Fifty Years of Collecting: Curatorial Philosophy at the National Museum of American History

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This article discusses the Smithsonian Institution's collection philosophy prior to the 1970s. Lubar argues that curators should have complete control over their collections that they built, based on their expertise and research, is one that held true until the social history movements of the 1970s and 1980s. Concerns that the collections were not all-inclusive began to be raised. Lubar tells of a move from research collecting to interpretive collecting: using objects to tell stories. Curators were urged to collect items that told a significant story, not just those that fell within their research interests. He also suggests ways in which the museum might do a better job of collecting in the future.


  • Museum of History and Technology (U.S.)
  • National Museum of History and Technology (U.S.)
  • National Museum of American History (U.S.) (NMAH)
  • United States National Museum


Smithsonian History Bibliography

Citation information

Federal History Vol. 7 No. 1 Journal


Lubar was the Chair of the Division of the History of Technology at the National Museum of American History from 1984-2005.

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Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


  • 2015
  • 20th century


  • Nineteen seventies
  • Social movements
  • Exhibit openings
  • Exhibitions
  • Museums
  • Collecting and collections
  • History
  • National Collections
  • Social change
  • Museum curators
  • Museums--Collection management
  • Museum techniques
  • Social movements--History


  • United States
  • Washington (D.C.)

Physical description

Number of pages:18; Page Numbers: 82-99

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