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tv   Reed Gochberg Useful Objects  CSPAN  August 17, 2022 6:38pm-7:36pm EDT

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this evening we are joined by reed gochberg, and we're talking about her book after a short introduction to the works she will be joining conversation with sarah
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giorgione. this examines the history of american museums in the 19th century to the eyes of visitors and collectors. museums of this period held a wide range of objects from botanical and -- specimens to antiquarian artifacts and technological models. they were intended to promote useful knowledge. the collections create better discussions about how objects are selected, preserving classified and who gets to decide their value. these reflections shape broader discussions about museum in american culture and continue to resonate today. i reed gochberg is the assistant director of studies in a lecture on history and literature in harvard university. she has seminars and -- museums and material culture and science exploration and empire. her research in teaching focused on 19th century american literature and culture with interest in
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material country culture and museum studies in the history of science and technology. c received her ph. d. in english from boston university and her undergrad from harvard. she will be joined by mhs's sara georgini, who is a familiar face to our regulars. she is the series editor for the papers of john adams and the editorial process based on the historical society. she is the author of -- the religious lives of the adams family. -- smithsonian. miss reed gochberg received a ph. d. from boston university. without further ado, please join me in welcoming miss reed gochberg. >> thank you so, much, gavin for that introduction. thank you so much to all of you for being here tonight. i'm so
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grateful to the massachusetts historical society for hosting me. and i'm really looking forward to my conversation with sarah giorgione i also want to thank david and olivia for organizing this event. it's a pleasure to be here and have the chance to share my work on the history of museums with this community. i'm grateful to all of you for taking the time to i listen in and join in this conversation. i'm just gonna share my screen to get us started. i want to start out with a strange and perhaps surprising story from the early history of american museums. some of you might be familiar with the work of charles wilson peele who was a portrait painter, naturalist and museum entrepreneur in philadelphia in the late 18th century. peel established one of the earliest american museums during the 1780's. he combined collections of his own portraits, works of art, with natural history and
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anthropology as well as, lectures demonstrations and other forms of popular entertainment. in 1792, he was hoping to get more funding for his museum. he issued a broad appeal to the citizens of philadelphia and address members of the american philosophical society which is a scientific organization in the city in order to make the case for his museum and implicitly to attract donations. he devotes most of his energy and 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. the costs of frames, glass cases that he's going to need to acquire. it's a really fascinating document just for thinking about what it meant to start a museum during this time. people also takes this
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conversation further. as part of this proposal he talks his audience through the process of preservation that he was using on mammals and birds. the tone of his message shifts pretty dramatically when he suggested extending these methods of preservation to the founding fathers themselves. there are other means to preserve and hand down to succeeding generations the relics of such great men who have been crowned with success in the most -- preserving their bodies from corruption and he used powerful antiseptics. he 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 the museum. on the one hand, the strange and radical proposal to taxidermy benjamin franklin and allows us to see the anxieties of the early republic. especially this moment where there is a lot of fear of political instability.
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the luminaries, that most visible figures of the nation's founders, were no longer alive and in full view of american citizens. it also allows us to see how peel, and his contemporaries, were imagining the world of museums and cultural institutions and what they could play in 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 we choose to hold in our site and value. these kinds of questions were really central to the early history of american museums. as i explore more broadly in my book, and we will say a little bit more about tonight. i want to emphasize a few larger ideas. first, just about the kinds of shifts that we are taking place during the late 18th and early 19th century. the scope and mission of museums. second, also the broader challenges and debates that surrounded collections that we can see through the
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accounts of the writers and artists and visitors who are engaging with them. finally, i want to say something about the contemporary states of these conversations for museums and cultural institutions today. i'll offer a few examples just to think through these issues before turning back to one early example with more detail. towards the end i will say a little bit about how some of these idea also informed the early history and the collections of the nhs. museums have a fascinating, complicated and troubling history.. scholars -- cabinet of curiosities filled with a wide range of national history specimens, artifacts, other objects returned from voyages around the world. the ride of colonialism shape this idea of curiosity. it stood in for otherness for a euro-centric view of the world as well as for this process of discovery and knowledge making. so these collectors said object robert,
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curiosity was the eye of the beholder as we see in this image. as time went, henry collectors were increasingly looking to have representative as well as rare objects as part of their collections. in order to achieve what one called a world in miniature. and encyclopedia collection that could allow for the study of all branches of knowledge. during the 18th century, these individual collections would form mazes of more public, large-scale institutions like the british museum. around the same time, many royal collections of art were being turned into public institutions like the louvre and the national gallery. these institutions 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 in boston, the metropolitan museum of art, the american museum of natural history. these were all founded
