We seek a third paper on display, exhibition, collection or other innovative ways of communicating politics and ideology in the Progressive Era for the 2012 meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago. We are also seeking a chair/commentator. If you wish to be a panelist, please submit an abstract of up to 300 words, your paper title, and a biographical paragraph of up to 250 words to Anthony Todd, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Andrea Becksvoort, email@example.com, by Sunday, February 13. If you wish to be the commentator, simply contact us.
This panel will explore the nexus between Progressive politics, the burgeoning professionalization of social reform and academic disciplines, and the use of display and exhibition to both convey and reify these relationships. Historians have written about the “civilizing” forces of museums and exhibitions and have debunked the idea of a value-neutral, object-focused museum. This panel intends to explore how display, exhibition, and collection were not merely ideological, but political. Exhibitions, displays, and collections provide a way of interrogating the relationship between public and private, institutions and individuals, politics and culture. Anthony Todd’s paper examines Chicago's progressives’ technique of using museums and exhibits to display political messages - not subtle or civilizing, but exhibits designed to convince voters to change their position. This started with early settlement house museums, moved through the Chicago municipal museum (1906-08) and then culminated in the topic of his talk, the Child Welfare Exhibit of 1911. He argues that this was a particularly useful way for a movement that had little grassroots support to communicate with the public. The photos and displays crossed language barriers, and they also developed a particular aesthetic around the display of quantitative data - charts and graphs. They were explicitly political in a way no other Chicago museum was. Andrea Becksvoort’s paper explores the cultural and institutional politics at work in the anthropological exhibitions of the fledging Brooklyn Museum. She contends that while strict party politics explains some aspect of the museum, the negotiation between curators, board members, their publics, and industry demonstrates that cultural politics served as a foundation for policy.
PhD Candidate, University of Chicago History Department
Dissertation Fellow, Center for Gender Studies
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