Museums and American Intellectual Life, 1876-1926 / Edition 1by Steven Conn
Pub. Date: 12/28/2000
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
During the last half of the nineteenth century, Americans built many of the country's most celebrated museums, such as the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Chicago's Field Museum. In this original and daring study, Steven Conn argues that Americans built these institutions with the confidence that they could collect, organize, and display the sum of the world's knowledge. Examining various kinds of museums, Conn discovers how museums gave definition to different bodies of knowledge and how they presented that knowledge--the world in miniature--to the visiting public. Conn's study includes familiar places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Academy of Natural Sciences, but he also draws attention to forgotten ones, like the Philadelphia Commercial Museum, once the repository for objects from many turn-of-the-century world's fairs.
What emerges from Conn's pathbreaking analysis is that museums of all kinds shared a belief that knowledge resided in the objects themselves. Using what Conn has termed an "object-based epistemology," museums of the late nineteenth century were on the cutting edge of American intellectual life. By the first quarter of the twentieth century, however, museums had largely been replaced by research-oriented universities as places where new knowledge was produced. According to Conn, not only did this mean a change in the way knowledge was conceived, but also, and perhaps more importantly, who would have access to it.
Beautifully written and powerfully argued, Conn's work is a major contribution to our understanding of America's intellectual history.
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Table of Contents
1: Museums and the Late Victorian World
2: "Naked Eye Science": Museums and Natural History
3: Between Science and Art: Museums and the Development of Anthropology
4: The Philadelphia Commercial Museum: A Museum to Conquer the World
5: Objects and American History: The Museums of Henry Mercer and Henry Ford
6: From South Kensington to the Louvre: Art Museums and the Creation of Fine Art
7: 1926: Of Fairs, Museums, and History
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