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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.
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.
In 1849 the Smithsonian purchased the Marsh Collection of European engravings. Not only the first collection of any kind to be acquired by the new Institution, it was also the first public print collection in the nation, and it presented an important symbol of cultural authority. The prints formed part of the library of Vermont Congressman George Perkins Marsh (1801-1882), a member of the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents. The uncertainty of the Smithsonian's mission in the early years complicated its motivation for purchasing the collection, especially given Marsh’s position as a Regent in financial difficulty. After a serious fire in 1865, portions of the collection were deposited at the Library of Congress and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Efforts to reclaim it began in the 1880s, as a new generation of Smithsonian staff expanded the National Museum, but they achieved only mixed success. Through the story of the Marsh Collection, the book explores the cultural values attributed to prints in the 19th century, including their prominent role in expositions and their influence on visual culture at a time when collecting styles were moving from an individual’s private contemplation of artworks to wider public venues of exposition in museums and reception by multiple audiences. The history of this first Smithsonian collection enlivens an important stage in the development of American cultural identity and in the formation of the Smithsonian as a national institution.
Presents an A-to-Z reference to American folklore with articles on folk heroes, authors, significant historical events, cultural groups, social aspects and more.
In this era of Antiques Roadshow and eBay, it is hard to imagine a time when Americans did not treasure the home furnishings of elite early American families. But as this book demonstrates, antiquing -- particularly the practice of valuing old things for their aesthetic qualities -- is a relatively recent invention whose origins can be found in the early years of the twentieth century. Although nineteenth-century Americans did appreciate heirlooms, they saw them as memory markers, tangible representations of honored ancestors or local history. In Out of the Attic, Briann G. Greenfield traces the transformation of antiques from family keepsakes to valuable artistic objects, examining the role of collectors, dealers, and museum makers in the construction of a new tradition based on the aesthetic qualities of early American furnishings. While recognizing the significance of antiques as symbols of an enduring American culture, Greenfield also delves behind popular rhetoric to examine the development of a retail structure specifically designed to facilitate the buying and selling of old wares. With antique shops proliferating all over New England, pickers going door-to-door in search of "finds," and forgers taking illicit advantage of growing demand, antique owners and collectors found themselves trying to navigate a retail market characterized by escalating prices and high stakes purchases. In this sense, antiques functioned as more than remnants of a treasured past; they became modern consumer goods. The book is divided into a series of case studies, each intended to illuminate some aspect of "the dynamic of consumer history." One chapter examines the role of Jewish dealers in promoting American antiques; another profiles Jessie Baker Gardner, a small-time collector and would-be museum maker from Providence, Rhode Island. Greenfield also looks at the institutionalization of antiques, with chapters focusing on Henry Flynt of Deerfield, Massachusetts, who embraced the "aestheticization of antiques" in the 1940s and 1950s, and on Smithsonian curator C. Malcolm Watkins, who challenged the decorative art market during the 1950s and 1960s by purchasing old tools and crude furniture for the nation's museum.
Museums and Social Activism is the first study to bring together historical accounts of the African American and later American Indian civil rights-related social and reform movements that took place on the Smithsonian Mall through the 1960s and 1970s in Washington DC with the significant but unknown story about museological transformation and curatorial activism that occurred in the Division of Political and Reform History at the National Museum of American History at this time. Based on interdisciplinary field-based research that has brought together cross-cultural and international perspectives from the fields of Museum Studies, Public History, Political Science and Social Movement Studies with empirical investigation, the book explores and analyses museums’ – specifically, curators’ – relationships with political stakeholders past and present. By understanding the transformations of an earlier period, Museums and Social Activism offers provocative perspectives on the cultural and political significance of contemporary museums. It highlights the relevance of past practice and events for museums today and improved ways of understanding the challenges and opportunities that result from the ongoing process of renewal that museums continue to exemplify.
American art museums share a mission and format that differ from those of their European counterparts, which often have origins in aristocratic collections. This groundbreaking work recounts the fascinating story of the invention of the modern American art museum, starting with its roots in the 1870s in the craft museum type, which was based on London’s South Kensington (now the Victoria and Albert) Museum. At the turn of the twentieth century, American planners grew enthusiastic about a new type of museum and presentation that was developed in Northern Europe, particularly in Germany, Switzerland, and Scandinavia. Called Kulturgeschichte (cultural history) museums, they were evocative displays of regional history. American trustees, museum directors, and curators found that the Kulturgeschichte approach offered a variety of transformational options in planning museums, classifying and displaying objects, and broadening collecting categories, including American art and the decorative arts. Leading institutions, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, adopted and developed crucial aspects of the Kulturgeschichte model. By the 1930s, such museum plans and exhibition techniques had become standard practice at museums across the country.

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