National Museum of American History collects Occupy Wall Street memorabilia
This article makes it sound like archivists and museum professionals are wandering aimlessly looking for OWS artifacts, but I assume the Smithsonian and other "major historical institutions" have a collection plan of some sort. In my opinion, the article shows some lack of understanding about what cultural heritage professionals do. It seems to me that if our profession is to be valued and funded that we need to fix part of the perception presented here. We do not collect what is popular or what people remember. We collect TO remember and Occupy Wall Street is an important part of our current events that needs to be evaluated by historians in due time. Those out collecting "ephemera" are doing exactly what they should be doing as good professionals and this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.
Attempts to collect Occupy Wall Street items may present a good opportunity to teach the public about the role of memory institutions. We should explain why we are collecting these things. We should use the opportunity to show other similar things in our collections -- how our collections show the rise and sometimes the fall of movements. Our collections help historians and others better understand our past so that we better understand ourselves and can move more surely into the future.
I do think it is a shame that a major newspaper such as the Washington Times presented our work in such a cavalier way. While not wrong in their facts, they create a perception that museum collecting and ebay sales should be thought of in the same way. In fact, it was the first paragraph that made me jittery right off the bat:
"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. "
"In case the protesters end up in the history books..." I wonder... from where do they think the historians get their information for their history books?