The National World War II Museum by Gabrielle Mizrahi

Beignets, Jazz, and Bourbon Street often come to mind when thinking of New Orleans. However, many are surprised to find that one of the can’t-miss sights when visiting the Big Easy is not a restaurant serving gumbo or a shop selling plastic beads, but rather a museum dedicated to the history of World War II. In fact, according to the travel site Trip Advisor, the museum is actually rated the number one attraction to visit while in New Orleans, as evidenced by the huge crowds that flock to the museum year-round.

The number one question I hear when talking about the museum is: “Why New Orleans?” Surely there are better locations for a museum dedicated to World War II, such as California where much of the training took place at Fort Hunter Liggett, or even our nation’s capital in Washington D.C. However, to the surprise of many, New Orleans has a very important connection to the war, in the form of the Higgins Boats. Designed and manufactured by Andrew Jackson Higgins and the employees of Higgins Industries in southeastern Louisiana, the Higgins boats were the landing crafts used to transport soldiers to shore in the amphibious battles during the war. Because of the importance this boat played, President Eisenhower once even stated that Higgins was, “The man who won the war for us”, New Orleans is an appropriate spot for the museum to be located.[1]

History : The World War II Museum opened its doors on June 6th, 2000. Originally called the National D-Day museum, it was founded by famous historian and author Stephen Ambrose. Ambrose died in 2002, only two short years after the opening of the museum. However, the museum lives on, and continues to support his mission to tell “the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world — why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today — so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn”.[2] In 2003, congress declared the museum the national museum on the topic of World War II, officially changing the name from the National D-Day Museum to the National World War II Museum. Since its opening the museum has expanded vastly, now including a number of different buildings on its campus, as well as dining facilities by famous chef John Besh.

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Who Does the Museum Serve?: According to their mission, the museum is meant to serve the entire American population; to teach about and preserve an important part of our history. This goal has been accomplished, and in March 2013, 54,198 visitors came to the museum from around the world to learn from and experience the exhibits.[3] There are many different groups of people that are particularly drawn to the museum. For example, veterans, especially those who fought in WWII, constantly visit the museum. There are even a number of particular programs targeted at veterans, such as the $10 For Them campaign, which asks for donations in order to allow free admission for WWII veterans.[4] The museum also has a number of veterans who volunteer their time, which is meaningful both of themselves and visitors, who are then able to interact with those who experienced the war while simultaneously learning about it through the exhibits.

Another specific group that the museum serves is students. At the museum, there are constantly field trips from ages ranging from elementary school all the way to college classes. The museum encourages and facilitates these trips, and is excited to teach about the war to those who did not live through that time period.

The museum also hosts events targeted towards students, such as holding the Louisiana National History Day Competition, which encourages students to explore a topic of history, and create a presentation to compete in a national contest for prizes. The museum organizes this event for Louisiana, and has students from all over the state come to compete.

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Structure and Staffing: The structure at the museum seems standard for any large organization. There is a board of directors who make major decisions, and then the staff is split based upon what function they perform at the museum. There is a curatorial department, an education department, a development department, etc. I work under the archival department. When I first began my internship in March, I worked under the head of the department. However, for the summer portion of my internship, I am under the direction of the specialist in photography for the department, as his work corresponds to the project I have been working on: cataloging photographs to make them accessible to researchers around the country.

 Funding: The museum was declared the national museum for World War II, meaning a portion of the funding comes from the federal government, especially for its initial construction. The museum also receives some state funding; however, they rely heavily on donations and contributions.[5] The price of admission to the museum and its various attractions helps to fund the museum and its expansion.

 My Internship: My internship allows me to help the museum in the achievement of their goals. For example, I was a host at National History day, which allowed me to help students explore and discuss a historical topic that interested them. Through this work I was able to aid in the education portion of the museum’s mission. I also am able to use my research skills to help look up different photographs, define and label them, etc. Although I have not taken a course that focuses on World War II specifically at Tulane (although I have taken a course on the Vietnam War), my education in history has helped me think more critically and be a better researcher, all of which is applicable to the National World War II Museum.

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I have sincerely enjoyed my time so far working at the prestigious World War II Museum. Becoming familiar with working in a museum, and the types of technology they use and the projects they work on has been an eye opening experience. I am looking forward to continuing my summer and helping out with their mission.

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[1] “FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: Why Is the Museum Located in New Orleans?” The National WWII Museum. Web. 24 June 2013. <http://www.nationalww2museum.org/about-the-museum/frequently-asked-questions.html&gt;.

[2] “ABOUT THE MUSEUM.” The National WWII Museum. Web. 26 June 2013. <http://www.nationalww2museum.org/about-the-museum/index.html&gt;.

[3] “The National WWII Museum Named Travelers’ Choice 2013 Winner by TripAdvisor.” The National WWII Museum Blog. Web. 26 June 2013. <http://www.nww2m.com/2013/06/the-national-wwii-museum-named-travelers-choice-2013-winner-by-tripadvisor/&gt;.

[4] “$10 FOR THEM.” The National WWII Museum. Web. 26 June 2013. <http://www.nationalww2museum.org/honor/10-for-them.html&gt;.

[5] “FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:Is the Museum part of the federal government?.” The National WWII Museum. Web. 28 June 2013. <http://www.nationalww2museum.org/about-the-museum/frequently-asked-questions.html&gt;.

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