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tv   Reed Gochberg Useful Objects  CSPAN  February 26, 2022 1:00pm-2:01pm EST

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television companies support c-span, 2 as a public service. c-span's american history tv continues now you can find the full schedule for the weekend on your program guide or at this evening we are joined by reed gutchberg. we'll be presenting on her book useful objects museum science and literature in 19th century america. after a short introduction to the work, she'll be joining conversation by mhs's own sarah georgini. useful objects examines the history of american museums during the 19th century through the eyes of visitors or writers and collectors museums of this period held a wide range of objects from botanical and zoological specimens to antiquarian artifacts and technological models. they were intended to promote useful knowledge these collections generated broader discussions about how objects were selected preserved in classified as well as who is to
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decide their value. these reflections shaped broader debate about the scope and purpose of museums in american culture. they continue to resonate today. ms. gotchburn is the assistant director is the assistant director of studies in an election on history and literature at harvard university. she's taught seminars in tutorials on museums in america museums and material culture and science exploration and empire. a research and teaching focus on 19th century american literature and culture with particular interest in material. culture museum studies and the history of science and technology she received her phd in english from boston university and her undergraduate degree from harvard. she will be joined by mhs's own sarah georgie who is probably a familiar face to any many of our regulars. she is a series editor for the papers of john adams part of the adams papers editorial project based at the massachusetts historical society. she is the author of household gods the religious lives of the
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addams family and frequently writes about early america early american thought and culture for the smithsonian. um similar to whichberg. she also receives her phd from boston university. so without further ado, please join me and welcoming this gotchberg. well, great. thank you so much gavin for that introduction and thank you so much to all of you for being here tonight. i'm so grateful to the massachusetts historical society for hosting me and i'm really looking forward to my conversation with sarah georgini, and i also especially want to thank gavin please fees and olivia saya for organizing this event. it's really just a pleasure to be here and have the chance to share my work on the history of museums with this community, and i'm really grateful to all of you for taking the time to listen in and join in this conversation. so i'm just gonna share my screen screen to get us started.
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and i want to start out with a strange and perhaps surprising story from the early history of american museums. so some of you might be familiar with the work of charles wilson peale who was a portrait painter naturalist and museum entrepreneur in philadelphia in the late 18th century keel established one of the earliest american museums during the 1780s, and he combined collections of his own portraits and works of art with natural history and anthropology as well as lectures demonstrations and other forms of popular entertainment. but in 1792 peel was hoping to get some more funding for his museum and he issued a broad appeal to the citizens of philadelphia and addressed members of the american philosophical society, which is a learned scientific organization in the city in order to make the case for his museum and implicitly of course to attract some donations. so peel devotes most of his
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energy and this in this work to describing the range of his collections and their potential for educating citizens of the republic. he also emphasizes the practical and logistical aspects of running a museum, including you know, the costs of guilt frames and glass cases that he's going to need to acquire and it's a really fascinating document just for thinking about what it meant to start a museum during this time. but keel also takes this conversation a step further so as part of this proposal he emphasizes his skill at taxidermy, and he talks his audience through the process of preservation that he was using on mammals and birds but the tone of his message shifts pretty dramatically when he suggests extending these methods of preservation to the founding fathers themselves he suggests quote. there are other means to preserve and hand down to succeeding generations the relics of such great men whose labors have been crowned with success in the most distinguished benefits to mankind the mode. i mean is the preserving their bodies from corruption by the
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use of powerful antiseptics. so feel goes on to note that he's pretty sure that benjamin franklin would be on board with this idea and he's imagining how these specimens could add to the collections of natural history that he's assembling in his museum. so on the one hand the strange and radical proposal to taxidermy benjamin franklin allows us to see some of the anxieties of the early republic and especially at this moment where there's there's a lot of fear of political instability as you know, the the luminaries the most visible figures of found the nation's founders would we're no longer alive and in full view of american citizens. but it also allows us to see how keel and his contemporaries were imagining the role that museums and cultural institutions could play within the social and intellectual life of the nation. what should they collect preserve and display how might material objects be part of a process of constructing knowledge about history science and culture and who will participate in determining what
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we choose to hold in our site and value. so these kinds of questions, we're really central to the early history of american museums as i explore more broadly in my book and we'll say a little bit more about tonight. i want to emphasize a few larger ideas. so first just about the kinds of shifts that we're taking place during the late 18th and early 19th century in the scope and mission of museums second also about the broader challenges and debates that surrounded collections that we can see through the accounts of the writers and artists and visitors who are engaging with them and finally i want to say a little bit about the contemporary stakes of these conversations for museums and cultural institutions today. i'll offer a few examples just to think through some of these larger issues before turning back to one early example in a bit more detail and towards the end. i'm also going to say a little bit about how some of these ideas also informed the early history of the collections here at the mhs. so museums have a fascinating complicated and often troubling history.
