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Curators and Culture

The Museum Movement in America, 1740-1870

Written by Joel Orosz

Publication Year: 2010

This volume argues that a small, loosely connected group of men constituted an informal museum movement in America from about 1740 to 1870.

As they formed their pioneer museums, these men were guided not so much by European examples, but rather by the imperatives of the American democratic culture, including the Enlightenment, the simultaneous decline of the respectability and rise of the middle classes, the Age of Egalitarianism, and the advent of professionalism in the sciences. Thus the pre-1870 American museum was neither the frivolous sideshow some critics have imagined, nor the enclave for elitists that others have charged. Instead, the proprietors displayed serious motives and egalitarian aspirations.

The conflicting demands for popular education on the one hand and professionalism on the other were a continuing source of tension in American museums after about 1835, but by 1870 the two claims had synthesized into a rough parity. This synthesis, the "American Compromise," has remained the basic model of museums in America down to the present. Thus, by 1870, the form of the modern American museum as an institution which simultaneously provides popular education and promotes scholarly research was completely developed.

 

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

front matter

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface

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pp. ix-xii

This book will argue that a small, loosely connected group of men constituted an informal museum movement in America from about 1740 to 1870. As they formed their pioneer museums, these men were guided not so much by European...

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Prologue:

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pp. 1-10

The thesis of this book is essentially a refutation of two points of view regarding the pre-1870 history of museums in America, which I shall call the professional criticism and the democratic criticism. These approaches are utterly contradictory, and just as completely unfounded, but they....

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1

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pp. 11-25

The American museum was not, as Theodore Low supposed, transferred fully developed from Europe. In point of fact, the European model first imitated by Americans was not the museum, but the cabinet. During the 1740S and...

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2

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pp. 26-67

It was the Enlightenment, and America's reaction to it, that completed the transformation of cabinets into museums. As previously noted, during the years 1780 to 1800, the old exclusive "for members only" cabinet began to fade away, to be replaced by the more democratic and open museum....

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3

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pp. 68-107

The years from 1800 to 1820 marked in museum history the era of the Didactic Enlightenment. This period witnessed the decline of the authority and power of the respectability and the corresponding rise of the middle classes to political and social influence. The French Revolution had shaken the...

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4

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pp. 108-139

Reform! The word echoed and re-echoed throughout the Age of Egalitarianism. From 1820 to 1840, people seemed determined to remake American society in almost every way imaginable. Millennalism, Millenarianism, spiritualism, Mormonism, and schisms of countless varieties swept through...

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5

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pp. 140-179

In 1840, as the Age of Egalitarianism for museums passed away, a new standard was rising to replace it. Professionalization would be the dominant ideal in American museums throughout the decade of the 1840s. It was strongest in those museums which catered to science, for scientists were ahead of...

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6

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pp. 180-237

During the 1850S and 1860s, the earlier enthusiasms for popular education and the later movement for professionalization achieved a balance in the American museum world. This balance, which may be labeled "the American Compromise," has...

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Epilogue:

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pp. 238-256

The American Compromise came of age just as the great metropolitan museums were being founded. Their headlong rise to prominence in the international community of museums was so unexpected that it tended to make all in America...

Notes

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pp. 257-280

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 281-294

Index

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pp. 295-304


E-ISBN-13: 9780817382179
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817312046

Publication Year: 2010