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around the 1870s, following the civil war. i've been really interested in this in between moment between the 18th century and these later museums, where we can really see this kind of gradual, messy, non linear transition between a cabinet of curiosities model where you have collections that are filled with all kinds of different objects together, towards greater specialization. also, between collections that were often restricted for elite audiences or imagine to have a research purpose, towards institutions that were dedicated at least ostensibly to public education and access. by examining this period in more detail, i also want to argue that we can see more clearly that the idea of the museum itself was in flux. you can see this in the different terms that were used to describe collections during
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this period. you often see terms like cabinet, gallery, museum, they all mean objects collection different purposes for this. these were often housed in different locations too, from libraries, historical societies, academies, and colleges. and how their purpose was being imagined. the founders of these institutions often wrote down and shared their missions, whether through acts of incorporation, or other written documents. and they often emphasized this idea of useful knowledge. suggesting how material objects can make knowledge itself more tangible and concrete. additionally, they make lofty claims about a broader missionof research and education. museums were committed to preserving things for posterity and a key democratic commitment to knowledge, either things in play out this way, as i say more about a few minutes. so in order to look at this history, i have drawn on my own background as a literary scholar in order to account of
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museums across fiction, guidebooks, periodicals. also, these descriptions in conversation with the kinds of information that we kick out from donation books, visual materials, and even surviving objects in collections. one thing i want to say about this period is that it really kind of demands this inner disciplinary approach. on the one hand, museums were bringing together so many different types of objects, and what we today we consider to be different fields. botany, geology, zoology. anthropology, history, geography. and we can see, and in these collections a kind of crisscrossing intersecting paths of objects and individuals and institutions. but i also want to know 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, and imaginative responses. as visitors were reflecting on what they were seen, and also
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sometimes considering potential alternatives. so one thing that we can see very clearly as how museums were creating different hierarchies and power dynamics that were linked to colonialismand elitism. and about who would have access to the kinds of knowledge overrepresented in their collections. so, we can see this in the writings of jane johnson school craft to was a native american poet who actually was married to a bureau of indian affairs agent. and they collaborated together, in his case he appropriated many of her writings as part of a larger project on early anthropology in the united states. and we can see in her writings, how she was 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 is interpreting works of classical sculpture in the galleries of the british museum,
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and really staking a claim to his right tune and education into his our own expertise. but we can also see figures like or -- hitchcock, who was a really talented artist and natural history illustrator who, when visiting these collections, with sometimes reflecting on the fact that her husband and son were likely to benefit more from them than she might. so these accounts allow us to really trace the people who were engaging, visiting museum collections, she think beyond what institutions were promising are claiming to offer. but also to see how people were reflecting on their own place within these institutions, and really challenging the limits of what's was being defined as useful knowledge during this period. the imaginative responses of writers also helps us to illuminate the kinds of challenges and bigger questions that museums were raising. in the early republic, the french born writer and diplomat -- really reflected on these
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challenges of materiality and loss. and it was really imagining the prepare to be up the objects that were circulating and being exchanged by institutions. but in the galleries of the u.s. patent office, surrounded by models of patented machines, the poet wang whitman confronted this strange and really horrific spectacle of a museum transformed into a civil war hospital. and he captures in his writing, the eerie scene of these cases of objects interspersed with wounded soldiers. and the writer and naturalist, henry david thoreau mourned's decision to kill each hurdle in order to donate it to harvard's natural history museum, even as he recognized its potential value to scientific research. so the founders of museums often envisioned order. they picture these collections arranged in cases and cabinets. but the reality was a much more
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disorderly process that spurred really dynamic conversations about within a day beyond institutions about what we choose to preserve, and value, about who's 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 during this time, and also can inform how we think about making cultural 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 redefining the purpose of conscience. i mentioned peels museum at the beginning, and i want to put that museum in conversation with another
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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 a plan to meet regularly and gather information from a network of correspondents around the atlantic world. and probably scholarly articles about the research. they planned to form a library, and finally, they established a cabinet. so, like other early cabinets of curiosity, the aps cabinet healthy wide variety of types of objects. and are barium of trust plants, natural specimens, anthropological artifacts, and other objects that were sent from around the atlantic world. the aps was not alone in developing those 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 -- the american in
