As part of National Agriculture Day, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History unveiled a new web portal where the public is being encouraged to upload stories and photos about innovations in agriculture that have changed their lives. The website is part of the planning for the “American Enterprise” exhibition.
Scheduled to open in 2015, “American Enterprise” will be a multimedia experience dedicated to telling the story of business and innovation in the United States, including documenting the important role agriculture has played throughout U.S. history. Monsanto has made a $2 million donation to help support the development of the exhibition and is one of many supporting the project that will honor the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit in America, including the agricultural industry we’re proud to support every day.
Smithsonian Curator Peter Liebhold answered questions about the museum’s unique initiative to document the innovations that have helped shape American agriculture.
Why is the museum launching an initiative to collect agriculture stories from the public?
The Agricultural Innovation and Heritage Archive is an exciting experiment for the museum. This is the first time that the museum has tried a collecting effort using social media. Usually, curators identify specific individuals and work directly with them to collect artifacts and stories. By reaching out through the web, we can reach thousands more people—and make the process more public. We’ll get greater diversity and build a more accurate, nuanced story of American agriculture.
The initiative is especially important as we develop the upcoming American Enterprise exhibition, as agriculture is one of five economic sectors explored in it. As we researched the topic, it became apparent that we lacked material that documented the many innovations that have fundamentally changed American agriculture.
What kinds of material do you hope the public submits?
Collecting museum objects is a black art. It is always hard to say what you are looking for in advance but fairly easy to say when you have found it. Curators look for icons; intrinsically interesting objects that represent great moments and esoteric ideas. For the Agricultural Innovation and Heritage Archive, we mostly hope to collect stories—insightful, introspective, and told in the first person. We want to bring history alive and make it personal.
How will the museum use agriculture stories submitted by the public?
The American Enterprise curators will use the material as they prepare the exhibition. There have been many books and articles written about agriculture, but this initiative will bring forward different perspectives than those that historians usually flog. History is complex and letting the public participate can be revealing.
Sacramento (CA) Bee: Smithsonian begins creating US agriculture archive