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  • In this article, the authors address the matter of what a museum decides to collect. Both curators at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, they briefly discuss the background of that museum, which opened in 1964 as the Museum of History and Technology, and mention the dilemma of how the Smithsonian's national history and technological collections were to be displayed at one site. In 1980, the museum's name was changed to the National Museum of American History to reflect an increasing desire to see technology as part of history, not separate from it, and the authors relate in some detail how decisions are made on what to add to their collections and what to reject.
  • Donations are declined for a number of reasons, but when something is collected, a decision has been made that it is worth preserving, tells an interesting story worth remembering, and reflects the interactions of technology, society and culture. The authors state that one of their main interests is the history of work and workers, and describe various artifacts being collected to encompass that broad range of subjects. Museum curators sometimes make judgment calls when deciding what to add to their collections, but they make their decisions based on the need to fulfill the educational mission of their museums, both for historians and the public good.


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


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Both authors work at the National Museum of American History, Lubar as chairman of the Division of the History of Technology, and Liebhold as a museum specialist.

Contained within

Invention & Technology (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu


Spring 1999


  • Education
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Personnel management
  • Employees
  • Museums
  • Museums--Educational aspects
  • Museum curators
  • Museums--Collection management
  • Smithsonian Institution--Employees


Washington (D.C.)

Physical description

pgs. 28-38

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