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-- a society and of course the nhs. all these institutions had patents it looks very similar to the one at the abs. around this time, harvard college also had what was called of loss of the chamber. and this is a teaching collection that similarly included a range of different kinds of objects 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 museum. so we can actually still access a virtual version of that through their website if you are 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 the elite scientific communities. but they are nonetheless really important to how we understand the kinds of museums that were being founded
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during this period, and how people were understanding the point of developing a collection like this. so on the one hand, you have the drama of the spectacle of appeals self portrait. lifting the velvet curtain to show the men in the skeleton. on the other hand, you have these elections that were explicitly intended for research and designed 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 revealed a kind of twinge purpose of museums actually were evolving during this very transitional moment. so, aps cabinet was explicitly wide ranging in the kinds of objects that collected. and some way is this was the result of haphazard collecting process. objects were often sent to the society by what were called corresponding members. these are people who did not live in philadelphia but lived elsewhere and with send objects and letters 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,
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and objects were often loaned out to the members that lived in philadelphia. as a result they were scattered, they were circulating, and they were not necessarily held in one place as a term like cabinet might suggest. this posed fairly obvious organizational challenges. at one point the curators announced kind of ruefully that the objects and has been, quote, interested to the care of members, but never get delivered to the society. so things got lost. to some extent, i think this really speaks to a different imagined purpose for a museum than what we think of today. so at this point, the point was using and handling and observing these objects rather than trying to keep them perfectly preserved. they were also interested to people who were known to be interested in that field, to be working on related projects. and the goal was to use a collection to really contribute to knowledge through this research. preservation, along
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longevity we were not niger concerns. even if it means that the collections did not survive at. long i want to know that some of these issues the loss of reservation were excessively significant during the period of time that this election was being formed, which overlapped with the american revolution and early republic. so, during the war, the curators reported the decay of many specimens in the collection. their intention was obviously elsewhere. some collections dried out too to running out of alcohol to fill jars with specimens, or to preserve things properly. and following the war thing stayed fairly chaotic. the aps was looking to build a more permanent space, and the collections continue to move around. here is where we come back to peel and his museum and as promised to be really good at preserving things. appeal was a member of the ap s, and he had begun his only seem out
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of his own house. but by the early 17 90s, he was looking for more space. his proposal to taxidermy ben franklin was part of this broader self promotion. he was really outlining the kinds of work that he had done that he had been able to achieve in his museum so far, and looking for additional funds. in 1794, appeal was also simultaneously the curator of the ap s cabinet. and at this moment he applied for permission to rent space on the society in philosophical hall in order to open up his museum there. so, given his two roles, it is highly likely that he was also displaying some of the ap s cabinets collections alongside and within his own museum. so here, we see the learned society, and the public museum kind of coming into contact. so this was not without some anxieties. especially on the side of the abs. one of the largest specimens in the societies cabinet, a skeleton of an indian elephant, was placed on
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display at peale's museum. but the society was very careful to note that they preferred quote, a handsome and suitable inscription to ensure that it was placed there is best calculated to answer the purpose for which it was desired. there is a little scuffle in the meeting minutes about this decision. someone felt the need to know that this decision was reached after maturely weighing all circumstances, which is never a good sign. and this collaboration was just an uneasy one largely due to competing ideas about the purpose of these collections. so peels museum, on the one hand, we continue to expand. soon he would move across the hall, across the street to the larger rooms of independents all, achieving at least temporarily his goal of developing a national museum. meanwhile, the captain of the ap as we continue to kind of fizzle their descriptions of elephants skeletons in manus stones collecting dust in the
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seller. there are other accounts of the society being crowded with articles. in the later history of his cabinet, he was really shaped by the rise of disciplinary specialization. so as the 19th century war 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 objects that remain in the aps cabinet were sent either to the penn museum in the case of anthropological camp collections, or to the academy natural sciences in philadelphia for many of the natural history specimens. here in the greater boston area, we see a similar pattern where many of the anthropological artifacts that were donated to the and aquariums scientists, or the mhs, are now the p body museum at harvard. so although these elections 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
