groups, widespread surveys, and an interactive installation.

The Museum received thousands of responses from a diversity of stakeholders indicating the community was ready for change.

California Tower "Light it Blue" (2020) by Museum of UsMuseum of Us

In March 2020, the Museum and other Balboa Park institutions closed to the public due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

In light of its closure, the Museum published a "Proposal to Serve Community Need," offering its venue space for emergency responses.

Although the Museum was prohibited from using the inside of its building, it pivoted to share a message of support to essential workers on the outside of its building.

Museum of Us Graphic (August 2020) by Museum of UsMuseum of Us

As the pandemic wore on and longstanding structural inequities throughout the nation grew more apparent, the time was ripe for change at the Museum. The time had come for a new name for a new era.

On June 24th, 2020, the Board of Trustees approved to change the San Diego Museum of Man to the Museum of Us. The name change was made as a public commitment to equity and inclusion.

San Diego Union Tribune - Digital Sunday Newspaper (2020-08-02) by John Wilkens (Journalist)Museum of Us

On August 2nd 2020, the San Diego Union-Tribune broke the news about the Museum of Us on the front page of the Sunday paper.

To read the full article, click here.

Museum of Us Brand Print (August 2020) by Museum of UsMuseum of Us

What Makes "Us"

The Museum of Us is a new identity for a 100-plus-year-old institution.

Once known for its academic exhibits focusing on ancient civilizations and human evolution, the Museum’s offerings now delve into universal themes that cut across time and cultures.

Today, the Museum fulfills its mission of, “inspiring human connections by exploring the human experience” by holding a place for many voices, especially those that have long been silenced or overlooked by our organization, the museum field, and by society.

Museum of Us Entrance (2020-08-03) by Kelsey Pickert (Photographer)Museum of Us

Our goal is for guests to leave with new perspectives on the world, so they can become agents for positive change.

Whether it’s sharing the power of secrets to make us feel less alone, or a better understanding of the science, history, and experience of race in our country, our exhibits and programs present diverse stories that help define all of us.

Museum of All of Us Graphic (August 2020) by Museum of UsMuseum of Us

Reflect

As we mentioned, the Museum of Us is a new identity that better reflects our values of equity, anti-racism, and decolonization.

This is what makes us, us. What makes you, you?

What are some values that are important to you? Do they impact your identity? If so, how?

Credits: Story

To learn more about the evolution of the Museum of Us and our decolonizing initiatives, please visit:

"All About Us" - Museum of Us Renaming Process

"As it moves forward with decolonizing, Museum of Man gets a new name" - San Diego Union-Tribune (2020)

"The ‘Decolonization’ of the American Museum" - Washington Post (2018)

"Ceding Authority and Seeding Trust" - American Alliance of Museums (2019)

"Knowing Better, Doing Better" - American Alliance of Museums (2020)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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