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Posted at 6:10 PM ET, 03/ 8/2011

Smithsonian dispatches curator to collect from Wisconsin debates

By Jacqueline Trescott

The National Museum of American History, always on the outlook for current materials, has dispatched a curator to Wisconsin to judge whether signs and buttons from the ongoing labor debates are museum-worthy.

Barbara Klark Smith, a curator with the museum's Political History division, was given the assignment. Smith is part of an established team at the Smithsonian's museum which examines how citizens participate in the political process. On display and in the warehouses are 100,000 items from political campaigns, social justice movements and labor history.

Some relate to pivotal moments in the building of the American identity.The artifacts date back to the desk Thomas Jefferson used when the Declaration of Independence was drafted. The museum has the inkwell Abraham Lincoln used to write the Emancipation Proclamation.

In the 2008 presidential campaigns, the collecting team picked up hats and banners from the conventions that nominated Barack Obama and John McCain. This year they trolled the National Mall to pick up signs from the Tea Party rally in March.

A spokeswoman for the museum said the Wisconsin debates and protests fit right into the museum's mission.

"This is part of the museum's long tradition of documenting how Americans participate in the political process. The museum collects from contemporary events because many of these materials are ephemeral and if not collected immediately are lost to the historical record," said Valeska Hilbig, deputy director of public affairs for the museum.

By Jacqueline Trescott  | March 8, 2011; 6:10 PM ET
Categories:  Jacqueline Trescott, Museums, Smithsonian  | Tags:  Barbara Klark Smith, National Museum of American History, Valeska Hilbig, Wisconsin labor debates, political history collection, smithsonian Institution  
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