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scholars commonly trace the history of museums back to early modern europe when individual collectors created cabinets of curiosities filled with a wide range of natural history specimens artifacts other objects returned from voyages around the world the rise of colonialism really shaped this idea of curiosity it often stood in for otherness for a euro centric view of the world as well as for this process of discovery and knowledge making to these collectors such objects were rare curiosity really was in the eye of the beholder as we see here in this image as time went on many collectors. we're increasingly looking to have representatives as well as rare objects as part of their collections in order to achieve what one called a world and miniature and encyclopedia encyclopedic collection that that could allow for the study. all branches of knowledge so during the 18th century these individual collections would form the basis of more public large-scale institutions like the british museum around the
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same time many royal collections of art were being turned into public institutions like the louvre and the national gallery and these institutions were really important models for the kinds of museums that were established in the united states. it wasn't until later in the 19th century that we see the rise of museums that might be familiar to us today like the mfa here in boston the metropolitan museum of art the american museum of natural history. these were all founded around the 1870s following the civil war but i've been really interested in this kind of in between moment between the 18th century and and these later museums where we can really this kind of. gradual messy non-linear transition between a kind of cabinet of curiosity's model where you have collections that are filled with all kinds of different objects together towards greater specialization and also between collections that were often restricted for elite audiences or imagined to
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have a research purpose towards institutions that were dedicated at least a sensibly to public education and access so by examining in this period in more detail. i also want to argue that we can see also more clearly that the idea of a museum itself was in flux. you can see this actually in the different terms that were used to describe collections during this period you often see terms like cabinet or gallery or museum that all mean and object collection and different purposes for it. these were often housed in different locations too from libraries and historical societies to academies lyceums and colleges but across these different context we can see a lot of resonances and how their purpose is being imagined the founders of these institutions often wrote down and shared their mission whether through acts of incorporation or other written documents and they often emphasize this idea of useful knowledge suggesting how material objects themselves can
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make knowledge itself more tangible and concrete and additionally they make lofty claims about a broader mission of research and education museums were committing to preserving objects for posterity and they promise to kind of democratic access to knowledge even if things didn't always play out this way as i'll say more about in a few minutes. so in order to look at this history, i've drawn on my own background as a literary scholar in order to trace accounts of museums across fiction essays guidebooks and periodicals and also to put these these descriptions in conversation with the kinds of information that we can get from donation books visual materials and even surviving objects and collections one thing i want to say about this period is that it really kind of demands this this interdisciplinary approach on the one hand museums where we're bringing together so many different types of objects and what we today would consider to be different fields, you know
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botany geologies zoology anthropology history geography and we can see in these collections a kind of criss-crossing intersecting paths of objects and individuals and institutions, but i also want to note that if we look at this history through the eyes of the people who were engaging with these collections we can also see how they were inviting different. kinds of creative imaginative responses as visitors were reflecting on what they were seeing and also sometimes considering potential alternatives. so one thing that we can see very clearly is how museums we're creating different hierarchies and power dynamics that were linked to colonialism and elitism about who would have access to the kinds of knowledge that we're represented in their collections so we can see this in the writings of jane johnston schoolcraft. who was a native american poet who actually was married to a bureau of indian affairs agent and they they collaborated together in his case. he appropriated many of her
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writings as part of a larger project on early anthropology in the united states and we can see in her writings though how she's reflecting on the relationship between white and indigenous forms of knowledge making and we can also see figures like the black abolitionist and activist william wells brown who was interpreting works of classical sculpture in the galleries of the british museum and really staking a claim to his right to an education and to his own expertise, but we can also see years like or a white hitchcock who was a really talented artist and natural history illustrator who you know when visiting these collections was was sometimes reflecting on the fact that you know her husband and son were likely to to benefit more from them than she might so count allow us to really trace the the people who were who were engaging and visiting museum collections to think beyond what institutions were promising or
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claiming to offer but also to see how people are reflecting on their own place within within these institutions and really kind of challenging the the limits of what was being defined as is useful knowledge during this period um the imaginative responses of writers also help us to illuminate the kinds of challenges and bigger questions that the museums were raising in the early republic the french-born writer and diplomat hectors engine decrevker really reflected challenges of material. and loss and was really imagining the precarity of the objects that were circulating and being exchanged by institutions in the galleries of the us patent office surrounded by models of pat patented machines the poet walt whitman confronted the strange and really horrific spectacle of a museum transformed into a civil war hospital and he captures and his writings this eerie scene of these cases of objects
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interspersed with wounded soldiers and the writer and naturalist henry david thoreau mourned his decision to kill a turtle in order to donate it to harvard's natural history museum, even as he recognized it's potential value to scientific research. so the founders of museums often envisioned order, right? they pictured these collections neatly arranged in cases and cabinets, but the reality was a much more disorderly processed that spurred really dynamic conversations both within and beyond institutions about what we choose to preserve and value about whose knowledge and expertise is celebrated or erased and about who has access to the knowledge and education represented by cultural institutions these questions continue to resonate in discussions about these institutions today and my hope is that understanding the longer history of these issues can help us think creatively about how to interpret objects that were collected collected during this time and also can inform how we think about making cultural
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institutions more interdisciplinary inclusive and community-oriented spaces today. so with some of these larger issues in mind, i just want to come back to an early example of how museums were defining and redefining the purpose of collections. i mentioned peel's museum at the beginning and i want to put that museum in conversation with another extremely nearby collection, which was the cabinet of the american philosophical society. so the aps was founded in the mid 18th century by benjamin franklin with the goal of preserving and promoting useful knowledge much like other learned societies and institutions, especially the royal society in london on which it was modeling a lot of its activities the aps had a few ways that they thought to do that so first they plan to meet regularly and gather information from a network of correspondence around the atlantic world and published scholarly articles about their research. they plan to form a library and finally they established a cabinet.
