Monuments and the “old patriotic narrative”

Historian Jeremy Adelman (Princeton) and Andrew Thompson (Oxford) offer some excellent insights into our debate over monuments. Here is a taste of their piece at Project Syndicate:

Now, we face an impasse. Entrenched defenders of the old patriotic story feel their world slipping away, while advocates of a new pantheon view the previous one as a source of arbitrary hierarchy rather than unity. Feeling bruised and victimized, each side has weaponized history, creating a my-story-versus-your-story, winner-takes-all standoff.

The Great Statue Reckoning has served as a lightning rod for wider societal frustrations. Even without the COVID-19 pandemic, the last decade had snuffed out any sense of progress toward a new, brighter future as political, generational, and geographic polarization deepened.

How can we break the impasse? The purpose of museums, like universities, should be to promote an open and inclusive yet critical dialogue about the past. Because this requires the exchange of competing narratives, it is not a “safe space.” But nor can such an exchange occur without a mutual recognition of others’ grievances and losses.

If we are to avoid becoming prisoners of the past, we must acknowledge that what some see as a tale of conquest and discovery, others see as a story of domination and exploitation. It is no coincidence that the contested statues are overwhelmingly white and male. For black people, indigenous peoples, and other marginalized groups, living under the stony gaze of asserted superiority is now simply intolerable.

As long as the old patriot narrative endures, critics and challengers will forever have to ask to be admitted and tolerated, and to request monuments of their own, provided there is space for them. Far from representing recognition, such accommodation serves as a cunning way to leave the symbolic hierarchy intact.

Read the entire piece here.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is reopening

Friday, September 18, 2020.

Here is Graham Bowley at The New York Times:

The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington will reopen to the public on Friday — one of four Smithsonian Institution museums that are involved in the latest phase of reopening, the Smithsonian announced on Monday.

For the museum, which is dedicated to telling the African-American story for all Americans, the reopening comes just a few months after a new chapter began to unfold in the nation’s history. The museum was closed in March amid by the pandemic, and since then the nation has erupted in social justice protests addressing racism and police violence after George Floyd was killed in police custody in May. The protests will give the museum a new chapter in its narrative.

“It is definitely a changed America,” said Lonnie G. Bunch III, the Secretary of the Smithsonian who was the founding director of the museum. “Its role is still the same, which is to give the world a place where it can confront uncomfortable truths and maybe find some hope.”

Read the rest here.

New exhibit on the 19th Amendment opening at the National Constitution Center

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“The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote” opens on August 26, 2020. Here is the original, pre-COVID-19, press release:

Philadelphia, PA (January 29, 2020) – On June 10, the National Constitution Center will open The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote, tracing the triumphs and struggles that led to the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The exhibit will feature some of the many women who transformed constitutional history—including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, and Ida B. Wells—and will allow visitors to better understand the long fight for women’s suffrage.

“The ratification of the 19th Amendment extended the Constitution’s promise of equal citizenship to women, underscoring the core values of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,” said National Constitution Center President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen. “The National Constitution Center is thrilled to open an exhibit that will inspire and educate visitors about the visionary women who worked to secure this landmark amendment, which prohibits discrimination in voting rights ‘on account of sex.’”

The 3,000-square-foot exhibit will feature nearly 100 artifacts, including Lucretia Mott’s diary, a rare printing of the Declaration of Sentiments from the first women’s convention at Seneca Falls, a ballot box used to collect women’s votes in the late 1800s, a letter from jail written by a White House picketer, Pennsylvania’s ratification copy of the 19th Amendment, as well as various “Votes for Women” ephemera. A selected list of confirmed artifacts is featured below.

Beginning in the 1840s, The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote will trace the roots of the women’s rights movement in early reform work and the ultimate decision to pursue voting rights. It will highlight the constitutional arguments and historical context of the fight for suffrage over 70 years, as well as the tactics suffragists used to persuade state legislatures and the national government to recognize voting rights for women. To experience these tactics, visitors will be immersed in the large-scale parades and White House picketing that defined the final few years of the movement. The exhibit will also feature a media interactive that will enable visitors to explore the state-level campaigns for suffrage, as well as a separate interactive capturing the debates for and against a national women’s suffrage amendment. The story will culminate with the ratification of the 19th Amendment—where visitors will be able to view Pennsylvania’s own copy of the amendment—and trace its impact, including the push for equal rights that followed ratification in 1920.

