Pop Culture and Politics at the American History Museum
Along the Corridors
Published: Sunday, July 22, 2012
Updated: Monday, July 30, 2012 16:07
All summer long, the guide will take a look at some of the museums that call the District home. We’ll weed out tourist traps and find the hidden gems where you can spend a few hours along the corridors.
Though the Smithsonian museums are some of the city’s most popular, many do not live up to the hype. But the National Museum of American History is truly remarkable in both size and substance. One could spend days in this unbelievable museum and still struggle to scratch the surface. The exhibition rooms, which feature different aspects of American history, lead to more rooms, which branch to smaller sections and continue to multiply until you find yourself lost in a maze of American history.
With over three million artifacts on display, the treasures found in this museum range from items of heavy historical significance to iconic pop culture pieces. The Smithsonian does a wonderful job of portraying true American history: not just the obvious political part of our history that we learn about in textbooks, but the history of all aspects of American life, including transportation, media, culture and education through the ages.
The collection features such notable artifacts as the original Star-Spangled Banner, Abe Lincoln’s top hat, Archie Bunker’s chair and a fashion show of dresses worn by first ladies throughout American history. Fun trinkets such as old lunch boxes and toys from previous centuries are kept in the same place as Edison’s first light bulbs and other famous creations from the “hot spot of invention” of the early 20th century.
For the visitors interested in the social aspect of American history, the pop culture exhibit will most certainly capture their attention with Dorothy’s sparkly red slippers and the ancient video games on display. The museum is also home to the original Kermit the Frog. The Girl Scout exhibition room did not have much to show, but the Toying with Invention exhibition case on the third floor was very well done and allowed the visitors to see how far American ingenuity has come.
The staff at the American History Museum does not just display the artifacts and consider their jobs complete; they are part of an ongoing effort to involve visitors and increase their understanding of the history this museum set out to preserve.
There was constant action in the lobby for the entertainment and education of visitors of all ages. There was a giant flag unrolling, singing and dance groups, a post-Civil War black rights demonstration and a butter-churning event. The black rights demonstration was particularly moving, as volunteers were called on stage to endure a brief demonstration of what life was like for newly freed black slaves in the South. Other volunteers were instructed to throw things and yell, constantly harassing the young man, who was not allowed to react out of fear of imprisonment by the dominant whites.
The National Museum of American History is designed to entertain all visitors, no matter their age, with highly interactive exhibits, whereas other museums require lots of reading about displays to understand what you’re seeing. As you mosey through the various exhibits, tour guides are stationed strategically in some rooms to point out the notable features of the collections. Various theatres are also continuously running within the exhibits to provide a more visual, emotional experience as the history behind the glass comes to life. If you’re only going to visit one Smithsonian museum, don’t miss this gem.