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anxieties, that were influential in shaping the trajectory museum through the present day. we can imagine and putting conversation the different points of view among founders, visitors, and we can also recognize the shared history of collections that were dedicated to science in history and art even if today there at separate institutions. this can allow us to imagine different ways of interpreting these objects and understanding how they were valued, used, who collect them, and how they ended up in different institutions. it also can allow us to acknowledge the forms of law federation or that occurred in the founding of these institutions. to find new ways to highlight the voices of figures who are excluded from these conversations, and i think about ways to connect collections from across a wide range of fields. so, in that way, perhaps our opportunities to, for us to build on and expand the possibilities for engaging with museum collections today. the founders of 19th century museums often
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had a shared set of language and metaphors that they used to talk about their goals. they often liked to imagine the spark that could result from placing different objects in fields of knowledge in conversation. they describe this process of ideas and collision between different objects and minds and perspectives of those engaging with them. throughout this period, the range of objects that were housed museum collections spurred many visitors who imagined continued possibilities for drawing new kinds of connections. the founding of museums also set in motion larger and still unresolved conversations about how we determine what to value, study and preserve. my hope is this history can help us understand the role 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 in transition, especially the last two years. this means it's also a dynamic moment for thinking about how the priorities of
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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. with that, i would like to invite sarah to join me and to continue the conversation. thank you so much. >> thank you so much, reed, and thank 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. reed, 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 we launched here in the building and online. it helped us connect during the pandemic, sharing some of our favorites
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in the collections. but we also thought about how to make it accessible. 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 a great question. one thing i would emphasize is it's varying so much depending on the museum and the collection. we have something like peels museum that is geared towards the public and there were tickets seek and actually see them in the archives. there were guidebooks. peale and his sons would often be on hand to answer questions, to do demonstrations. visitors to the museum could even have a silhouette drawn. that's a souvenir. it really varied a
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lot. another museum i talk about in the book is the u.s. patent office gallery. i think this museum is such a strange mix of different purposes because the patent office was 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. by the mid 19th century they had thousands of these. they built what is now the smithsonian american art museum and the portrait gallery building to put these on display for the public. if you imagine people visiting this gallery, they can purchase a guidebook. but there would also be a lot of different people interacting with these objects at once. you can have patent office clerks and examiners who are using these two adjudicate competing claims to the novelty of the invention. but you would also have visitors to this gallery alongside each other. i guess finally, you know, i mentioned at the beginning that a number of these museums were attached to different kinds of educational institutions. whether that is an academy or
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even a college or university. at harvard, for example, the use museum of comparative zoology, which was founded in 1859, there were numerous students who works there spending hours and hours comparing specimens in the collections. but you also had these women assistance who were working closely with the collections to catalog and classified the objects. it ranged. in terms of visitors, these guidebooks are really important to how we can imagine what the experience might have been like to experience the museum. there's also so much that you can learn from newspaper accounts and descriptions of visits to these spaces as well. i think they would've 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. i want to step back to something you
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mentioned. which is this technique that early curators had of placing ideas in collision. somehow this sparked useful knowledge. can you give us an example of that. >> yeah, i think that's such an interesting idea because in some ways it is this lofty promise. it's this idea that by putting together works of art alongside natural history, or alongside anthropology, you will be able to generate new kinds of ideas, generate new kinds of knowledge that will be somehow useful. part of why i was drawn to that term, especially from the books title, was that it raises all these questions of useful to who? and for whom? and also, what about useless no itch? like what do you do with that? i think i have been especially interested in, is the unexpected nature of that process of collision that you're asking about. like where you can glimpse at how people are resisting. some of these
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categories of usefulness, like you can see a figure like henry david throw writing in his journals. i hate museums. they are dead nature, collected by dead men. that it's beyond what the founders of these museums are saying about what they're trying to do. you can really access the thoughts and experiences of people who might be thinking in other ways about what knowledge looks like and what should be included or not. the last thing i would say about this is curators might imagine this kind of official route to creating knowledge with the museum collection, but we know that there would be things left out, stories not told. and i think those kinds of issues and questions resonate a lot across different institutions during this period. >> 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 shape american federal growth. even american
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identity. >> absolutely. museums are explicitly tied to national expansion. i think often the idea of useful knowledge was really part of this idea of learning more about some feel that when unable greater economic development or expand information about newly annexed territories. just as the united states is evolving into an empire very quickly. especially in the first half of the 19th century. you see it a lot with geology. i noticed that that is often tied to u.s. geological survey, cartography expeditions, and the great lakes region in the west. the other thing i would say is museum founders were predominantly white, elite,
