September 2013


I’ll be at AASLH in Birmingham this week, talking about history practice with the biggest gathering of small history museum professionals there is.

I’m giving a talk Thursday at 1:30 pm:

Vintage or Artifact? Collecting the 20th and 21st Centuries

At what point do we consider an object old enough to be an artifact? Must an item be rare to be worthy of collecting? This panel discussion will explore these questions and make the case for why history museums should be collecting contemporary, even mass-produced items today.

The panelists are me, Veronica Rodriguez from the Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park, and Leslie Howard in absentia (we’ll be sharing the results of her survey of small history museums on collecting contemporary artifacts.)  Please come and talk about collecting with us.

On Friday night I’ll be at the awards banquet, picking up an award the museum and our partners at Sacramento State won for a collaborative exhibit.

In my down time I hope to visit a zillion museums–there are great history of technology sites there as well as civil rights museums.  If you see me around please say hi!

I’m working on an exhibit about the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the World’s Fair in San Francisco in 1915, and I’ve been struggling to communicate what, experientially, it was like to be in the crowd at an early 20th century Fair.  Some of my best attempts:

  • They were like the State Fair, but with better architecture.

World’s Fairs were crowded with people and filled with souvenir and food stands, like the Minnesota State Fair. And like State Fairs, World’s Fair crowds were overwhelmingly white.

  • They were like the Olympics.

Pageantry! Historical revisionism! Centralized u/dys/topian city planning!

Though World’s Fairs still exist (and are more often called Expos these days), I think for the amount of development, grandeur, and sheer international hoopla, the Olympics are the best contemporary parallel.

 

  • They were like the still extant World’s Fair landscapes, but filled with people and souvenir stands and international pageantry and a sense of awe that this coherent, bustling space was just built.

Balboa Park, site of Fairs in 1915 and 1935. Just add the crowds and spectacle from above.

The real question is how to recreate these experiences immersively in a museum space.  I’ll keep you posted.