- Palace of Culture: Andrew Carnegie’s Museums and Library in Pittsburgh by Robert J. Gangewere
Palace of Culture chronicles Andrew Carnegie’s vision of educating the people of Pittsburgh through a library and institute. Increasing in importance since its inception in 1896, Carnegie’s vision grew to becoming a major resource for more than just the people of Pittsburgh. Robert Gangewere, editor of Carnegie Magazine for thirty-one years, presents an in-depth history of the Carnegie Institute from inception to present day. Sprouting from just a library, music hall, and science museum, the Institute now includes a natural history museum, art museum, science center, the Andy Warhol Museum, and the Carnegie International Art Exhibition. From political turmoil to budget cuts, the Institute’s over-100-year history of ups and downs is covered in an easy-to-read manner. Careers of directors, trustees, and administrators from each collection are laid out by the author in detail. Also, the history and importance to the Institute’s educational and research goals of each division (library, museums, music hall, and so on) are told.
The book begins with an introduction to Andrew Carnegie. For someone not very familiar with the Pittsburgh philanthropist’s story, it provides not only an introduction to the man himself, but works to explain why he saw a need to create the Carnegie Institute and Library for the people of Allegheny City, Pittsburgh’s North Side. As a young boy Carnegie borrowed books [End Page 404] from retired businessman Colonel James Anderson’s personal library. When the books were donated to the public library, young Andrew suddenly was to be charged a fee to read books previously read for free. Unhappy at the change, Andrew wrote a letter to get the new procedure reversed, succeeding in his attempt (p. 6). When the Carnegie Libraries were built, the phrase “Free to the People” above the entrance remained a personal reminder of his early life (p. 108).
Gangewere does an excellent job of presenting integral information to the discussion of museum theory and practice through the lens of an immensely popular institute founded by one of Pittsburgh’s historical giants. Carnegie’s desire to uplift people in Pittsburgh was the primary reason for creating the Institute. His personal philosophy was that working-class people could be uplifted through education and culture if given the opportunity (p. 4). He hoped that “nothing in the gallery or hall will give offense to the simplest man or woman (p. x).” In saying this, Carnegie touches on current battles within museum theory and practice. He wanted to prevent people from being alienated by using complicated, lofty scientific language or covering certain topics. Even today certain subjects are avoided at museums and science centers to avoid controversy. However, the information can be presented at these institutions without prejudice to foster a discussion between the visitor and docent or guide. Without complete information a visitor may leave confused about a subject rather than curious about learning more. If we avoid a discussion on aspects of history or biology, for example, because it makes people uncomfortable, how can they learn the whole story? An example would be an exhibit on biology without presenting evolutionary theory. While controversial, evolution is interwoven in the fabric of biology. While not a best practice, this view allowed for the creation of the Carnegie Institute that we enjoy today.
Another section relating to public history theory discusses the Carnegie Science Center and Buhl Planetarium. “New Directions” cuts deep into the discussion in how museums/science centers need to appeal to the community while being educational. Under the leadership of Seddon Bennington, the museum embraced the mantra of “share science.” The same idea applies to history. Public history is about sharing history with everyone and getting people interested in learning about the past. Without the community participating in and embracing a museum or science center’s programs, it is simply a building and parking lot. “Culture” needs to be...