As part of the Drafting Table, a feature of the National Constitution Center’s Interactive Constitution, The 19th Amendment will also include a third media interactive allowing visitors to explore the creation and drafting of the 19th Amendment text and the key events that led to its eventual ratification. This interactive will also be incorporated into the Center’s online Interactive Constitution platform, which has received more than 30 million views since its launch and will ensure key content in the exhibit is accessible to classrooms across America.

Building on the National Constitution Center’s newest permanent exhibit, Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality, The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote will explore the continuing quest to extend the equal liberty promised by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to African Americans and women. The exhibit will examine how the women’s rights movement grew alongside the anti-slavery movement and ultimately gained momentum during Reconstruction as part of the ongoing battle for freedom and equality for all. The 19th Amendment will also feature a one-actor theatrical performance based on the words of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a key African American writer and activist who was integral to the 19th-century anti-slavery and suffrage movements.

To assist in the development of The 19th Amendment, the National Constitution Center assembled a diverse panel of America’s leading scholars to serve as an advisory board. Scholars include Bettye Collier-Thomas, professor of history at Temple University; Gail Heriot, professor of law at the University of San Diego; Reva Siegel, Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Professor of Law at Yale Law School; and Lisa Tetrault, associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

The exhibit has been supported by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, John P. & Anne Welsh McNulty Foundation, Mauree Jane and Mark W. Perry, The McLean Contributionship, and SteegeThomson Communications. Additional exhibit details will be posted to constitutioncenter.org/upcoming-exhibits when available.

The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote is a key component of the National Constitution Center’s Women and the Constitution initiative, a yearlong effort to convene America’s top women leaders and scholars to examine the historical and constitutional background of the 19th Amendment and the importance of equal citizenship for women today. The initiative will include a series of public programs, podcast episodes, and special events. The Center is also a proud partner of Vision2020’s Women 100, a celebration of American women in the year 2020, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.  

Learn more here.

My review of the Monmouth County Historical Association’s Springsteen exhibit

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Some of you may remember our interview with Melissa Ziobro, the Monmouth University history professor who curated a recent exhibit on Bruce Springsteen’s relationship with his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey.

Listen to Episode 60 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

This week New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal published my short review of the “Springsteen: His Hometown” exhibit. Read it here.

Back in the Zoo: 1920 Meets 2020

1920 meets 2020Annie Thorn is a junior history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie writes  about a recent visit to North America’s largest auto museum during a pandemic. —JF

North America’s largest auto museum is ten minutes away from my house. However, despite its close proximity to my childhood residence, I’ve only been there a handful of times. Evidently my parents took me there when I was in a stroller, but I don’t remember it one bit.  I have a vague memory of attending a graduation party in a white tent on the museum’s lawn, and a much clearer one of getting a side-splitting cramp on a cross country course that stretched around its 90-acre grounds. Yet it wasn’t until very recently that I explored the Gilmore Car Museum for myself.

Shortly after I returned to Michigan in March, museums and other non-essential businesses closed due to COVID-19 and the Gilmore Car Museum was no exception. Three months later, with Barry County in phase four of six in Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Michigan Safe Start plan, the institution has re-opened with stringent social distancing measures in place. Looking for something new to do after months of lockdown, curious about what it would be like to visit a socially distanced museum, and suddenly eager to explore the piece of local history immortalized just ten minutes from my house, I decided to make the six-mile trip on a Saturday afternoon. 

With several barns and buildings filled with exhibits and over 400 vintage automobiles, the Gilmore Car Museum is a sight to behold. In one building you can see the first Model A ever produced, which Henry Ford gave to his friend Thomas Edison hot off the assembly line. Another car barn–my personal favorite–houses the “Women Who Motor” exhibit. In addition to an antique Shell gas station and a walk-through timeline of automation in the museum’s main building, Gilmore also displays a mint green Cadillac that I think looks just like Flo from the Pixar movie Cars.

