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Orchids! (And Enthusiasts) March 24, 2009

Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.
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Regular updates to continue tomorrow.  Today I just thought I’d mention that on a springtime trip to the National Mall, my girlfriend and I took a quick swing through the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.  This was sort of a getting-from-Constitution-Ave-to-the-Mall kind of swing-through (bless the free-of-charge Smithsonian!), but it did afford an opportunity to catch the Orchids Through Darwin’s Eyes exhibit, which is being put on by the Smithsonian’s Horticultural Services Division.  (We later took a stroll through the United States Botanic Garden, which is also a a really attractive place).

I hardly ever go downtown (the crowds!), but I should, because I am spoiled with all the incredible curatorial and historical talent right here.  As I weave my way through tourists, what I usually think about is the sheer amount of expertise that must go into crafting this stuff, when most people passing through must think, “Ooh, orchids!” if not, “How can we hit three more museums before dinner?  C’mon kids, culture!  Appreciate!  Quicker!”  The museum folks have always struck me as having a sort of bizarre, and slightly depressing, role to play.

But I’m probably wrong about that, because there’s also the enthusiasts, who, if nit-picky at times, are surely the most rewarding audience with whom to interact.  In the future I’d like to go into a little bit more detail about history written by and for enthusiasts, as opposed to pop history.   I get the impression academics who deal regularly with neither tend to conflate the groups, even though they couldn’t be more different.

One of these days we’ve got to get a curator over here to do a Q&A to talk about being spanned between the general public, enthusiasts, and academics.  I know academics generally don’t like to get into the kinds of nitty-gritty issues that enthusiasts love (this would be background research, not publishable stuff), but it’s worth considering how historians might identify and serve this audience’s needs better, possibly improving scholarship in the process.  I’m thinking here of something between the educational exhibit and the a-to-z reference resource, but I’ll have to come back to this thought later.  Got to get home!

Less musing, more substance tomorrow.  Promise!

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