National Museum of American History Considers Collection Strategy in Response to Terrorist Attacks

October 9, 2001

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History joined with the Museum of the City of New York to convene a meeting of more than 70 professionals from a diverse group of institutions on Oct. 4 in New York City. This gathering provided historians, curators, archivists and artists with a forum to explore the role of cultural organizations in a time of national and global crisis and to formulate an appropriate response that achieves a balance between the urgency to document the ephemeral aspects of the moment and the need to provide some long-term historical perspective. The meeting underscored the enormity of the challenges faced by these organizations and the need for a coordinated effort to collect and preserve objects that represent the scope of the tragedy. 

The National Museum of American History recognizes its responsibility to document the tragic events of Sept. 11th and is planning to collect appropriate artifacts. Historians and curators have begun to reflect on times of crisis and are considering how best to collect and preserve some tangible materials from this shattering episode in our nation’s history. Objects, photographs and documents will be preserved permanently in the National Museum of American History and will help future historians and visitors to comprehend the horrific events, their roots and long-term consequences. 

The enormity of the tragedy intersects almost every subject area covered by the museum, and members of the curatorial staff are pursuing leads to many kinds of objects. Curators are considering collecting items from the sites of this tragedy in Washington, New York and Pennsylvania, as well as the national response from around the country. A number of important topics are being considered, such as communications; police, fire, and rescue operations; structural building analysis; military, political, and civic responses; as well as larger historical implications that touch on individuals and the nation as a whole. 

The museum will coordinate its efforts with other historical organizations, including the Museum of the City of New York and anticipated memorials at the sites, to find a suitable response to an unprecedented situation. The two museums will form a steering committee to address the issues faced by the cultural community and map out a course of action. The museums will also collaborate in setting up an electronic clearinghouse to facilitate sharing of information and resources between all organizations involved. 

Participants of the meeting also recognized the importance of marking the first anniversary of the attacks in 2002. Plans will be announced at a later time.

Those wishing to donate objects to the national collections are requested to send a letter outlining their proposal and photographs, but no objects, to the Smithsonian at: Smithsonian Information, SI Building, Room 153, Washington, D.C. 20560-0010. All letters will be handled or forwarded appropriately. 


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The National Museum of American History traces American heritage through exhibitions of social, cultural, scientific and technological history. Collections are displayed in exhibitions that interpret the American experience from Colonial times to the present. The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Dec. 25. For more information, visit the museum’s Web site at http://americanhistory.si.edu or call (202) 633-1000.