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educated men. there are also these stories and figures who complicate this pattern. i mentioned earlier, jane johnston's school craft. her husband was henry row school craft. he was a -- he wrote numerous books on ethnology. he's an early anthropologist. he is studying -- he was especially interested in geology, but he was also interested in collecting what he called specimens of folklore. he was looking to write down and record legends. he worked with his wife who was of native american descent and her family to collect information. a lot of his writings became major sources for figures like long fellow, james finna mark hubert. one thing i think is important is you can see this dynamic process. if you read some of his writings, you can occasionally have a glimpse of her boys coming through. in her
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own writings, because she was a poet herself, she sometimes is writing explicitly about and reflecting on this relationship between white and indigenous forms of knowledge. the ideas of expertise and sovereignty. this collaboration i think it's a really interesting one. both for how it overlaps with the kinds of rhetoric used to talk about museum collections and knowledge gathering during this period, but also for how it really maps on national expansion. especially during the 1820s and 1830s. >> one of the great challenges of writing a book that stretches through the century, it's the turning points. the 19th century story of the civil war and how museums and their makers are shaped by or shaped by our memory of the civil war. what did you find there? >> so actually, what's interesting is that part in the book was actually my starting point when i began researching this project. i mentioned
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earlier, this really amazing sketch by walt whitman when he's serving as the civil war nurse. he visits the patent office gallery when it's transformed into a temporary hospital. he describes it as a strange and fascinating site where you can see these cases of -- wounded soldiers. when i started with this moment, i was imagining that i would then read forward in time and start here and look at some of the large-scale museums that were founded following the civil war. the corporate tycoon funded institutions like many art museums and natural history museums that exist today. one thing that i found, actually, was that i ended up continuing to read backwards. looking at the patent office gallery, starting to dig deeper into its earlier history. this
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transformation of this institution from the 1830s onward. from there i ended up working backwards in a way because i realized as i kept working, this story just continued to evolve out of my research of this transitional period. in order to get a sense of how we moved from these institutions that were so ferried in the kinds of things that they were collecting, and this makes of so many different objects and purposes together, to these institutions that looks very similar to the kinds of museums we might visit today. i really did notice this overall turning point, as you are saying, in the first half of the century. your question about the civil war is an interesting one. i think the
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next shift in that turn. in the book i explore it primarily through whitman's experience within the patent office. i think that it is this really significant moment in terms of how we think about where these institutions go next. >> thinking about how you constructed your chronology, i have to stay on craft for just a minute here. if we can talk about historical process and research, because we love to geek out and do this at the mhs. can you talk a little bit about researching and representing some of the rich cast of characters that you cover in useful objects. i'm thinking of people who are perhaps very well-known, like -- and people who are less well-known, like hitchcock. how do you find them in the archives, how do you situate their story within all of these amazing different networks, cultural, political, museums that they wrote through.
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>> that's a great question. i'm sure you and i could talk about this for hours, right? i think that one of the challenges of writing a story like this one is that i do think the voices tend to dominate this history are going to be those up white man. they're gonna be the ones founding these institutions, having the most access to visiting them, to being part of some of the societies and organizations and so forth. that was definitely something i was thinking about a lot in my own work. i think that in some ways the short answer to your question, is i prioritized going and looking for some of these other voices. but i think, you know, about this source material is that it's 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. for example, hitchcock,
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i talk a lot about his diaries and her writings in this piece. really what she's best known for are her drawings and illustrations. she was the wife of a college professor, edward hitchcock, who was a geologist. but she did all the illustrations for his published writings. she created these amazing classroom drawings. i think, when i was able to look at her diary, which is a really fascinating account of her visit together to a tour of england and scotland, she tagged along when he was going to an academic conference. and she talks about her visits to these galleries. there is this moment where she was talking about this really amazing natural history collection and she writes in her diary. i thought of edward and how much he would benefit from it. it's this -- she's being timid in a
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way about acknowledging her own expertise she's this really talented illustrator. she had so much knowledge herself. it is also some ways a realistic admission of how she understood her own place within this communities, it's kind of sad. it's a sad moment. but i also think, looking at her writings. also, in relation to the kind of stories -- stories, and an anecdotes in newspapers and periodicals. when it comes to mind, there is the 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 a young woman visiting the british museum, and how she is misbehaving, and get scolded by someone else on her to her. and
