Museums change lives.
When I was ten, my parents brought me to the Smithsonian for the first time. They were children and grandchildren of immigrants, and it was their first visit also. Decades later, that mesmerizing encounter with the power and wonder of a great national museum continues to resonate in my life in ways I could not have imagined as a boy racing across the National Mall.
That first visit to the Smithsonian sparked a life-long love of history and in public memory. It inspired my academic work and my resolve to pursue the path of a public historian—from collecting oral histories in North Carolina; preserving the industrial heritage of Pennsylvania; and working with families memorializing their loved ones as a member of the United Flight 93 Memorial Commission. That visit led to the daily rewards and challenges of engaging in interpreting the meaning, value and values of the American experience as director of the largest, most-visited museum in the world devoted to American history.
Today, it is my privilege to invite you to join us as we plan to reopen the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. After two years, $85 million, and a huge team effort, we are proud to have created a dynamic and welcoming new public square in the nation’s capital. We have transformed the building to shed new light on American history—literally, with a dramatic sky-lit five-story atrium, and conceptually, with a mix of new and renewed exhibitions of treasures from the 3 million in our collection.
In this blog, we will keep you posted on the countdown to the museum’s public re-opening festivities we are planning for the weekend of November 21-23, 2008. We will preview highlights of the transformation, and share a bit of what it’s like behind the scenes as we get ready to open our new doors to millions of visitors from around the country and around the world. We are confident that a visit will educate, engage, and inspire you . . . and might even change your life!