Legacies: Collecting America's History at the Smithsonian
The Smithsonian Institution has been America's museum since 1846. What do its vast collections -- from the ruby slippers to a piece of Plymouth Rock, first ladies' gowns to patchwork quilts, a Model T Ford to a customized Ford LTD low rider -- tell Americans about themselves? In this lavishly illustrated guide to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Steven Lubar and Kathleen M. Kendrick tell the stories behind more than 250 of the museum's treasures, many of them never before photographed for publication. These stories not only reveal what America as a nation has decided to save and why but also speak to changing visions of national identity.
As the authors demonstrate, views of history change over time, methods of historical investigation evolve and improve, and America's understanding of the past matures. Shifts in focus and attitude lie at the hearth of Legacies, which is organized around four concepts of what a national museum of history can be: a treasure house, a shrine to the famous, a palace of progress, and a mirror of the nation. Thus, the museum collects cherished or precious objects, houses celebrity memorabilia, documents technological advances, and reflects visitors' own lives. Taking examples from science and technology, politics, decorative arts, military history, ethnic heritage, popular culture and everyday life, the authors provide historical context for the work of the Smithsonian and shed new light on what is important, and who is included, in American history. Throughout its history, Lubar and Kendrick conclude, the museum has played a vital role in both shaping and reflecting America's sense of itself as a nation.
From the Hardcover edition.
COLLECTIONS Collections are another kind of personal treasure, not necessarily a reminder of an individual or family past but a form of self-expression. There are many theories about why people collect, from the psychoanalytic—“All collectors are anal-erotics, and the objects collected are nearly always typical copro-symbols,” offered by E. Jones in 1912—to the capitalistic—“A man’s Self is the sum-total of all that he can call his,” offered by William James in 1892.48 These may or may not be
the hat should travel the country as part of the Smithsonian’s 150th anniversary exhibition. Secretary I. Michael Heyman, in striking opposition to his predecessor Joseph Henry, insisted on including the hat, citing its value as both a historical relic and a popular attraction. In 2000, when a new exhibition on the American presidency opened at the National Museum of American History, Lincoln’s hat was one of the featured artifacts. PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE IMAGES Like the Lincoln hat, many
Museum has frequently provoked controversy and debate. Some military history curators refused to collect Confederate States of America uniforms and insignia, either because they deemed them unpatriotic or because they were not official U.S. military issue. Yet mementos of Confederate soldiers and officers still found their way into the collections; by the end of the nineteenth century such artifacts were frequently offered and accepted in the spirit of reconciliation between the North and South,
life-long interest in technology and the inventive process. The Smithsonian acquired this model from the Patent Office in 1908. (photo credit p04.1) Since its founding, the Smithsonian has reflected and promoted a gospel of progress. Its collections and exhibits have celebrated the material advances of modern society and honored the scientists and inventors who made these advances possible. Yet the Smithsonian has also long been a place where the nature of invention, innovation, and
Dakota territory in 1832 of his feelings for the endangered “noble races of red men”: I have flown to their rescue, not of their lives or of their race (for they are ‘doomed’ and must perish), but to the rescue of their looks and their modes … [so that] phoenix-like, they may rise from the ‘stain on a painter’s palette’ and live again upon canvas and stand forth for centuries yet to come—the living monuments of a noble race.31 Ambrotype of two Yanktonai Indians, Bone Necklace and Lazy Bear,