While I was impressed by the exhibits at the museum, I was even more impressed with Gilmore’s strict adherence to social distancing guidelines. When they weren’t answering our questions or directing us through the exhibits (from 6 feet away of course), the limited museum staff kept themselves busy cleaning exhibits and highly-trafficked areas. With the exception of an occasional held door, museum patrons were also diligent about maintaining six feet of social distance. Signs, hand sanitizing stations, and floor markings reminded us of our duty to keep ourselves and others safe and healthy. With the exception of two teenage girls who pulled their masks back over their faces when we came into view, virtually everyone at the museum wore face coverings. I saw more masks there than I’ve seen at the grocery store, the gas station, and the restaurant where I get take-out. 

Unlike hand sanitizer and toilet paper, there’s no shortage of people calling 2020 a historic time. We look back at the moments of our past and catalogue the COVID-19 pandemic alongside the terrorist attacks of 9/11, World War II, and other events that have shaped the nation. Even standing in the middle of a reconstructed past at the Gilmore Car Museum, walking alongside Henry Ford and Thomas Edison and many 20th century automobile-collectors, I was constantly reminded–by the masks, the signs, the floor markings–of our nation’s present moment. The world looked a lot different in 1920 than it does today, and that’s a strange, beautiful, and fascinating thing.

As we continue in our own historic time, we need to remember to check our rear-view mirrors every once in a while.  Often times looking back and tracing our steps is the best way to chart a course forward. Delving into our past through research, books, even socially-distanced museums can help us stand our ground even in the most tumultuous times. In order to know where we’re going, we have to know where we’ve been.

What Should History Museums Collect During This Pandemic?

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We have already encouraged you to record your coronavirus experiences. Today, our librarian at Messiah College asked us to consider having our students write something about how they are experiencing this pandemic in the hopes that we can deposit some of their reflections in the college archives. I have decided that I will ask students in my Created and Called for Community class–a course that deals with human dignity, creativity, community (national and Christian), and vocation–to write a final exam applying these ideas and values to our current moment.

The New York Historical Society is also thinking about how to remember this moment.  Here is a taste of a staff blog post titled “History Responds: Collecting During the COVID-19 Pandemic“:

What can history museums do during an epidemic? Like many institutions across the globe, the New-York Historical Society is temporarily closed to help contain the spread of COVID-19. And like so many New Yorkers, our curators and librarians are preoccupied with concern for their loved ones and grief over what’s happening in our beloved city.

But behind the scenes, they’re also doing what comes naturally to them: thinking about history. Since 2001 and the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, New-York Historical has run a program called History Responds. Its main goal is to collect objects, photographs, and ephemera from the present day for use as research sources and in future exhibitions—in essence, preserving history as it’s happening. We’ve collected from events like Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter protests, and the 2017 Women’s Marches. And as best we can, we’re collecting now.

We caught up with Rebecca Klassen, associate curator for material culture, who works on our History Responds initiative and joined us for an email exchange about what’s happening with the program. Among other things, she writes about what it’s like trying to collect objects in a time when touching things is risky and what kind of stories New-York Historical wants to be able to tell in future decades. Read on for more. —Kerrie Mitchell, content editor

Hello Rebecca! First off, can you give us a sense of how History Responds came about in the first place and how different this was from the usual tradition of collecting?

Well, New-York Historical has long collected documents, artifacts, and art reflecting contemporary events and trends. For instance, staff have regularly sought items connected to political campaigns and celebratory events in the city. As a designated initiative, History Responds took shape in the days immediately following September 11, 2001, when our president at the time, Kenneth T. Jackson, called upon staff to intensively collect around the attacks and the city’s response. This became a massive collection of objects ranging from architectural debris to clothing to letters to items left behind as memorials—some of it was given to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, while a core remains in our collection.

Read the rest here.

Museum of the Bible Chairman: “The criticism resulting from my mistakes was justified”

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The Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. will return 11,500 antiquities to the Iraqi and Egyptian governments.  Read Gordon Govier piece at Christianity Today.

Here is the press release from the museum’s founder and chairman Steve Green:

Washington, March 26, 2020 – Museum of the Bible’s Chairman of the Board, Steve Green, makes the following statement on past acquisitions:

In 2009, when I began acquiring biblical manuscripts and artifacts for what would ultimately form the collection at Museum of the Bible, I knew little about the world of collecting.  It is well known that I trusted the wrong people to guide me, and unwittingly dealt with unscrupulous dealers in those early years.  One area where I fell short was not appreciating the importance of the provenance of the items I purchased. 