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the whole point of the story is two truths evolution of her moral character. she learned to behave herself. but when you read that alongside, hitchcock's diary, or alongside the writings of norman wells brown, you can really see how they are participating in this broader conversation about what it means to be a visitor to one of the spaces. and what it means to be someone who is trying to claim an equal right to be part of this conversation and assert their own knowledge and expertise. so this has been a very long digression probably from your original question but, i think that it was really important to me to think about how we could really put these different kinds of sources together. how we can see how some of these conversations are circulating in different ways across things like fiction and poetry, but also through visual and material as well as written sources. because i think that is also an opportunity in terms of future projects, to think more broadly about how we expand history, how we think
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about who is collecting, 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 is not exactly what they expected. how does that shift happen? >> i think that the british museum especially is this really interesting contrast to what americans are seeing in museums here in the united states. there is a contrast between a museum dedicated really to archaeology, hawthorne talks about seeing all the fragments in the classical sculptures that are there, and the national museum that is displaying these shiny model machines. so i think that
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there are different ways that some of these national museums are cultivating their own identity that in the u.s., to have a museum like the patent office, is to have a sizable reckoning community. but i think that for all the americans that are critical of the british museum in the 19th century, i still think that it is, it remains a really important example. because i think that some of the -- is just purchasing too much. that there is a kind of anxiety of, oh i have so much here. how can we have to switch in our own museums. and i think that that carries over to science museums. i think you see natural history museums that are very much modeling themselves on institutions in europe, and seeking to be part of this kind of a larger process of exchange. and really kind of trying to build these -- that can compete with the institutions that are already more established in europe. so
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i think that that pattern is really carries on and it continues with the founding of some of these later, more specialized museums to. >> 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, we are just going to dive in. >> sounds great. >> first up, do you have a favorite old cabinet or museum that still exists in some form today for visiting? >> oh, that is such an interesting question. i would say you know, i would say that i have really appreciated a lot of recent curatorial projects that are kind of thinking explicitly about this history and tradition. i think about
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the british museum, they have their enlightenment gallery where they have brought together a lot of the collections from the 18th century. when i was there several years ago, i spent a lot of time wandering that gallery. but i also am really intrigued by kind of more recent works by, i'm just thinking contemporary artists like mark dion's work. there was a great i see a exhibition a few years ago that a lot of his work is really engaging explicitly in the history of science. and he creates kind of reimagined cabinets curiosities, reimagining some of these spaces, as well. that i think kind is allow us to think about some of these questions in ways. so i definitely recommend that to anyone who is interested. >> that is interesting. i didn't know. so you think that -- between you. artist thank. you another audience member would like to know, to what extent was research and objective in the founding of
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the early museums, and, was there any public funding at the early institutions? >> yeah, i mean, i think research was really a primary objective for a lot of these institutions. and i think what you see that across what we now think of as the different fields. i think that was true at the american philosophical society, it was definitely true at the nhs as well. i think this idea of publishing, publish your work and promoted in that way was really important to any of these institutions that were trying to collect and recorded information. whether that was about natural history, or american history. in terms of funding, i think that many of these institutions tended to be privately funded. so, really until you get to you dismiss.
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even that was the result of a request to the u. s. government guy--. so i think that from the start, the question of funding has been -- really tricky one within the united states for a lot of these museums. and you see a lot of them evolving as private institutions as a result. lots to say on that question. >> yeah, i think that is such an interesting question. i just have to add, because it is something that i have been thinking about a lot as we annotate the next volume of the adult papers here. john adams was a president of the american academy of arts and sciences for a long amount of time, at the same time the thomas jefferson is president of the american philosophical society. and i would love for someone to go forth and write about those two presidencies and the scientific networks generated. that is just my -- to researchers. >> yeah, absolutely. and, jefferson dispenses the american philosophical society at the same time but he's present at the u.s.. so he is president of both at the same
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time that he is commissioned seeing the police in clark expedition. and, he has members of the abs work with mayor weller luis england clock to help train them in serving, in botany, and so forth. so as you are saying, i think it would be a great project. >> it is fascinating. if you look at the election of 1796, jefferson is just writing. but among the haitian fly committee, that is more interesting. so i think looking at the scientific pursuits of the founders is such a rich topic to explore. okay, back to our wonderful questions. let's see. was a museum or cabinet that particularly surprise to 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. it was how, how many kind of unexpected moments were part of
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that research, i think the example that i spoke at the most length about of the american philosophical society cabinet, that is one that really stayed with me because i do think that the idea of this museum collection that doesn't have a physical space, and doesn't have a gallery with objects are scattered, we are getting lost. i think that that is one that really stated me as part of how we even really think about the narrative of what it means to be a museum and what's the goal of these institutions are. because i think that, we think so much about preservation, and what is getting recorded. but also, i think that these histories of loss are just as important to how we think about museums. and i think it related to that,