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so like other early cabinets of curiosity the aps cabinet held a wide variety of objects and herbarium of pressed plants natural specimens anthropological artifacts and other objects that were sent from around the atlantic world. the aps was not alone in developing this kind of collection alongside its library. so here in the greater boston area. there were numerous examples of this pattern. so the american academy of arts and sciences the boston fnan the american antiquarian society. and of course the nhs all of these institutions also had cabinets that looked very similar to the one at the aps around this time harvard college also had what was called the philosophy chamber and this was a kind of teaching collection that similarly included, you know, a range of different kinds of objects as such as natural specimens artifacts, but also scientific instruments and this was the subject of a really great exhibit a few years ago at the harvard art museums and you can actually still access a virtual version of that through
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their website if you're interested. so these collections don't get discussed as often as something like peel's museum. they were more short-lived. they were less popular with visitors and they were definitely more tied to elite scientific communities. but they're nonetheless really. important to how we understand the kinds of museums that we're being founded during this period and how people were understanding the point of developing a collection like this. so on the one hand you have you know the drama the spectacle of appeals self-portrait, right lifting lifting the velvet curtain to to show the mammoth skeleton and on the other hand you have these collections that were explicitly intended for research and design to function in some ways like a library these kinds of institutions were really evolving alongside each other and even overlapped at times and they they reveal the kind of twinned purposes of museums as they were evolving during this very transitional moment. so the aps cabinet was explicitly wide-ranging in the
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kinds of objects. i collected in some ways. this is the result of a kind of haphazard collecting process objects were often sent to the society by what we're called corresponding members. so these were people who did not live in philadelphia but lived elsewhere and would send objects and years and other information to contribute to this larger enterprise the term cabinet was also something of a misnomer the society frequently struggled to find space to house its collections an objects actually were often loaned out to the members who lived in philadelphia as a result. they're scattered. they were circulating and they were they were not necessarily held in one place as a term like cabinet might suggest this post fairly obvious organizational challenges at one point, the curators announced kind of ruefully, that objects have been quote interested to the care of members, but never yet delivered to the society. so things got lost.
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to some extent. i think this really speaks to a different imagined purpose for a museum. then what we think of today. so at this point the the point was using and handling and observing these objects rather than trying to keep them perfectly preserved and they were also interested to people who were known to be interested in that field to be working on related projects. i'm in the goal was to use the collection to really contribute to to knowledge through this research preservation longevity. we're not major concerns, even if it means that the collections did not survive that long um, however, i also want to note that some of these issues of loss and preservation were especially significant during the the period of time that this collection was being formed which overlapped with the american revolution and early republic and so during the war the curators actually reported the decay of many specimens in the collection. their attention was obviously elsewhere. in some collections dried out
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due to you know running out of alcohol to fill jars with specimens or to preserve things properly and following the war things actually stayed fairly chaotic on the aps was looking to build a more permanent space and the collections continued to move around. so here's where we come back to teal and his museum and his promise to be really good at preserving things. peel was a member of the aps and he had begun his own museum out of his own house, but by the early 1790s, he was looking for more space and his proposal to taxidermy. ben. franklin was was part of this broader self promotion and who's really outlining the kinds of work that he had done that he was he had been able to achieve at his museum so far and looking for additional funds in 1794 peel was also simultaneously the curator of the aps cabinet and at this moment he applied for permission to rent space from
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the society in philosophical hall in order to open up his museum there. so given his dual roles. it's highly likely that he was also displaying some of the aps cabinets collections alongside and within his own museum. so here we see the learning society and the public museum really coming into contact. so this was not without some anxieties, especially on the side of the aps one of the largest specimens in the society's cabinet a skeleton of an indian elephant was placed on display it heals museum, but this society was very careful to note that they preferred quote a handsome and suitable inscription to show that it was placed there as best calculated to answer the purpose for which it was desired. there's a little scuffle in the meeting minutes about this decision. someone felt the need to note that this decision was reached after maturely weighing all circumstances, which is never a good sign and this collaboration was just clearly an uneasy one largely due to competing ideas about the purpose of these
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collections. so peel's museum on the one hand would continue to expand soon. he would move across the hall or across the street to the larger rooms of independence hall achieving at least temporarily his goal of developing a national museum. meanwhile the cabinet of the aps would continue to kind of fizzle their descriptions of the elephant skeleton and mammoth bones collecting dust in the cellar and other accounts of the society being crowded with articles in the later history of this cabinet was really shaped by the rise of disciplinary specialization. so it's the 19th century. we're on museums tended to become more specialized to break into institutions dedicated to art natural history technology and so forth and to be separated off from libraries most of the objects that remained in the aps cabinet were sent either to the pen museum in the case of anthropological collections or to the academy of natural sciences in philadelphia for
