I have visited the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento several times. Each time, I pay for the tickets, turn the corner, and am immersed in a dark, cavernous space highlighted by a diorama of Chinese railroad workers against a scenic backdrop. The three-dimensional figures of Chinese persons are frozen in acts of hard manual labor; at least one is suspended precariously on the side of a fake mountaintop. This is the grand entrée into the museum. The use of the diorama—long a staple of natural history museums—stages the naturalist aesthetics of this scene: its beauty shadowed or perhaps heightened by the history lesson it imparts, a reminder of the labor exploitation and racialized logics on which the transcontinental railroad rests. Along with all the other museum visitors, I move on to the large warehouse space that is an encomium to the...

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