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186 5 Build­ ing a “Na­ tional ­ Shrine” at the Na­ tional Mu­ seum of ­ American His­ tory Today there is ­ greater need than ever be­ fore in our his­ tory for reach­ ing all of the peo­ ple with the story of our ­ country’s her­ i­ tage and the de­ vel­ op­ ment of the ­ American way of life. The Smith­ so­ nian In­ sti­ tu­ tion is es­ pe­ cially stra­ te­ gic in dis­ semi­ nat­ ing this mes­ sage. Smith­ so­ nian In­ sti­ tu­ tion, inter­ nal re­ port, 1953 Pride in the ex­ hibit ex­ tends to the el­ e­ va­ tor girl—“At last, we’ve got some­ thing mod­ ern.” Matt ­ McDade, “Smith­ so­ nian Bright­ ens Up An­ cient Hall,” Wash­ ing­ ton Post and ­ Times-Herald, April 18, 1954 More than ever be­ fore, ­ Americans in the 1950s vis­ ited and ­ learned his­ tory from mu­ seums. Dis­ semi­ na­ tion in­ creas­ ingly sup­ planted pres­ er­ va­ tion as the pri­ mary pur­ pose of the mu­ seum, as cu­ ra­ tors ­ sought new ways of reach­ ing the pub­ lic, and mu­ seums be­ came prom­ i­ nent tour­ ist at­ trac­ tions.1 A “new mu­ se­ ol­ ogy” that em­ pha­ sized inter­ ac­ tion, ed­ u­ ca­ tive func­ tion­ al­ ity, and pop­ u­ lar­ iza­ tion swept the field. Pat­ ron­ age of mu­ seums in­ creased dra­ mat­ i­ cally, as did ef­ forts to in­ struct the new vis­ i­ tors.2 The Smith­ so­ nian In­ sti­ tu­ tion ­ played a lead­ ing Building a “National Shrine” E 187 role in these ef­ forts while con­ struct­ ing a func­ tional ­ American his­ tory de­ signed to meet the prop­ a­ ganda needs of the Cold War. Sim­ i­ lar to the Free­ dom Train, and also ­ linked in sev­ eral ways to the his­ tory pre­ sented by Du Pont, the post­ war Smith­ so­ nian be­ came the site of an in­ tensely pa­ tri­ otic, ­ pro-military, and­ pro-business his­ tory ­ created ­ through the coop­ er­ a­ tion of cor­ po­ ra­ tions and the state. The Mu­ seum of ­ American His­ tory de­ vel­ oped out of a spe­ cific his­ tor­ i­ cal mo­ ment that fol­ lowed the end of World War II and the be­ gin­ ning of the Cold War. As one would ex­ pect, a na­ tional story ­ forged at a mo­ ment of both tri­ umph and anx­ iety ab­ sorbed char­ ac­ ter­ is­ tics that would be in­ con­ gru­ ous at other times. Fo­ cus­ ing on the or­ i­ gins of the mu­ seum, this chap­ ter ex­ plains how the po­ lit­ i­ cal con­ cerns that mo­ ti­ vated the post­ war de­ mand for more “his­ tory” were felt and acted upon on Cap­ i­ tol Hill and the Na­ tional Mall. In ad­ di­ tion to its ca­ pac­ ity for stim­ u­ lat­ ing inter­ ac­ tions ­ between vis­ i­ tors and orig­ i­ nal ma­ te­ rial from the past, the mu­ seum was val­ ued as a bul­ wark ­ against an age of re­ pro­ duc­ tions and mass com­ mu­ ni­ ca­ tion.3 Mu­ seums con­ tained some­ thing “real,” per­ haps even some fun­ da­ men­ tal truth, and dur­ ing the 1950s the Smith­ so­ nian pro­ vided rap­ idly in­ creas­ ing num­ bers of vis­ i­ tors with ­ semi-official ­ truths of ­ American his­ tory. The mu­ seum as­ sumed a key role in the con­ struc­ tion of na­ tional iden­ tity and the def­i­ ni­ tion of the “American Way of Life”—not in­ ci­ den­ tally a po­ si­ tion from which re­ quests for fund­ ing could be more eas­ ily made. In 1957, leg­ is­ la­ tion­ signed by Pres­ i­ dent Ei­ sen­ hower ­ created the Na­ tional Mu­ seum of His­ tory and Tech­ nol­ ogy (MHT), later re­ named the Na­ tional Mu­ seum of ­ American His­ tory (MAH). This act cul­ mi­ nated the ­ exhibits’ mod­ ern­ iza­ tion pro­ gram that ­ spanned the 1950s, as well as a dozen years of in­ ten­ sive plan­ ning and cam­ paign­ ing by cu­ ra­ tors and their sup­ port­ ers. It re­ flected a dra­ matic new ap­ pre­ ci...


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