When I purchased items in those early years, dealers would make representations about an item’s provenance, which the consultants I employed would say was sufficient.  As I came to understand taking a dealer at his or her word was not good enough, I cut ties with those consultants.  When I engaged with new advisors, I acquired a better understanding of the importance of verifying provenance and we developed a rigorous acquisitions policy that would help avoid repeating those early mistakes.

For the past several years, the many dedicated curators at Museum of the Bible have quietly and painstakingly researched the provenance of the many thousands of items in the collection.  That work continues. 

While this research was proceeding, beginning in late 2017, we also engaged with officials in several countries, including Egypt and Iraq, to open a dialog regarding items that likely originated from those countries at some point, but for which there was insufficient reliable provenance information.  Those discussions have been fruitful, and continue to this day.    

I long ago made the decision that when our research revealed another party had a better claim to an item, I would do the right thing and deliver such items to that party.  We have already proactively made several such returns. 

Today, I am announcing that we have identified approximately 5,000 papyri fragments and 6,500 clay objects with insufficient provenance that we are working to deliver to officials in Egypt and Iraq respectively.  As discussions with officials in Egypt and Iraq continued, we also engaged with officials in the U.S. government to determine the best way procedurally and logistically to make the deliveries, and are appreciative of their assistance.  We are working to finalize the deliveries in the near future.  We also hope to finalize agreements with organizations in Egypt and Iraq that will allow for us to provide technical assistance, and support the ongoing study and preservation of their important cultural property.

These early mistakes resulted in Museum of the Bible receiving a great deal of criticism over the years.  The criticism resulting from my mistakes was justified.  My goal was always to protect, preserve, study, and share cultural property with the world.  That goal has not changed, but after some early missteps, I made the decision many years ago that, moving forward, I would only acquire items with reliable, documented provenance.  Furthermore, if I learn of other items in the collection for which another person or entity has a better claim, I will continue to do the right thing with those items. 

I understand established museums, universities, and other institutions have evolved over the years and developed sound protocols for dealing with cultural property with insufficient provenance.  I intend to continue to learn from the collective efforts and wisdom of those institutions, and support every person and organization possessing such items to continue their research into the provenance of their items.

Steve Green
Chairman of the Board
Museum of the Bible

When A Cowboy Museum Puts its Director of Security in Charge of Social Media…

Hilarious!

Now I want to see “Seth in Marketing” post some tweets!

Tim SendTim Send, the head of security at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, has become an Internet sensation ever since the museum put him in charge of social media. Read about him here.

And here are some of his best tweets:

 

Commemorating the Mayflower

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400 years ago this year the Mayflower landed on present-day Cape Cod. Over at The New York Times, Tanya Mohn writes about how the United States, England, and the Netherlands will commemorate the event later this year. A taste:

Paula Peters remembers the last major anniversary of the historic voyage in 1620 of the Mayflower from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Mass. It was in 1970. She was 12. “It did not go well,” recalled Ms. Peters, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag TribeFrank James, whose Wampanoag name was Wamsutta, was invited to give a speech, but was prevented from delivering it because the event’s organizers “didn’t like what he had to say.”

This year’s 400th anniversary promises to be different. “It will include all the things Frank James wanted to say and then some. It’s an opportunity to take our story out of the margins and onto an international platform,” said Ms. Peters, who through SmokeSygnals, a marketing and communications agency, curated and consulted for exhibitions and programs on both sides of the Atlantic. “What’s most important to stress is simply that we are still here.”

The Wampanoag Nation, encompassing the federally recognized Aquinnah and Mashpee tribes, are equal partners in the yearlong commemoration with Plymouth 400 in the United States, Mayflower 400 in the United Kingdom, and Leiden 400 in the Netherlands, umbrella groups for museums and organizations that are hosting Mayflower-related events in their respective regions.

Read the rest here.

In Search of Impeachment Artifacts

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The National Museum of American History wants them.  Here is Peggy McGlone at The Washington Post:

Years from now, when school groups visit the National Museum of American History, they might learn about the impeachment of a president through a fidget spinner. And they will have Jon Grinspan, the Smithsonian’s curator of political history, to thank.

Grinspan is a soft-spoken, academic version of Indiana Jones, on the hunt not for the Ark of the Covenant but for something perhaps more elusive: the exactly right objects to tell the story of the impeachment of President Donald J. Trump.