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many of the natural history specimens. and here in the greater boston area. we see a similar pattern where many of the anthropological artifacts that were donated to the antiquarian society the athenaeum or the mhs or now at the peabody museum at harvard. so although these collections are now separate they were once housed together and i really want to emphasize how important it is for us to recognize that early history. we can better see the kinds of concerns and anxieties that were hugely influential in shaping the trajectory of museums through the present day. we can imagine and put in conversation the different points of view among founders and visitors and we can so recognize the shared history of collections that were dedicated to science and history and art even if today they're at separate institutions. this can allow us to imagine different ways of interpreting these objects and and understanding how they were valued and used who collected them and how they ended up at different institutions. it also can allow us to
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acknowledge the forms of loss and erasure that occurred in in the founding of these institutions to find new ways to highlight the voices of figures who are excluded from these conversations and and to think about ways to connect collections from across a wide range of fields. so in that way perhaps their opportunities too for us to to build on and expand the possibilities for engaging with museum collections today the founders of 19th century museums often had a kind of shared set of language and metaphors that they used to talk about their goals. they often like to imagine the spark that could result from placing different objects and fields of knowledge and conversation and they sometimes describe this process of ideas and collision between different objects and among the different minds and perspectives of those engaging with them throughout this period the range of objects that were housed in museum collections really spurred many visitors to imagine continued possibilities for drawing new
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kinds of connections. but the founding of museums also set in motion larger and still unresolved conversations about how we determine what to value study and preserve. so my hope is that this history can help us understand the role that these collections can play today. much like the transitional moment of the 19th century museums and cultural institutions have been in a fairly long moment of crisis and transition, especially over the past two years, but this means it's also a dynamic moment for thinking about how the priorities of institutions can continue to evolve and change and how museums libraries and archives can continue to be creative about interdisciplinary and inclusive forms of interpretation and education and imagine how they can find new opportunities for making collections more useful. so with that i'd like to invite sarah to join me and to continue the conversation. thank you so much. thank you so much reed and
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thanks to all of you for joining us here tonight, please if you have a question drop it in the q&a and we'll get to as many as we can read your book struck a chord with me from page one talking about circulating objects and how we use them to respond and reflect. it made me think particularly of a new exhibit that we've launched here in the building and online to view of our favorite things and that really helped us connect during the pandemic sharing some of our favorites in the collections, but we also thought about how to make it accessible and that leads to my first question which is what were the nuts and bolts of actually accessing these collections where their tickets admission fees experts on hand to answer questions. what was it like that's that is such a great question. i mean one thing i would emphasize is that it just varied so much depending on the the museum and depending on the collection, right? so you have something like teal's museum.
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that's really geared towards a broader public and there were tickets and you can actually see those in the archives and there were guidebooks and peel and his sons would often be on hand to answer questions to do demonstrations visitors to the museum could even have a silhouette drawn as a kind of souvenir, but it really it really varied a lot. so, you know another museum i talk about in the book is the us patent office gallery and i think this this museum is such a strange mix of different purposes because you know the patent office was of course like a federal bureaucratic office, but they created this gallery in order to house and display these miniature models that inventors submitted along with their patent applications. so by the mid 19th century they have of these and they built what's now the smithsonian american art museum and national portrait gallery building in order to put these on display for the public, but you know, if you imagine people visiting this
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gallery, they could purchase a guidebook, but there would also be a lot of different people interacting with these objects at once you would have patent office clerks and examiners who are using these to to adjudicate, you know, competing claims to to the novelty of an invention, but you also would have visitors to this gallery kind of alongside each other and i guess finally, you know, i mentioned at the beginning that you know a number of these museums were attached to different kinds of educational institutions. so whether that's an academy or even a college and university and so, you know, for example at harvard the the museum of comparatives zoology, which was founded in 1859, there were numerous students who worked there, you know spending hours and hours comparing, you know specimens in the collections, but you had these women assistants who were who are working closely with the collections to catalog and classify these objects. so it really it really ranged and i think in terms of visitors like i think these guidebooks
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are really important to how we can imagine what the experience might have been like a visiting the museum, but you know, the there's also so much that you can glean even from from newspaper accounts and descriptions of visits to these faces as well. so i think that they would have learned about these in a number of different ways. something that comes through throughout the book. is this idea that curatorial work is an art and a science and i want to step back to something you mentioned, which is this technique that early curators had of placing ideas in collision that somehow this sparked useful knowledge. can you give us some examples of that? yeah, i mean, i think that's such an interesting idea because in some ways like it's it is this this lofty promise, right? i mean, i think it's this idea that by putting together, you know works of art alongside, you know, natural history or alongside anthropology that you'll be able to kind of, you know, generate new kinds of
