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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.
This is a beautifully illustrated guide to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Through the stories behind more than 200 representative objects many not photographed previously for publication Lubar and Kendrick, both affiliated with the Smithsonian, propose to answer the question, "What do [the museum's] vast collections tell Americans about themselves?" Although popularly dubbed "the nation's attic," the museum houses items carefully selected by curators to reveal our national identity. Until recently, that history was told from the dominant perspective of white, mostly male Americans. However, say the authors, "objects collected to tell one story can tell another indeed, many others." Thus, by examining the kinds of artifacts collected, as well as debates over what is accessed, this volume illuminates historical attitudes about entitlement among the privileged, and about the ensuing struggles for power and recognition by the excluded. The eclectic collage of artifacts ranges from the curious (an 1860s phrenology model used to decipher personality and behavior) to the provocative (the uniform of a WWI woman contract-surgeon). Elegant acquisitions, such as first ladies' inaugural gowns, are preserved along with the mundane (the Veg-O-Matic) and popular culture (Archie and Edith Bunkers' chairs), as well as scientific and technological advances. In every case, stories are the key elements that transform each specimen into a legacy worth preserving. Moreover, the layers and complexities of underlying stories allow new levels of meaning to emerge, as views of history change. The book explores much about how we see ourselves, and how we, at this point in time, fit into the continuum of history. 240 color and 20 b&w photographs, (Sept.) Forecast: Legacies will also be a virtual exhibit on the Web at www.smithsonianlegacies.si.edu, which will launch on Sept. 20. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved