As the 2024 presidential election season speeds up with caucuses and primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, political history curators from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will be on the road gathering materials and memorabilia to document this election cycle for the national collections.
Curators Lisa Kathleen Graddy, Jon Grinspan and Claire Jerry are planning to cover initial Democratic and Republican contests leading up to Super Tuesday March 5. They will seek to include materials that reflect debates, rallies, protests, and on-site and digital campaign activities. The collecting initiative will continue through the summer’s nominating conventions and the November election.
“By actively collecting new materials at the primaries and the party conventions every four years, the nation’s flagship history museum documents the evolving spirit and complexity of the presidential campaign’s political landscape to then share with the American public, both now and in the future,” said Anthea M. Hartig, the museum’s Elizabeth MacMillan Director.
The museum’s political campaign collection with more than 100,000 objects is the largest of its kind, containing artifacts dating as far back as the inauguration of President George Washington. The collection includes objects related to presidential history and political campaigning, the history of the White House and first ladies; civil rights, women’s suffrage and reform movements; the World War II home front; and labor history.
The curatorial team seeks objects that represent a celebration of democracy and how people express and exercise their right to vote and how parties and individuals showcase their identity and candidate preferences. Prospective donors who may have objects and other materials that could be considered for future acquisition are invited to send photos and descriptions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Whether it’s handmade or mass-generated, each object represents history in the making by showing how candidates communicate with the public and how the public in turn communicates with the candidates,” Jerry said.
The ongoing collecting is an initiative to acquire materials that capture the atmosphere and the democratic spirit of the primaries and conventions. It will allow researchers and visitors to observe and compare how each election season brings new trends, strategies and methods of communication to the political forefront. A large selection of campaign materials collected in the past is on view in “American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith,” an exhibition that examines the bold experiment to create a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”
The museum’s broader political history collections include some of the country’s most important national treasures, including the small portable desk on which the future President Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, the top hat President Abraham Lincoln wore the night he was assassinated and items from the most recent presidential election in 2020.
About the Museum
Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History seeks to empower people to create a more just and compassionate future by examining, preserving and sharing the complexity of our past. The doors of the museum are always open online and the virtual museum continues to expand its offerings, including online exhibitions, PK–12 educational materials and programs. The public can follow the museum on social media on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. For more information, go to https://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.
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