Since its founding in 1846, the Smithsonian Institution has served as the United States’ premier showplace of wonder. … But behind the brilliant display cases, the infrastructure is starting to crack. The kind of harm being done to the Smithsonian’s collections is not the quick devastation of a natural disaster, nor the malicious injury of intentional abandonment. Rather, it’s a gradual decay resulting from decades of incremental decisions by directors, curators, and collections managers, each almost imperceptibly compounding the last. Over time, shifting priorities, stretched budgets, and debates about the purpose of the museum have resulted in fewer curators and neglected collections.
The Smithsonian doesn’t want to talk about its orphaned collections. But Allison Marsh and I did. As fellows in the Think Write Publish program, we collaborated on a long piece that goes inside Allison’s attempt to save the National Museum of American History’s neglected engineering collection from obsolescence. It’s online in full, as well as in the current print issues of Creative Nonfiction and Issues in Science and Technology. Do your patriotic duty this week and take a look.