Should a State Historical Society Sell Its Collection to Raise Funds?

This is precisely what the New Jersey Historical Society has decided to do.  They recently made $2.1 million on the sale of a rare 1784 map of the United States.

Is this unethical?  Or is this a necessary step in helping an institution like the NJHS survive in this economic climate?

In this Newark Star-Ledger article, historians Stan Katz, Marc Mappen, and New Jersey Historical Society board president John Zinn weigh in.  Here is a taste:

Zinn said the society must retire its debt in order to continue operating. But selling pieces of a permanent collection — or de-accessioning, in the parlance of the museum world — to pay for operations violates the ethics code of the American Association of Museums. A museum is permitted to de-accession only to provide funds for the acquisition of other items or for the direct care of collections, according to that accrediting body.

“Selling off the collection to help you escape from budgetary problems is a no-no, a bad practice,” Katz said. “You could argue about tableware, about china. But the map is clearly relevant to their collections.”

Zinn believes the association’s code may be the standard for art museums and that a historical institution like the New Jersey Historical Society is subject to a different, and less stringent, standard. He also adds that the map has only a “limited connection” to New Jersey.

But the American Association for State and Local History, an organization that works with historical museums like NJHS, has an even more narrow interpretation. “Collections shall not be disposed of in order to provide financial support for institutional operations,” it states.

Zinn, however, said the items being sold do not support the historical society’s new focus on research and educational programs. He said the Buell map is not archival but “Americana.”

“We are not selling any manuscripts or archive items, letters, diaries, papers things of that nature. Everything like that is intact,” he said. 

“The end result is to stabilize the organization.”

The historical society has been hurt by recent state budget cuts. It received $290,900 and $293,310 in state funds last year and 2009, but it received no grant for this fiscal year.

Bored at the AHA? Learn How to Make a Great Coat

Heading to the AHA in Boston this weekend?  After you get sick of schmoozing in hotel lobbies, reading name tags, dozing off during sessions, and trying to convince editors that you are writing the next Pulitzer-prize winning history book, you may want to head over to Minute Man National Historic Park, drop $100, and make your own eighteenth-century “Great Coat.”  Or, if male outerwear is not for you, how about constructing a sacque back gown for your next ball.

These are just two of the workshops being conducted by The Hive–a living history community designed to help you “develop, improve, and grow 18th century impressions.”

If you hang around Boston after the AHA, you can also take courses in advanced tailoring and gun tune-up.  Learn how to make a cartridge box, an open-front English gown, or a banyon.  Or perhaps you may want to enroll in a class called “Power-Horn 101.”

Not interested in shelling out the money to create your own artifact or article of clothing?  Then why not attend a free lecture or clinic on one of the following topics: 18th Century Lace, Making Your Breeches Fit, Sewing Bees, Leatherworking, Men’s Watches, Monmouth Caps, Hair Tricks for Women, Raising Babies the 18th Century Way, Cross Stitching for Children, or Intro to Spinning,

This is like a Star Trek convention for historical re-enactors and material culture enthusiasts.  I have a few students who are now probably wondering why they didn’t choose to attend college in the Boston area.


The Lent 2010 Edition of The Cresset Is Here!

The Cresset describes itself as a “review of literature, the arts, and public affairs.” It is one of my favorite religious magazines. Check out the Lent 2010 issue. The following articles caught my eye:

Gretchen Buggeln, “The Shape of a New Era: Valparaiso’s Chapel of the Resurrection in Historical Context.” This is must reading for anyone who has worshipped in the Chapel of the Resurrection, the largest college chapel in the United States.

Jean Bethke Elshtain, “The Incarnational Vision of Marilynne Robinson: Challenging Sovereign Selves.” This is an extended review of Robinson’s novel Gilead. I am in the middle of reading Robinson’s first novel, Housekeeping, and I must confess that I am having a hard time getting into it.

An excerpt from Philip Clayton’s book Transforming Christian Theology (Augsburg Fortress). Here is the first paragraph excerpted:

Soon after my conversion I was asked to be a “counselor” at a Billy Graham Crusade. I served in this role many times, which I suppose means that I have “won many people for Christ.” The biggest crusade I participated in took place in a large sports stadium. When the evangelist called for people to convert to Christ and the organ started to play “Just as I Am, without One Plea,” counselors like me would gradually stand up all over the stadium and make our way to the altar that had been set up in front. (They never told us this, but obviously this huge group of people that was popping up all over and walking to the altar would give the audience the impression that about a third of the people who had come to the meeting were converting to Christ. You’d almost feel left out if you didn’t go forward!) We could all recognize each other by a particular sign, so we could tell who had actually come forward to get converted, and we each picked a convert to counsel by standing on his or her right side. After we explained Billy Graham’s Four Spiritual Laws to our convert-candidates, we prayed the Sinner’s Prayer with them, and they were saved. We had to make sure that they were safe from any doubts that Satan might bring to them the next day (like, “Was that for real?”). So we would have them memorize a simple jingle to help them hold out against the devil’s temptations. It went: “God says it in His Word. I believe it in my heart. That settles it forever.”

Peter Meilander, “The Risks of Avoidance” discusses the “pantybomber” and health care.

Cordell P. Schulten reviews my colleague Richard Hughes’s, Christian America and the Kingdom of God.

Happy reading!