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ideas generate new new kinds of knowledge. that will be somehow useful. but you know, i think part of why i was drawn to that term especially for the books title is that you know, it raises all these questions of useful to whom and for whom and also, you know, what about useless knowledge. like what do you what do you do with that? so i think what i've been especially interested in the kind of unexpected nature of that process of collision that you're asking about right like where you know. you can glimpse how people are resisting some of these categories of usefulness. right like you can see a figure like henry david thoreau writing in his journals. i hate museums. they are dead nature collected by dead men right that there's that there's beyond what the the founders of these museums are saying about what they're trying to do we can we can really access the thoughts and experiences of people who you know might be thinking in other ways about you know, what knowledge looks like and what should be included or not and i
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guess like yeah the last thing i'd say about that is, you know curators might imagine this kind of official route to creating knowledge within a museum collection, but of course, we know that there would be things left out stories not told and i think that those kinds of issues and questions really resonate a lot across a lot of a lot of different during this period yeah, and i think the idea that museum making as a cultural process is so integral to those first years of the early republic. what are some of the ways that these institutions buttress or shape american federal growth and even american identity? yeah, absolutely. i mean museums were explicitly tied to national expansion, right and i think often the idea of useful knowledge was really part of this idea of you know, learning more about some field that would enable greater
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economic development or expand information about newly annexed territories as you know, the united states is evolving into an empire very quickly, especially in the first half of the 19th century. you see this a lot with geology. i've noticed that that often is tied to you know us geological surveys cartography expeditions, and you know the great lakes region in the west the other thing i would say is that museum founders were predominantly white elite educated men, but there are also these stories and figures who kind of complicate this pattern so i mentioned earlier jane johnston schoolcraft. so her husband was henry rose schoolcraft, and he was a bureau of indian affairs agent and the author of numerous books on what was called then ethnology, right? he's an early early anthropologist and he's studying he was especially interested in geology, but he also was very interested in collecting what he called specimens of folklore. so he was looking to write down
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and record legends and he worked with his wife who was of native american descent and her family to to collect information and a lot of his writings actually became major sources for for figures like longfellow for james fenimore cooper, but you know one thing i think is really important. is that like you can see this dynamic process like if you read his some of his writings you can occasionally kind of glimpse her voice coming through and you know and in her own writings because she was a poet herself. she sometimes writing explicitly about and reflecting on this relationship between white and indigenous forms of knowledge but ideas of expertise and sovereignty so, you know, this collaboration i think is a really interesting one both for how it overlaps with the kinds of you know, rhetoric used to talk about museum collections and and knowledge gathering during this period but also for how it really maps on to national expansion, especially during you know, the 1820s and
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1830s. one of the great contributions and challenges of writing a book that stretches for a century is thinking about how the turning points change right? so i'm thinking particularly since you have a 19th century story of the civil war and how museums and their makers are shaped by or shape our memory of the civil. what did you find there? yeah, i mean so actually what's interesting. is that that part of the book was actually my my starting point when i began researching this project. so i mentioned earlier this this really amazing sketch by walt whitman when he's serving as a civil war nurse and he visits the patent office gallery when it's transformed into a temporary hospital and he describes it as the strange and fascinating site where you can see these cases of models and you can see wounded soldiers and i think when i started with this with this moment, i i was kind
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of imagining that i would then read forward in time until kind of start here and look at some of the the large scale museums that were founded and you know following the civil war, you know, these the the corporate tycoon have funded institutions like, you know many art museums and natural history museums that exist today, but one thing that i found actually was that i ended up just continuing to read backwards so, you know at the patent office gallery and starting to kind of dig dig deeper into its earlier history and you know this this transformation of this institution from you know, the 1830s onward and then kind of from there i ended up kind of working working backwards in a way because i realized that just as i kept working this story just just continued to kind of evolve out of my research of this this transitional period right that in order to kind of get a sense of how we how we moved from these institutions
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that were so so varied in there in the kinds of things. they were collecting and like this mix of so many different objects and purposes together to these these institutions that you know, actually look very similar to the kinds of museums. we might visit today, you know, i really i really did kind of notice this overall kind of turning point as you as you're saying and in that in the first half of the century, but you know, i think your question about the civil war is a really interesting one because it was just this this i think it is the kind of next shift in that in that turn and i think in the book, i explore it primarily through, you know, whitman's experience within the patent office, but i think that you know, i think that it is this really really if i can't moment in terms of how we how we then think about where where these institutions go next. thinking about how you constructed your chronology i've got to stay on craig minute here. so if we can just talk about
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historical process and research because we love to geek out and do that here at the mhs. can you talk a little bit about researching and representing some of the rich cast of characters that you cover and useful objects? so i'm thinking of people who are perhaps very well known like william wells brown and people who are less. well known like or a white hitchcock. how do you find them in the archives? and how do you situate their story within all of these amazing different networks cultural political and the museums that they roam through? yeah, yeah, that's such a great question. i'm sure you and i could talk about this for for hours right? but i mean, i think that i think one the challenges of writing. story like this one is that i do think that the voices that tend to dominate this history are going to be those of white men. they're going to be the ones founding these institutions and having you know the most access to to visiting them to being part of some of these societies
