Cultural Timepieces or Archival Ephemera? Historians Collect Occupy Artifacts

Article excerpt


Well, that didn't take long. Early in October, staffers from the Smithsonian Museum of American History went through the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York's Zucotti Park collecting hand-made posters and other material to build up a record of the embryonic movement in case the protesters end up in the history books - and not just in jail for unlawful assembly and messing up public spaces.

As the Occupy protest widened to other cities, so did the museum's search. But museum officials declined to go into detail about what was being collected and from where.

Valeska M. Hilbig, deputy director of public affairs, referred to a museum statement that puts the initiative in the context of similar recent efforts. The protests are still ongoing, and things are still unfolding, Ms. Hilbig told The Washington Times. Historians like to take the long view and see how things play out. They wouldn't feel comfortable to discuss it until they have had a chance to get the historic perspective.

The museum said there were no plans to put the material collected on exhibition. But it turns out collecting Occupy Wall Street posters and the like is in vogue. Artinfo, a leading artmagazine, reported on Tuesday that the New York Historical Society and what it called major historical institutions have also been in search of Occupy Wall Street ephemera.

Artinfo quoted Jean Aston, the Historical Society's librarian and executive vice president as saying, These items document a particular moment in time, which may become significant in the future. If the events fizzle, the objects are still important documents of a certain variety and culture.

The National Museum of American History has been hoarding such documents and artifacts from contemporary events for years as part of its long tradition of documenting how Americans participate in the life of the nation, says an official museum statement. …