Collecting history as it happens

This is an important article about the challenges of collecting “history as it happens”– very germane to our visit to the History Center in a few weeks to discuss collections and collecting.

“Though curators have long secured select artifacts whose significance was immediately apparent, museum experts say the scope of what the African American museum and others now call “rapid response collecting” has grown significantly in recent years.

The museum’s collection includes dozens of items gathered during the protests — a rake used in the cleanup, a placard that demanded “Justice for Freddie Gray” — some obtained on the spot, others days later after curators had combed social media, television and newspapers to find people who were there and ask what they might donate.

“We are in times that require us to acknowledge that history is happening before our eyes,” Mr. Bryant said.”

“Haunted Files: The Eugenics Record Office”

An article in the New York Times a few weeks ago detailed the re-creation of a 1920s “eugenics office” from New York’s Cold Spring Laboratory

“An old stucco house stands atop a grassy hill overlooking the Long Island Sound. Less than a mile down the road, the renowned Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory bustles with more than 600 researchers and technicians, regularly producing breakthroughs in genetics, cancer and neuroscience.

But that old house, now a private residence on the outskirts of town, once held a facility whose very name evokes dark memories: the Eugenics Record Office.

In its heyday, the office was the premier scientific enterprise at Cold Spring Harbor. There, bigoted scientists applied rudimentary genetics to singling out supposedly superior races and degrading minorities. By the mid-1920s, the office had become the center of the eugenics movement in America.

Today, all that remains of it are files and photographs — reams of discredited research that once shaped anti-immigration laws, spurred forced-sterilization campaigns and barred refugees from entering Ellis Island. Now, historians and artists at New York University are bringing the eugenics office back into the public eye.”

‘Nation to Nation,’ at Museum of the American Indian –

An important review of an even more important exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian.


Edward Rothstein has been highly critical of history museums in general and this one in specific– he even links to his own review from 10 years ago of the opening of the museum, referring to the first exhibitions there as an “intellectual catastrophe.”  He has calmed down a bit for this review, but still has some critical things to say.

“In many respects, the exhibition, like the museum itself, is so focused on a broad account of injustice that it slights nuance, detail and qualification. But it also leaves hope that in time, the museum will make peace with the past so that past can be more fully explored.”



‘Nation to Nation,’ at Museum of the American Indian –




Ask a Slave


‘Ask a Slave’ is a comedy web series by Azie Dungey, a former ‘living history actor’ at Mount Vernon just outside of Washington, D.C. The series is based on real questions she was asked by tourists while working at the site. ‘Ask a Slave’ is getting a lot of media attention – it makes fun of public ignorance about history and makes some subtle references to sociopolitical conversations about race and equality that are very relevant to today. In one episode her character, Lizzie Mae, makes an underhand connection between the legality of slave marriage to how gay marriage is viewed legally in several states today. In another episode she has an interview with an abolitionist that does not portray abolitionists favorably. It’s definitely worth watching an episode or two. Or six.

‘12 Years a Slave’


A provocative panel discussion on the new movie, Twelve Years a Slave— part of a wave of recent films dealing with slavery and its legacy.

“I think this movie is much more real, to choose a word like that, than most of the history you see in the cinema. It gets you into the real world of slavery. That’s not easy to do. Also, there are little touches that are very revealing, like a flashback where a slave walks into a shop in Saratoga. Yes, absolutely, Southerners brought slaves into New York State. People went on vacation, and they brought a slave.”


A Discussion of Steve McQueen’s Film ‘12 Years a Slave’ –