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and organizations and so forth. and so that was definitely something i was thinking about a lot in in my own work and i think that you know in some ways the short answer to your question is, you know, i think that i i really prioritized going going looking for for some of these voices. but i mean, i think that you know one thing i would say just about these source materials is that i also think it's really important to be putting a lot of different kinds of materials and conversation with each other because that's the way you can really access these stories. so, you know, for example, i mean hitchcocks i talk a lot about hitchcock's diaries and her writing in this piece, but really what she's best known for are her drawings and illustrations. so she was the wife of an amherst college professor edward hitchcock who is a geologist, but she did all of the illustrations for his published writings. she created these amazing classroom drawings. and i mean, i think when i when i was able to look at her diary,
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which is a really fascinating account of her of their visit together, it's a tour of england and scotland. she tagged along when he was going to an academic conference, and she you know, she talks about her visits to these galleries, but there's this moment where she's talking about this really amazing natural history collection and she writes in her diary, you know, i thought of edward and how much he would benefit from it. and it's it's this kind of i don't know. she's sort of being timid in a way about sort of acknowledging her own expertise. i mean, she's this really talented illustrator. she had so much knowledge herself, but i think it's also in some ways a very realistic admission of how she kind of understood, you know her own place within within these communities and it's kind of sad sad moment, but you know, i also think just looking at her writings. um, so in relation to the of stories and anecdotes that you
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can find in newspapers and periodicals, you know one that comes to mind. there's this story that got reprinted a lot in the first few decades of the 19th century. it was called female character a lesson and it tells the story of you know, a young woman visiting the british museum and how she's misbehaving and gets scolded by someone else on her tour and like the whole point of the story is to, you know, trace the evolution of her moral characters like yourself, but you know when you read that alongside, you know hitchcock's diary or alongside the writings of someone like william wells brown, you know, you can really see how they're they're kind of participating in this broader conversation about what it means to be a visitor to one of these faces and what it means to be someone who's who's trying to kind of claim and you know claim an equal equal right to to be part of of this conversation and to assert their own knowledge and expertise. so this has been a very long digression probably from your original question, but you know,
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i think that it was really important to me to think about how we could we could really put these different kinds of sources together how we could see how some of these conversations are circulating in different ways across things like fiction and poetry but also through, you know, visual and materials as well as written sources because i think that that's also an opportunity in terms of you know future projects. for to think more broadly about you know how we expand this history how we think about who is collecting and donating to these museums as well as visiting too. and it seems like american victorians who began the century in love with the british model of museums have changed their minds a little bit by the end of the century. they travel they go abroad and the british museum isn't exactly what they expected. how does that shift happen? i mean, i think that it's a
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really i think the british museum especially yeah this really interesting contrast to what americans are seeing in museums here in the united states. so, i mean there's this contrast between a museum dedicated really to archeology, you know, hawthorne talks about seeing all the fragments and the classical sculptures error and a national museum of japan office that's displaying these, you know, shiny model machines, right? and so i think that there are different ways that some of these national museums are cultivating their own identity mission that in the us to have a museum like the patent office is to really emphasize american community and andalty, but you know, i think for all that americans are, you know critical of the british museum in the mid 19th century. i still think that it's a really it's days a really important example because i think some of the criticism is just protesting
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too much right that there's there's a kind of anxiety of oh they have so much here. how can we ever have as much in our own museums? and i think that that carries over as well to science museums. i think you see natural history museums that are very much modeling themselves on institutions in europe and really seeking to be part of this kind of larger process of the exchange and really trying to build these encyclopedic collections that can compete with with the institutions that are already more. well established in europe. so i think that that pattern really carries on and i think that it really continues especially with the founding of these later more more specialized museums, too. hmm well in the spirit of history and dialogue, i think we should open it up to our brilliant audience. we have a number of questions bubbling away. please add yours in the next couple of minutes and read we're just going to dive in so that's great. first up. do you have a favorite old
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cabinet or museum that still exists in some form today for visiting? oh that's such an interesting question. i would say. you know, i would say that i've really appreciated a lot of you know, recent territorial projects that that are kind of thinking explicitly about this history and tradition. so, you know, i think about the british museum they have their enlightenment gallery where they've you know brought together a lot of the the collections from the 18th century. i you know when i was there several years ago, i spent a lot of time, you know wandering that gallery and but i also you know, i'm really intrigued by kind of more more recent works by and just thinking like contemporary artists like mark dion's work. there's a great ica exhibition a few years ago, but you know a lot of his work is really kind of engaging explicitly in in the