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within peale's museum i think one story that i really try to track down in that as part of that history is, there are all kinds of accounts of native american delegations visiting peale's museum, which i think again is not something that we necessarily expect for around 1800. but, during visits, during diplomatic negotiations with the federal government, there were a few moments where these groups took a tour of peale's museum. and their newspaper accounts of that. we can actually see that in, i mentioned early on that if you visited peels museum you could get a silhouette taken as a souvenir. and people actually made suits elements of this group of visitors. except, as part of the screen, he wrote down that he is labeling each silhouette with a name of the visitor. but there are a couple where he forgot the name, and just write a number. and i think just, even in that process, and even in the record keeping of who was visiting, you can see a different kind of loss. you see different kinds of erasure. you can see how there is this kind of larger
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loss that is taking place in terms of what we know, in terms of who is being respected and regarded within this space. and i think that just kind of, those moments within the project have really stayed with me in terms of just thinking about, how we understand this history, and also how we think about what it means for our institutions today, too. >> an audience member wants to know, can you talk more about the early ties between the massachusetts historical society, the acronym, and -- the harvard collection. and what happened to the barn collection? >> oh. that is a really great question. and i will say chief, that is something that i've been really interested in diving into further in some of my future research too. because i do think that each of these, he should be said situations
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has its own really interesting fascinating history, and i think that the process of deciding which keep and what do you pass on to another institution have varied from place to place. but here is what i know. i think that if you look, if you spend some time, as i have done looking through the people of museum catalog at harvard today, you can actually search in their advanced search for the massachusetts to struggle society, and for some of these outer still operating institutions for objects that i once belonged to these institutions and how they ended up the people peabody. and i think that this story of how things moved from institution institution is a really fascinating one. in some ways it is kind of similar to this question of loss versus preservation. like, this process of de-acquisition is a interesting one to you. i think it's because they're shifting of values within these institutions. it also speaks to a lot of practical challenges.
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do you have space to keep storing and holding on to some of these objects? are they better--i think that there is a practical element there. there is the rise of disciplinary specialization. so there is the sense that, some of these collections might have greater value as part of a larger collection focused on anthropology, or be interpreted by the experts. but then there also are often these personal networks. so, i think that the ties between different institutions often would sometimes come down to individual figures. who they knew, who they were in conversation with. but, yeah. i would say, like i said i think this is something that i am hoping to dig into a little bit more, myself. especially with some of these local institutions. but i think that there is a process up to you and succession-ing that is one that i am really interested into.
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>> so, we have time for one last question from our audience. and i love this question because it is about a moment of creation. so we will end on that. we have recently acquired a home built during the revolutionary war. in many of the relics, used until the mid 19 hundreds. the populist town's first meeting house, tavern, score, school, stage. we are novices with the gold, mind we need advice. how do we start the process of museum making and what we avoid. so go back in time and tell us how to do it before the 24 century. >> that is amazing. i think that is so interesting. there could be so many possible stories there. i guess, when i would say is that, i think my own work kind of in addition to working on this work has involved teaching with collections, creating different projects, and i think that
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there are just so many exciting ways to think about these objects and relics that you have acquired as part of your house. and i think that, for me it really comes down to thinking about like who are the people and the stories and what are the stories that you can potentially tell through these objects. like how might you use a single one of these relics to -- thinking about labor, thinking about how people a. what they, war and what that meant for them in their everyday life. and i think that there are so many different and exciting weeks to think about that. there is so much interesting work that is done by historians, as well. but i really think that sounds like a wonderful project of thinking about this collection. but also, to really think about the possibilities for eliminating some of these people who might be part of that story. so i hope this person will report back at some point. >> yes. a very useful beginning. so thank you read, and thanks to all of you. >> and i just want to say,
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thank you to both of you. doctor t&i objects for her wonderful discussion. and thanks for the audience to joining us. as always, we hope if you found this program interesting you will consider buying a copy of the book. it is available widely, and we of course always encourage people to support locally owned bookstores and or a bookshop which supports locally owned bookstores. thank you all for joining us and i think we can wish everyone a good evening. and i hope everyone stays warm in this cold weather.
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welcome, welcome history 327 the arts is history students. you know me.


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