Grinspan was in the Senate gallery last week when he observed several politicians — who are banned from using cellphones during the trial — keeping their hands busy with the popular toys. Maybe the items will be used to illustrate the tedium of the marathon sessions and the challenge of keeping senators/jurors alert and focused on the proceedings.

Grinspan has yet to acquire a fidget spinner — or any object that tells the story of these events, only the third presidential impeachment trial in the nation’s history. But he and two colleagues will do their best to compile a group of items that will help the museum chronicle this highly charged moment in a nonpartisan way.

It’s not an easy task, although the danger is not of the Indiana Jones, giant-rolling-boulder variety.

Read the rest here.

A Review of Three New Washington D.C. Exhibits on the Women’s Suffrage Movement

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Are you looking for one more quick get-away this summer?  Why not take a women’s suffrage-themed trip to Washington D.C.?

Over at The New York Times, Jennifer Schuessler reviews exhibits at the National Portrait Gallery, Library of Congress, and National Archives.  These exhibits, Schuessler argues, reveal the complexity of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States.

Here is a taste of her piece:

Together, these shows — all curated by women — make up one of the richest explorations of women’s history yet assembled in the capital, or anywhere else. But they also offer a lesson in the messiness, complexities and compromises involved in any movement for social change — and the fraught politics of historical memory itself.

For years, the drive for women’s suffrage was presented mainly as the story of middle-class white women and iconic national leaders like Anthony and Stanton. That story began with the Seneca Falls Convention in upstate New York in 1848 and ended with the triumphant adoption of the amendment on Aug. 26, 1920, which resulted in the single largest extension of democratic voting rights in American history.

But in recent decades scholars have taken a less top-down view, emphasizing the movement’s multiple starting points and patchwork progress through hundreds of state and local campaigns. They have also excavated the role of African-American women, who were largely excluded from the major, white-led suffrage organizations and marginalized in the early histories of the movement, if they were mentioned at all.

Even before the centennial year began, there have been tensions over who and what to celebrate — or even how to sum up the amendment’s significance.

Read the entire piece here.

“Hamilton: The Exhibition” Comes to an End in Chicago

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“Northerly Island, though, proved farther than the Hamilfans were willing to go.”

I guess the popularity of Alexander Hamilton and the musical named after him only goes so far.

Here is a taste of Chris Vire’s piece at Chicago Magazine:

Jeffrey Seller, the producer behind both the 35,000-square-foot attraction and the massively successful musical from which it spun off, said the exhibition would close August 25, two weeks before the initial end date of September 8. Tickets already sold for the final two weeks are being refunded. And plans to tour the exhibit to other cities have been scrapped, Seller told the Chicago Tribune.

In announcing the early close, producers cited traffic-snarling events that would “complicate access” to the exhibition, which is housed in a giant shed plopped in the middle of Northerly Island. Among those events: the North Coast Music Festival at Huntington Bank Pavilion on August 30 and 31 and a Bears preseason game at Soldier Field on August 29.

Neither of those events is exactly a surprise. North Coast’s move to Northerly Island from Union Park was announced in April, weeks before the Hamilton exhibition opened. And the Bears’ Thursday night matchup with the Titans isn’t even their first home game of the season; that would be next week, when they host the Panthers on August 8.

Read the entire piece here.

Mormon Church Donates $2 Million to Help African Americans Trace Family History

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Read all about it at the Atlanta Black Star.  Here is a taste of Tanasia Kenney’s report:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced this week that it’s donating $2 million to the International African-American Museum in Charleston, S.C., to create a Center for Family History aimed at helping Black Americans trace their genealogy.

The church made the announcement on Feb. 27 during the annual RootTech genealogy summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, local station KUTV reported.

More than half of the enslaved Africans brought to America came through Charleston and the majority of them disembarked at Gadsden’s Wharf, “taking their first steps into this country at the future site of the IAAM,” according to the museum.

“We want to support the museum and the Center for Family History because we both value the strength that comes from learning about our families,” said Elder David Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church, who presented the donation.

“The museum will not only educate its patrons on the important contributions of Africans who came through Gadsden’s Wharf and Charleston,” he added, “it also will help all who visit to discover and connect with ancestors whose stories previously may not have been known.” 

Read the rest here.

