Curators at the National Museum of American History Collect 2008 Campaign Memorabilia

June 13, 2008
When Smithsonian curators Larry Bird and Harry Rubenstein attend the Democratic and Republican National Conventions for the 2008 presidential campaigns, their purpose is to record history. Bird and Rubenstein have been collecting campaign memorabilia since 1980 to add to the National Museum of American History’s political history collection.

“Campaign memorabilia represent a celebration of democracy and how people express their identity and the identity of the nation,” said Rubenstein.

Bird and Rubenstein collect posters, badges, buttons, ribbons and advertising novelties directly from convention delegates. However, the collection also includes items from the media and numerous other individuals, including supporters of the presidential candidates. By having different individuals donating items, the collection represents the wide range of ways that individuals express their support for a candidate. The memorabilia in the collection ranges from handmade items to those that are mass-produced.

“Whether it’s handmade or mass-generated, each object represents history in the making by showing how candidates communicate to the public and how the public in turn communicates to the candidates,” said Bird.

Sending Smithsonian curators to the major party conventions held every four years is a long-standing tradition for the museum. The items that Bird and Rubenstein will collect will help the museum capture the essence of the American political system. “By collecting the materials from the conventions, the museum can better illustrate how the political system in America has evolved and how in some aspects it has stayed the same,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum.

Currently, the museum’s political history collection includes approximately 90,000 objects related to presidential history and political campaigning, as well as the history of the White House and first ladies; the civil rights, women’s suffrage and reform movements; the World War II home front; and labor history. The collection includes objects that are more than 200 years old and belonged to some of America’s founding fathers, such as Washington’s dispatch case, Jefferson’s portable writing desk and Lincoln’s top hat. The political history collections are featured in several major museum exhibitions, including “First Ladies at the Smithsonian” and “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden.”

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Documenting the American experience from Colonial times to the present, the museum looks at growth and change in the United States. The museum is closed for major renovations and will re-open in fall 2008. For information about the museum, please visit http://americanhistory.si.edu or call Smithsonian Information at (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).

Note to Editors: Bird and Rubenstein will be available to the news media to speak on issues related to the history of the political campaign process and its place within the larger context of the institution of the American Presidency. Reporters may also request interviews during the Democratic National Convention in Denver and the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Please call the museum’s Office of Public Affairs at (202) 633-3129 to schedule an interview.