Instant History: Archiving Political Slogans and Symbols

Historians and museum curators are already hard at work preserving the history of the Storming of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on 6 January 2021.

“A sign that reads, ‘Off with their heads — stop the steal’ and a small handwritten poster with the words ‘Trump won, swamp stole’ are among dozens of objects and ephemera from pro-Trump rallies and the Capitol takeover Wednesday that are heading to the National Museum of American History, collected by curators from the division of political and military history,” according to The New York Times.

Photo: Frank Blazich

Curators and staff members of the National Museum of American History, a branch of the Smithsonian Institution, collected discarded signs and banners from the National Mall for inclusion in the museum’s collections and are continuing to search for political ephemera.

Anthea M. Hartig, Director of the National Museum of American History, issued a statement about the Storming of the Capitol: “For the first time since the War of 1812, the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., was seriously breached, on Jan. 6, this time by domestic rioters (some would say insurrectionists and/or seditionists). An angry, violent mob broke up the constitutionally mandated session of Congress meeting to ratify the 2020 election results. Fraudulent claims and conspiracy theories challenging the legitimacy of the election results fueled these scenes.”

The New York Times reports that Hartig emphasized that “as an institution, we are committed to understanding how Americans make change.” Hartig stressed that “this election season has offered remarkable instances of the pain and possibility involved in that process of reckoning with the past and shaping the future.”

History students interested in archival work and public history will be interested in following the National Museum of American History’s project to collect political ephemera from the Storming of the Capitol.

The museum houses political ephemera from throughout the history of the United States, including the famous Jefferson Banner, celebrating Thomas Jefferson’s electoral victory over John Adams in 1800.

Banner. PL*227739.1800.C01. Jefferson. National Museum of American History.

Northern Illinois University’s Department of History actively trains M.A. and Ph.D. students in historical research, archival methods, and public history. Many of our students are interested in archival collections and the construction of historical memory. So, I anticipate discussing this archiving initiative with my undergraduate and graduate students this semester.

The National Museum of American History’s website provides information on its collections and has posted a statement by Director Hartig regarding the Storming of the Capitol.

The New York Times reports on the National Museum of American History’s collecting efforts.

This entry was posted in Archival Research, Civil Conflict, Comparative Revolutions, Cultural History, Current Research, History in the Media, History of Violence, Information Management, Material Culture, Museums and Historical Memory, Northern Illinois University, Political Activism and Protest Culture, Political Culture, Revolts and Revolutions, United States History and Society. Bookmark the permalink.

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