The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Exhibitions
Tomorrow, on Friday, May 16th, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH) will celebrate its 50th anniversary with the opening of two exhibits; “Making a Modern Museum: Celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the National Museum of American History” and “Continuity and Change: Fifty Years of Museum History.” “Making a Modern Museum: Celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the National Museum of American History” will examine NMAH and its evolution since its inception in 1964. “Continuity and Change: Fifty Years of Museum History” will look at “the transformation of the museum from one of history and technology into a museum devoted to American history.”
To celebrate the launch of these new exhibits, here's a look back at a few of NMAH's exhibits from its opening until today.
- The History of the National Museum of American History
- Happy 50th Anniversary, NMAH!, Pam Henson, The Bigger Picture
- Record Unit 285 - National Museum of History and Technology, Office of the Director, Photographs, 1920s-1970s, Smithsonian Institution Archives
RIP architect Hans Hollein, designer of the inaugural exhibition, MANtransFORMS at the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in 1976. The exhibit (see images below) examined everyday objects and the ways they were adapted by different people in different places and times.
- Hans Hollein, Architect of Witty Designs, Dies at 80, New York Times Obituaries
- MANtransFORMS Exhibit, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum
The Archives recently received a collection of records from former National Air and Space Museum (NASM) Director, Martin Harwit. Formerly an astronomer on the faculty of Cornell University, Harwit was Director of NASM from 1986-1995. Accession 14-100 consists of records created and maintained by Harwit which document plans to exhibit the Enola Gay and the resulting controversy.
The Enola Gay was the Boeing B-29 Superfortress commanded by Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr. that on August 6, 1945 dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan that destroyed 90 percent of the city and instantly killed 80,000 people with tens of thousands more dying later of radiation exposure. This bomb along with another dropped on Nagasaki three days later lead to Japan's unconditional surrender in World War II.
A script for "The Crossroads: The End of World War II, the Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War" was released for comment in January 1994. As a result of the feedback the exhibition was retitled "The Last Act: The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II" and the script underwent several major revisions through January 1995. Each version of the script was met with controversy, particularly from veterans groups and Harwit ultimately resigned as Director on May 2, 1995. Prior to his resignation, Harwit had collected copies of all of NASM's current and historical documents related to the Enola Gay in order to prepare for his testimony during Congressional hearings on the matter; however, the hearings occurred shortly after his resignation and Harwit was not asked to testify.
On June 28, 1995, a completely different "Enola Gay" exhibition opened to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. The exhibition contained several major components of the Enola Gay including two engines, the vertical stabilizer, an aileron, propellers, and the forward fuselage that contains the bomb bay. Other parts of the exhibition included interviews with the crew before and after the mission to bomb Hiroshima, information about the history and development of the Boeing B-29 fleet used in bombing raids against Japan, and the Smithsonian's efforts to restore the Enola Gay. The exhibition closed in 1998 and after the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center opened the entire aircraft was put on display in 2003.
After his resignation, Harwit continued to collect clippings, journal articles, and television coverage related to the Enola Gay and its exhibition as well as received related materials from veterans groups. He also spoke on the subject in a variety of settings. In 1996, Harwit published the book An Exhibit Denied: Lobbying the History of Enola Gay. A Japanese translation was published in 1997.
Materials in this collection include correspondence and memoranda; exhibition scripts (some annotated); Congressional hearing transcripts; journal articles, preprints, and book reviews; copies of An Exhibit Denied: Lobbying the History of Enola Gay in English and Japanese; Director's calendars, notes, and Rolodex; chronology of the Enola Gay's restoration and exhibition; lecture scripts and slide presentations; newspaper clippings and videotaped news stories and television programs; radio interviews with Harwit on audiotape; video elements created during the production of exhibition videos; and related materials. Also included are several compilations of documents related to the Enola Gay that served different purposes.