One of the serendipitous joys of warm-weather research is (occasionally) fleeing the archive to sample a new city’s eateries, museums, and sites. As you research your way across America (and beyond) this spring/summer, here are a few exhibits worth pausing for—feel free to add more in the comments.
The Smithsonian museums offer a new array of promising shows: join James McNeill Whistler for a ramble through London, 1859; tour treaties made between American Indian nations and the United States; relive the rivalry of Civil War generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee; trace the North American birds who have flown into history since 1600 (and see a few more preserved in bronze); or hum along to Francis Scott Key’s original manuscript of The Star-Spangled Banner. The DuSable Museum in Chicago presents “Red, White, Blue & Black: A History of Blacks in the Armed Services” from the American Revolution to the Vietnam War. Or head to the English countryside in late June by way of Houston, when the Museum of Fine Arts debuts paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts from Sir Robert Walpole’s Houghton Hall. At the Met, take a closer look at early American guitars and the workmanship of antebellum artisan C. F. Martin. A train ride to Brooklyn will get you a close-up of “Small Wonders from the American Collections.” To glimpse treasures from the Bodleian Library, including the manuscript of Handel’s Messiah and “the definitive account of Aztec civilization,” stop by the Morgan Library & Museum.
On the West Coast, check out Seattle’s Porcelain Room, and back on the East Coast, watch how American notions of photography, er, develop throughout the nineteenth century: “From its origins in recording the unadorned appearance of the human face, American photography evolved into a means of communicating personal attributes, beyond documentary into the fiction: By the end of the century, people were shown conversing with ghosts, struggling through faux blizzards created in the studio, even confronting their spirit doubles. Rare examples of these “photographic fictions” are included in MIT’s exhibition.” Also in Boston, visit “Tell It with Pride,” the story of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, currently on view at the Massachusetts Historical Society.
After a long day’s work, enjoy the real-life caper played out in Art and Craft, a new documentary about Mark Landis, and billed as the true tale of “one of the most prolific art forgers in U.S. history.” At the University of Notre Dame, take a break in the newly reinstalled Snite Museum of Art’s nineteenth-century gallery, reviewed here. For the armchair enthusiast: Browse the excellent database of nineteenth-century French drawings available here, thanks to the collaboration of the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum. And finally, check out the NEH events calendar for library programs, lectures, and more taking place at diverse venues around the country. Enjoy!