This spring, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is reaching out to farmers, ranchers and American agri-business to build a collection that reflects modern agricultural practices. Curators are seeking stories, photographs and ephemera to record and preserve the innovations and experiences of farming and ranching.
In partnership with the American Farm Bureau Federation, the museum is announcing this initiative to the farming community today during the AFBF’s 94th annual meeting in Nashville. The first donation will come from Tennessee Farm Bureau member Pat Campbell, of Cleburne Jersey Farm, a multigenerational dairy farm founded in the 1870s in Spring Hill, Tenn. Campbell will give a selection of photographs, a computer cow tag and reader unit to show the change in dairying from a hand-labor intensive process to a modern computer-run operation. The donation will also include his personal recollections about how changing technology has altered his work life and has led to greater efficiency and safety.
“American agriculture has gone through a tremendous transformation in the last seven decades, becoming a high-tech industry, deeply affecting not just farmers themselves but every American and the American experience in general,” said Peter Liebhold, museum curator and chair of the Division of Work and Industry.
“Agriculture has played a vital role in the development of America’s business sector, from innovation and enterprise to the entrepreneurial spirit that has always been a major focus of America’s farm and ranch families,” said Julie Anna Potts, executive vice president and treasurer for AFBF and chair of the exhibition Agriculture committee. “As the nation’s largest farm and ranch organization, it made sense for Farm Bureau to partner with the museum.”
Coinciding with National Agriculture Day on March 19, the museum will unveil a new Web portal where the public can upload stories about technologies and innovation that have changed their work lives; stories about precision farming, traceability, environmental concerns, governmental practices, irrigation, biotechnology and hybrid seeds. For details, visit http://americanenterprise.si.edu.
“The story of agriculture is important and complex,” said John Gray, director of the museum. “In Jefferson’s time, 96 percent of Americans were farmers; today, that number is less than 2 percent. Despite this drop, productivity has skyrocketed and agriculture has evolved into a technology-driven profession with the cab of a tractor akin to a traditional CEO’s office.”
This new collection will inform the upcoming exhibition with the working title “American Enterprise,” an 8,000-square-foot multimedia experience that will immerse visitors in the dramatic arc of the nation’s story, focusing on the role of business and innovation in the United States from the mid-1700s to the present.
“American Enterprise” will tell the story of the nation’s business, centering on themes of opportunity, innovation, competition and common good with examples drawn from five areas: agriculture, consumer finance, information technology/communication, manufacturing and retail/service. It is scheduled to open in 2015 in the Mars Hall of American Business. Chronological in organization, “American Enterprise” will use objects, graphics and interactive experiences to examine how the United States moved from a small dependent nation to one of the world’s most vibrant and trend-setting economies.
The exhibition will explore the development of American agriculture through objects such as Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, a 1920s Fordson tractor, Barbara McClintock’s microscope and Stanley Cohen’s recombinant DNA research notebook, which represent machines and innovation that increased productivity and science that gave insight to the genetic structure of plants. American agriculture has employed science and technology to dramatically increase production and choice while lowering prices, but these changes have also altered the experience of farmers and the public in unexpected ways.
The National Museum of American History is currently renovating its West exhibition wing, developing galleries on business, democracy and culture. For more information, visit https://americanhistory.si.edu. 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. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.
Tracy Taylor Grondine