Fieldwork and Public Interpretation in an Ethnic Enclave: The Temple Project in Butte, Montana

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Peck, Victoria
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Middle Tennessee State University
Butte, Montana was once a bustling city of over 100,000 citizens with people from over nineteen different ethnic backgrounds, now the city is down to a declining population of 34,000. The mark these ethnic communities left on the city still shapes the current landscape and culture of the city. Within Butte, the oldest continuously in-use Jewish reformed Temple in the state of Montana has shifted from existing as solely a place of worship and is transitioning into an ethnic heritage center to highlight the history, impact, and stories of all the different groups that made Butte, Montana the thriving mining city it once was. The B’nai Israel Temple will become a space in Butte to give a large voice to the stories that are underrepresented within the public interpretation in Butte. There is a preconceived notion in Butte that the harshness of the frontier and mining culture level the playing field for those of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds for those who moved to the city, but while true for groups such as the Jewish who were treated with less antisemitism then elsewhere in the world, the same cannot be said universally for all whom lived in the city. The African American, Indigenous, and Chinese populations all still faced heavy persecution and mistreatment within the city like they were elsewhere across the country.
Adaptive Reuse, Butte, Cultural Center, Ethnic Heritage, Montana, History