 

Out of the Zoo: “In Search of Knights, Peasants, and Bandits”

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The mummy exhibit at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum

Annie Thorn is a first-year history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she will be writing a weekly column for us titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It will focus on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this column she writes about Medieval history and a museum she visited as a child.  Enjoy! –JF

A considerable portion of my childhood was spent inside the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, a three story establishment filled to the brim with free entertainment and learning tailored to our community. On the first floor there’s a planetarium and a weather exhibit. One half of the second floor is filled with interactive displays that teach physics principles, and the other half contains a life-size timeline of Kalamazoo’s history. The third floor, though, was my favorite–it housed a real Egyptian mummy and had a massive space that was renovated every few months for visiting displays. It was hard to predict what wonders the third floor would contain when we went on our regular visits.

One morning my mom made the 45-minute trek from my house to the museum with her three children in tow. We spent a while visiting our favorite spots; my brother Nate liked building rubber band cars, while my sister and I enjoyed seeing our silhouettes on the thermal camera. None of these compared, though, to the adventure that awaited us on the third floor.

The third flight of stairs opened up to a massive recreation of a Medieval castle and village, complete with costumes and props. It seemed as if half of the kids in Kalamazoo were at the museum that day, immersed in an elaborate game of pretend. Some kids put on heavy aprons and imagined they were blacksmiths, others hoisted swords and served as knights, while still more set tables in the miniature great hall with plastic plates and play food. I can’t say we learned anything about Medieval England that day (most of us were too young to read the plaques) but we were given the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a culture that was foreign to us, and had a little fun along the way.

It’s easy for me to forget that the Medieval time period existed outside the walls of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum or popular fairy tales. Perhaps it’s because many of the books I read and movies I watched as a child were fantasy stories saturated with images of brave knights and fair maidens, but for the longest time this unique period in history just didn’t seem real to me.

A few weeks ago, however, I started taking a class called “Knights, Peasants, and Bandits: A Social History of Medieval England” here at Messiah College. Since then I’ve begun to learn that knights, lords, and ladies were real people who stayed in real castles and faced real hardships. They existed outside of fairy tales, and had lives of their own. The class is helping me come to terms with the strangeness of the past too–I mean, how else would you describe a time period during which nobles hunted with falcons and people built siege engines? However, I’m finding familiarity in my studies as well; I’m discovering the little ways I’m similar to men and women who lived in Medieval England, despite the fact that they walked the earth hundreds of years ago. It’s the job of the historian to reside in this tension between familiarity and strangeness–seeing past fairy tales, empathizing with real people, and accepting the past for what it really was.

Anthea Hartig is the New Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

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Congratulations!  Hartig is the first woman to hold the post in the museum’s 54-year history.  She comes to Washington D.C. with a Ph.D in history from the University of California-Riverside and experience at the California Historical Society and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  From 2000-2005 she taught history at La Sierra University, a Christian (Seventh-Day Adventist) school in Riverside.

Graham Bowley has the story covered at The New York Times:

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has a new director, who will be the first woman to hold the position in its 54-year history: Anthea M. Hartig, currently the executive director and chief executive of the California Historical Society.

Ms. Hartig begins her new role in Washington, overseeing 262 employees and a budget of nearly $50 million, on Feb. 18. She will be the first woman to be director since the museum opened in 1964, the Smithsonian said. In her new role, in 2019 and 2020, she will open three exhibitions that are part of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, #BecauseOfHerStory. She will also complete the revitalization of the museum’s 120,000-square-foot west wing.

Read the rest here.

Do You Need Advance Tickets to Get Into the National Museum of African American History and Culture?

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Here is a taste of a recent piece at Smithsonian.Com:

Visiting Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) without timed-entry passes, or tickets, just got easier. The recently-announced 2019 guidelines mark a significant change for the museum, which has seen almost 5 million visitors since its historic 2016 opening. NMAAHC is open from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. every day of the year except for Christmas Day, December 25. The museum is free, but entry is governed by a system of timed-entry passes, or tickets. The new 2019 policies expand the hours visitors can walk in without timed-entry passes. Here’s how walk-up entry and the passes will work in 2019 and over the holiday season this month:

Read the rest here.

New York City’s Sons of Liberty

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Over at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell calls our attention to a new exhibit at the Fraunces Tavern Museum in lower Manhattan.  It is titled “Fear & Force: New York City’s Sons of Liberty.”

