Riches, Rivals, and Radicals

Riches, Rivals, and Radicals

A History of Museums in the United States

Marjorie Schwarzer


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Since it was first published in 2006, Riches, Rivals and Radicals has been the go-to text for introductory museum studies courses. It is also of great value to professionals as well as museum lovers who want to learn the stories behind how and why these institutions have evolved since the day the first mastodon bones, royal portraits and botanical specimens entered their dusty halls.

For this third edition, Marjorie Schwarzer has mined new resources, previously unavailable archives and contemporary trends to provide a fresh look at the challenges and innovations that have shaped museums in the United States. Schwarzer argues that museums are fundamentally optimistic institutions. They build and preserve some of the nation’s most extraordinary architecture. They showcase the beauty and promise of new scientific discoveries, historical breakthroughs and artistic creation. They provide places of inspiration and repose. At the same time, museums have succeeded in exposing some of the nation’s most painful legacies – racism, inequity, violence – as they strive to be places for healing and reckoning. This too, one could argue, is an act of optimism, for it expresses the hope that museum visitors will gain empathy and understanding from the evidence of others’ struggles.

Schwarzer shows us how museums are rooted in a contentious history tied to social, technological and economic trends and ultimately changing ideas of what it means to be a citizen. Along the way we meet some notorious and eccentric characters including business tycoons, architects, collectors, designers, politicians, political activists and progressive educators, all of whom have exerted their influence on what is a complex yet nonetheless enduring institution.

Major additions since the last edition include material on digital curation, emergent exhibitions about civil rights, immersive museum environments, continuing efforts to diversify the field, how museums' role in our increasingly digital society, and a new foreword by American Alliance of Museums President and CEO Laura L. Lott.

Museums new to this edition include the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

Beautifully written and lavishly illustrated, the third edition of this accessible, award-winning book brings the reader up to date on the stories behind the people and events that have transformed America’s museums from their beginnings into today’s vibrant cultural institutions.


Marjorie Schwarzer:

Marjorie Schwarzer is Administrative Director and serves on the faculty of the graduate program in Museum Studies at the University of San Francisco. In addition to writing RRR and serving the field in leadership positions since the early 1980s, she was a regular contributor to AAM’s Museum Magazine from 1999 – 2011. She regularly publishes reviews and articles in a wide number of professional publications. In October 2018, she received the 2018 Leadership Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Museum Field from the Western Museums Association.