Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Charles J. Kostelnick


This qualitative case study of a public, interpretive museum space examines the visual, verbal, and spatial rhetorics of the exhibition's educational narrative. The site, a national wildlife refuge and accompanying visitors' center, features research and environmental education on the restoration and preservation of tallgrass prairie and oak savanna ecosystems. The study draws on theory and practice of contemporary museums engaged in professional communication about the environment and engages cultural studies' articulation theory in its approach. Conventional qualitative methods of interviews, document analysis, and observation are employed. Five types of data were analyzed: documents (including newspaper articles, consultants' reports and correspondence, and promotional information from the refuge and prairie learning center); interviews; signage (both exterior and interior); displays as part of the exhibition's narrative; and video and web-based materials. The study argues that the visual, verbal, and spatial narratives present at the refuge and learning center challenge prevailing assumptions about land use and participation with the environment and calls on visitors to engage deeply in the progressive environmental work of the refuge. Such engagement with nature and such understanding of how museums function in communities gets redefined at this site. A series of tensions in the exhibition's narrative serve as the primary units of data analysis: wild and tame; technology and Nature; heritage and progress; hidden or understated and revealed or promoted; constructed or controlled and natural or free; and stated or articulated and assumed or ignored. The study concludes that museums as rhetorical and political spaces reshape perceptions of knowledge-making and community, that museums provide innovate sites for education and social action, and that the tensions that exist in such spaces need not be reconciled and, in fact, may be necessary in order to intervene in the arguments that are constructed around technical concepts for various audiences.



Digital Repository @ Iowa State University,

Copyright Owner

Susan Lee Booker



Proquest ID


File Format


File Size

246 pages