Monday, 28 October 2013

The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects

The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects  Hardcover, 700 pages,
Taking a leaf from the British Museum's book, the Smithsonian's Richard Kurin  has compiled a selection of 101 objects in the Smithsonian's collections which offer a "new perspective on the history of the United States from "the earliest years of the pre-Columbian continent to the digital age, and from the American Revolution to Vietnam"
each entry pairs the fascinating history surrounding each object with the story of its creation or discovery and the place it has come to occupy in our national memory. Kurin sheds remarkable new light on objects we think we know well, from Lincoln's hat to Dorothy's ruby slippers and Julia Child's kitchen, including the often astonishing tales of how each made its way into the collections of the Smithsonian. Other objects will be eye-opening new discoveries for many, but no less evocative of the most poignant and important moments of the American experience. Some objects, such as Harriet Tubman's hymnal, Sitting Bull's ledger, Cesar Chavez's union jacket, and the Enola Gay bomber, tell difficult stories from the nation's history, and inspire controversies when exhibited at the Smithsonian. Others, from George Washington's sword to the space shuttle Discovery, celebrate the richness and vitality of the American spirit. In Kurin's hands, each object comes to vivid life, providing a tactile connection to American history.
"The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects is a rich and fascinating journey through America's collective memory, and a beautiful object in its own right".
I would very much like to hear from one of those US "cultural property internationalists" his or her version of how this differs from the use of objects to construct a national story in those nations they label contemptuously and xenophobically "cultural property nationalists". As for those who they equally unjustly label "cultural property retentionists", what if all those hats, jackets, shoes and other historical clobber had been bought by oversees collectors and these "parts of the national memory" were sitting scattered in various museums and private collections between Peking and Kuala Lumpur, and collectors over there were loudly proclaiming their "rights" and intention to take more and more?


Cultural Property Observer said...

Every nation can and should have cultural treasures. It becomes ridiculous however when the definition of cultural treasure is expanded to include everything and anything old. It's not good for the objects or the country concerned which cannot possibly care for everything. Much better to get collectors involved to care for such objects.

Paul Barford said...

"to include everything and anything old"

What like tattered flags some trades' unionists jacket and pots and pans from a TV celebrity's kitchen you mean?

I think this book is ample proof that "significance" is in the eye of the beholder, and who are you to say that the Wonga-Wongans are wrong? If they want to preserve something in their own country who are you to deny them the right and decide "what's good for the country concerned"?

Is this not precisely the problem here, with Washingtonian attitudes to the rest of the world?

The 1970 UNESCO Convention postulates that nations should be allowed to define their cultural property (art 1-3), your country is a state party to it. Who are you, Peter Tompa, or ACCG collectors to decide therefore what other countries should consider their cultural property?

Either you agree with a convention you've signed, or you ask your politicians to get out of it. Let the World see the USA withdraw from the "Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property" and consider what that means.

OR you pay your subs (with arrears) to UNESCO and propose to the world community through UNESCCO rewriting it. Go on. Tell the world we are all wrong and only Washington is right and knows what's best for us. Dare you?

But first let us see an ACCG review of this book, pointing out why the ACCG says these 101 objects are just crap, not real history, like Italian and Greek coins and terracottas and equally unworthy of any form of protection in a national museum. Go on.

Are you actually going to reply to this, or will you just walk off as you usually do having had your snipe? I thought lawyers were good at arguing a case. Let's discuss this properly.

Paul Barford said...

ACCG sidekick Dealer Dave Welsh boldly asserts:
"It is however appropriate to observe that there is all the difference in the world between those things cited in "The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects" and "dugup artifacts ripped from the ground"

It is only "appropriate" to observe it in this context if that "difference" is explained - of course Dealer Dave stops short of doing that on his own blog.

Collectors claim that ancient coins are not significant cultural property while the Smithsonian Museum in their national capital counts jackets, hats and 1970s pots and pans THEIR cultural property. I'd like it explained to me where the difference. One is "American" and the other "foreign"? That's what makes the TV cook's pots and pans significant?

My bet is Dealer Dave in fact has no answer to that worth printing.

By the way, with reference to what he says in his blog, I have nothing against anyone collecting no end of old hats and jackets, what I do have an objection to is US collectors and dealers applying one standard to themselves and what they think is important, and applying another to the supposedly "inferior" Other.

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