Here is a taste of Bell’s post:

The museum’s announcement says:

On display in the Museum’s largest gallery, the exhibition will immerse visitors in New York City in the late 18th century, when the Sons of Liberty first began to make a name for themselves as an organized group who opposed British rule through violent resistance prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution. 

The exhibition will take visitors through a timeline that chronicles key players and stories behind some of the most dramatic events that ignited the spark of revolution in the 13 colonies, from the staging of New York’s very own “tea party,” to tarring and feathering Loyalists.

The New York Tea Party took place on 22 Apr 1774, four months after the famous Boston Tea Party and one month after the less famous second Boston Tea Party. But I can see why this site wants to highlight the New York event, and I’ll say more about it tomorrow. 

As for “tarring and feathering Loyalists,” New Yorkers actually carried out that public punishment on Customs employees or informers before Bostonians did, though folks in some of the smaller ports along Massachusetts’s north shore had established the tradition even earlier. 

Read the rest here.

New Book: *Interpreting Religion at Museums and Historic Sites*

InterpretingIf you are interested in the relationship between American religious history, museums, historical sites, and public history, I highly recommend that you get a copy (or ask your library to order a copy) of Gretchen Buggeln’s and Barbara Franco’s new book Interpreting Religion and Museums and Historic Sites.

The book includes essays on interpreting religion at religious sites, historic sties, and museums.  These sites include Arch Street Meeting House (Philadelphia), California Missions Trail,  Ephrata Cloister, Joseph Smith Family Farm. U.S. Capitol, Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, Gettysburg, Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Yorktown, Arab American National Museum, Jewish Museum of Maryland, Minnesota History Center, National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Museum of American History, and Winterthur Museum.

Buggeln, the Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Chair in Christianity and the Arts at Valparaiso University,  offers essays on “Scholarly Approaches for Religion in History Museums” and “Religion in Museum Spaces and Places.”  Franco, the former executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the founding director of the Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum, offers two essays: “Issues in Historical Interpretation: Why Interpreting Religion is So Difficult” and “Strategies and Techniques for Interpreting Religion.”  Buggeln and Franco team-up for another essay: “Interpreting Religion at Museums and Historic Sites: The Work Ahead.”

This is a wonderful collection and I was honored that Buggeln and Franco asked me to write a blurb:

I have been waiting for a book like this for a long time. Gretchen Buggeln and Barbara Franco have gathered an impressive collection of essays by museum professionals and public historians who have thought deeply about the place of religion in some of our most important cultural institutions. This is a landmark volume. (John Fea, Chair and Professor of History, Messiah College, author of Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past).

This book should be in the library of every public historian, museum and historical site educator, and American religious historian.

“The American Revolution: A World War”

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This is the title of the newest exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.  Learn more about it in Alice George‘s piece at Smithsonian.com.  Here is a taste:

A new exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., invites Americans to recognize another world war—one that has been traditionally envisioned as a quaint and simple confrontation between a ragtag army of rebellious colonists and a king’s mighty military force of red-coated Brits. “The American Revolution: A World War” demonstrates with new scholarship how the 18th-century fight for independence fit into a larger, international conflict that involved Great Britain, France, Spain, the Dutch Republic, Jamaica, Gibraltar and even India. “If it had not become that broader conflict, the outcome might very well have been different,” says David K. Allison, project director, curator of the show and co-author of a new forthcoming book on the subject. “As the war became bigger and involved other allies for American and other conflicts around the world, that led Britain to make the kind of strategic decisions it did, to ultimately grant the colonies independence and use their military resources elsewhere in the world.”

 

The roots of this war lay in the global Seven Years War, known in the United States as the French and Indian War. In that conflict, Britain was able to consolidate its strength, while France and Spain experienced significant losses. At the time of the American Revolution, other European powers were seeking to restrain Great Britain, the greatest world power and owner of the planet’s most threatening navy.

“We became a sideshow,” says Allison. Both France and Spain, to undermine British power, provided both arms and troops to the rambunctious rebels. The Dutch Republic, too, traded weapons and other goods to the American colonists. Ultimately, after struggling to retain its 13 feisty colonies, British leaders chose to abandon the battlefields of North America and turn their attention to their other colonial outposts, like India.

Read the rest here.