This essay argues that the troubled “birth” of the modern police museum in Mexico offers unique insights into the institutional uses of history as a means for fostering collective identities and social cohesion. Conventional history museums endeavor to produce sweeping historical narratives that reconstruct the forgotten past for a forgetful present—to invent traditions for societies no longer able to access the collective memories (rather than constructed histories) that characterized rural communities and urban neighborhoods in previous eras. In contrast, recent Mexican police museums seek to obliterate a too-well-remembered past that troubles the present and threatens to overwhelm official attempts to give birth to an unencumbered future. The genesis of the Mexican police museum thus opens an unexpected if disturbing window on the birth pangs of an institution—the public museum—whose conceptual stability we have taken too much for granted.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.