On Saturday, I spent the day in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. It is a fine museum, one that should be on the itinerary of anyone making a pilgrimage to our nation’s capital. During my visit I stood in awe of the American flag—worn and tattered—that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner in 1814. A moving and relatively new exhibit focused on the visual culture of the Civil Rights Movement. I exercised my historical imagination by staring into the hull of the revolutionary-era Gunboat Philadelphia, the oldest surviving American fighting vessel. I got a bit nostalgic looking at a collection of vintage lunch boxes and children’s toys.
The National Museum of American History does an excellent job of capturing the nation’s past in an informative and entertaining manner, but during this trip to the museum I could not help but think that something was missing. It hit me as I browsed the book section of the museum store. The aisles were filled with books about science and technology, the Civil War, the presidents of the United States, and the American Revolution, but I could not find a single book dealing with the American religious experience. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough, or maybe I was just feeling a bit oversensitive because the store was not selling my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction—but it was clear to me that American religion was unimportant at the National Museum of American History.
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