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history of science and he creates kind of reimagined cabinets of curiosities, you know reimagining some of these spaces as well that i think kind of allow us to think about some of these these questions anyways, so i definitely recommend that to anyone who who is interested. that's interesting. i didn't know so you've introduced me to new artists. thank you. another audience member would like to know to what extent was research and objective in the founding of the early museums and was there any public funding of the early institutions? yeah, i mean i think research was really was a primary object for a lot of these these institutions and i think that you see that across what we now think of you know, the different fields, right? i think that that was true at the american philosophical society. i think that was definitely true at the nhs as well. right? i mean, i think this idea of
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publishing publish your work and promoting in that way was was really important to any of these institutions that were kind of trying to collect and record information whether that was a natural history or american history in terms of funding. i mean, i think that many of these institutions tended to be privately funded so really until you get to the smithsonian so i think and even that was the result of the quest to the us government by james smithson, so i think that from the start of the question of funding has been really tricky one within the united states for is museums and you see a lot of them evolving as private institutions as a result. lots to say that question. i think that's such an interesting question. i just have to add because it's something that i've been thinking about a lot as we annotate the next volume of the atoms papers here. is that john adams is the president of the american academy of arts and sciences for
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a long amount of time at the same time that thomas jefferson is president of the american philosophical society, and i would i would love for someone to go forth and write about those two presidencies and the scientific networks generated. that's just absolutely the researchers. yeah, and i mean jefferson is president of the american philosophical society at the same time that he's president of the us, so he's president of both at the same time that the he's commissioning the lewis and clark expedition and he actually has members of the aps, you know work with marijuana mayweather lewis and william clark to help train them in, you know, surveying and botany and forth and so as you're saying going to be that would be a great project. it's fascinating. i mean if you look at the election of 1796, jefferson is just writing, but i'm on the hession fly committee. that's way more interesting. so i think looking at the scientific pursuits of the founders is such a rich topic to
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explore. okay back to our chat our wonderful questions. let's see was there a museum or cabinet that particularly surprised you in the course of your research? yeah. i think i mean, i think all of them did to be quite honest. i think that was part of the pleasure of this project to a great extent was how you know, how many kind of expected moments. um, we're part of that research and i mean, i think that the example that i spoke is most length about the american philosophical society cabinet. that's that's really stayed with me because i do think that you know the idea of this museum collection that doesn't have a physical space and doesn't have a gallery where the objects are scattered worth. things are getting lost. i think that that's that's one. really stayed with me as part of how we even really think about the narrative of what it means
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to be a museum and like what the goal is institutions are because i think that you know, we think so much about preservation and what's getting recorded. but also, i think that you know, these histories of loss are just as important to how we think about museums and i guess related to that, you know within within teals museum, i think one one story that i really tried to to track down in in that in that as part of that history is they're all kinds of accounts of native american delegations visiting heels museum, which i think again is not something that we necessarily expect for for around 1800 but during visits during diplomatic negotiations with the federal government, you know, there were a few moments where where these groups took actually took a tour of feels museum and their newspaper accounts of that and we can actually see that in i mentioned very early on that if you visited trails museum, you could get a silhouette taken as
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a souvenir until actually made silhouettes of this group of visitors except as part of this group. he wrote down. he's labeling each each silhouette with the name of the visitor, but there are a couple where he forgot the name and just writes a number and i think just even in that process like even in the record keeping of who was visiting you can see a different kind of loss right you see different kinds of erasure you can see how there's you know this. yeah this kind of larger loss that's taking place in terms of what we know in terms of you know, who's being respected and regarded within this space and i think that just i think that those those moments within the project have really stayed with me in terms of just thinking about yeah how we understand this history. and also how we how we think about you know, what it what it means for for institutions today, too. an audience member wants to know can you talk more about the
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early ties between the massachusetts historical society the athenaeum and the pbd and other harvard collections and what happened to the barnum collection? oh, that's it. i mean, that's a really great question and i'll say to you that that's something that i've been really interested in diving into further and in some of my future research too because i do think that that each of these each of these institutions like has its own, you know, really really interesting fascinating history, and i think that those the processes of deciding what to keep and what to what to pass on to another institution in a varied from place to place but here's what i know. i mean, i think that if you look if you spend some time as i have done looking through the peabody museum catalog at harvard today, you can actually search in their advanced search for you know for the massachusetts historical society for that than i am, you know for these other still, you know, still operating
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institutions for objects that have once belonged to these institutions and how they ended up at the peabody and i think that this story of how how things moved from institution institution is a really fascinating one because in some ways it's like kind of similar to to this question of loss versus preservation like this process of d. accessioning is a really interesting one too because i think that it really speaks to shifting values within within these institutions or it also speaks to a lot of practical challenges, right? so, you know, do you have space to keep storing and holding on to some of these objects? are they better? i think that that's there's the practical element there. there's the the rise of disciplinary specialization. so there's this sense that you know, some of these collections might have greater value, you know as part of a larger collection that's focused on anthropology or be interpreted by experts, but then there are also are often these these kinds
