Belated congratulations to Robert Post on his re-appointment as dean at Yale Law School. I want to talk now about a book by another Robert C. Post. This is a book that looks terrific: "Who Owns America's Past? The Smithsonian and the Problem of History." Cribbing now from John Hopkins University Press' catalog:
In 1994, when the National Air and Space Museum announced plans to display the Enola Gay, the B-29 sent to destroy Hiroshima with an atomic bomb, the ensuing political uproar left the museum's parent Smithsonian Institution entirely unprepared. As the largest such complex in the world, the Smithsonian cares for millions of objects and has displayed everything from George Washington's sword to moon rocks to Dorothy's ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. Why did this particular object arouse such controversy? From an insider's perspective, Robert C. Post's Who Owns America's Past? offers insight into the politics of display and the interpretation of history.
Never before has a book about the Smithsonian detailed the recent and dramatic shift from collection-driven shows, with artifacts meant to speak for themselves, to concept-driven exhibitions, in which objects aim to tell a story, displayed like illustrations in a book. Even more recently, the trend is to show artifacts along with props, sound effects, and interactive elements in order to create an immersive environment. Rather than looking at history, visitors are invited to experience it.
Whenever I think about the Smithsonian I also think about Smithson's will.
The image is from Chicago's Midway Airport.