A Short History of Crisis and Resilience
Samuel J. Redman
Published by NYU Press, 2022
On an afternoon in January 1865, a roaring fire swept through the Smithsonian Institution. Dazed soldiers and worried citizens could only watch as the flames engulfed the museum’s castle. Rare objects and valuable paintings were destroyed. The flames at the Smithsonian were not the first—and certainly would not be the last— disaster to upend a museum in the United States. Beset by challenges ranging from pandemic and war to fire and economic uncertainty, museums have sought ways to emerge from crisis periods stronger than before, occasionally carving important new paths forward in the process.
The Museum explores the concepts of the multiple “crises” of the museums, and these historic institutions attempts to dealt with challenges ranging from depression and war to pandemic and philosophical uncertainty.
Samuel J. Redman speaks to Pierre d’Alancaisez about the fires, floods, wars, and existential crises that have redefined what museums do and how they think of themselves and their public, asking challenging questions about American cultural life. Not deterred by these institutions’ tendency to forgot their even recent past, Redman argues that cultural institutions can, and should, use their history to construe their future identity.
Samuel J. Redman is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the author of Bone Rooms: From Scientific Racism to Human Prehistory in Museums and Prophets and Ghosts: The Story of Salvage Anthropology.