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of like personal networks, right? so, you know, i think that the the ties between different institutions often it would sometimes come down to individual figures. you know, who they knew who they were kind of being conversation with but yeah, i mean, i would say that that like i said, i think this is something that i'm hoping to to dig into a little bit more myself to especially with some of these local institutions, but i think that this this process of the accessioning is one yeah is one that i'm really interested in too. so we have time for one last question from our audience and i love this question because it's about a moment of creation. so we'll end on that. we've recently acquired a home-built during the revolutionary war and many of the relics that the soul family residing in this home used until the mid 1900s. the property was the town's first meeting house tavern tavern store school and stagecoach stop. we are novices with a gold mind. we need advice how to start this process of museum making and
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what to avoid. so go back in time and tell peel how to do it. but for the 21st century. that's amazing. um, i mean, i think that i mean, i think that's that's so interesting. i mean there there could be so many stories there i guess. what i would say is that. you know, i think my own work like kind of in addition to to working on this book is involved, you know teaching with collections, you know curating different projects, and i think that i think they're just so many exciting ways to think about these objects and relics that you've acquired as part of your house, you know, and i think that you know for me it really comes down to thinking about like who are the who are the people and the stories and what are the stories that you could potentially tell through these objects like how might you you know use a single one of these relics to maybe open up, you know thinking about labor thinking about how people ate you know, what they wore and
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what that meant like for their everyday life and i think that they're just so many different and exciting ways to to think about that. there's so much, you know, interesting work that's done by historians as well. but i really think that sounds like a really wonderful project of thinking about this this collection. but also to really think about the possibilities for for illuminating, you know, some of these people who might might be part of that story. so i hope i hope this person will report back at some point. yes a very useful beginning. so thank you reid and thanks to all of you. and i just want to say i thank you to both of you both dr. georgini and dr. dutchberg for a wonderful discussion and thanks to the audience for joining us as always. we hope if you found this program interesting, you'll consider buying a copy of the book. so it is available widely and we of course always encourage people to support locally owned
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bookstores and/or which supports locally on a bookstores. so thank you all for joining us and without any more. i think we can just wish everyone a good evening and i hope everyone stays warm in the cold weather. american history tv brings you historical perspectives on current affairs and events next a look at some history in the news. once during the heady days of the moscow summit nancy and i decided to break off from the entourage one afternoon to visit the shops on arbat street. that's a little street just off. moscow's main shopping area. even though our visit was a surprise. every russian there immediately recognized us and called out our names and reached for our hands. we were just about swept away by the warmth. you could almost feel the possibilities in all that joy. but within seconds a kgb detail pushed their way toward us and began pushing and shoving the people in the crowd. it was an interesting moment.
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reminded me that while a man on the street in the soviet union yearns for peace. the government is communist. and those who run it are communists. and that means we and they view such issues as freedom and human rights. very differently. we must keep up our guard. but we must also continue to work together to lessen and eliminate tension and mistrust. my view is that president gorbachev is different from previous soviet leaders. i think he knows some of the things wrong with his society and is trying to fix them. we wish him well. and we'll continue to work to make sure that the soviet union that eventually emerges from this process. is a less threatening one. but it all boils down to is this. i want the new closeness to continue. and it will as long as we make it clear that we will continue to act in a certain way as long as they continue to act in a helpful manner.
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even when they don't that first pull your punches. if they persist. pull the plug. it's still trust but verify. still play but cut the cards. still watch closely and don't be afraid to see what you see. follow us at c-span history for more history in the news. weekends on c-span 2 are an intellectual feast every saturday american history tv documents america's story and on sundays book tv brings you the latest in nonfiction books and authors funding for c-span 2 comes from these television companies and more including comcast. you think this is just a community center? no, it's way more than that comcast is partnering with 1000 community centers to create wi-fi enabled lift settings. so students from low-income families can get the tools. they need to be ready for
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anything. comcast along with these television companies support c-span 2 as a public service at least six presidents recorded conversations while in office here many of those conversations on c-span's new podcast presidential recordings. season 1 focuses on the presidency of lyndon johnson. you'll hear about the 1964 civil rights act the 1964 presidential campaign the gulf of tonkin incident the march on selma and the war in vietnam, not everyone knew they were being recorded. certainly johnson secretary's new because they were tasked with transcribing many of those conversations. in fact, they were the ones who made sure that the conversations were taped as johnson would signal to them through an open door between his office and there's you also hear some blunt talk.
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yeah. i want to reporter the number of people at sign to kennedy when he the day dad number signed me now and mine and not players i want to bless right quick if i can't ever go to the bathroom my own go. i promise you i won't go anywhere. i'll just stay right behind these black gates. presidential recordings find it on the c-span now mobile app or wherever you get your podcasts. our weekly series the presidency highlights the politics policies and legacies of us presidents and first ladies this week former president reagan speechwriter peggy. noonan is among those remembering the 40th president on the anniversary of his february 6th, 1911 birth during a commemorative event at his presidential library in simi valley, california.


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