Pilgrimages to the museums of the new age: appropriating European industrial museums in New York City (1927–1937)
How did industrial museums cross the Atlantic? When the first American museums of science and industry were created in the 1920s, they looked to Europe in order to import what was seen at that time as a burgeoning cultural institution. In this article, I look at this process of appropriation through an analysis of the changing perceptions of European industrial museums as expressed in the reports, surveys and books written by the curators, directors and trustees of the New York Museum of Science and Industry. I will pay particular attention to the 1927 film Museums of the New Age, documenting the main national industrial museums in Europe, and to a 1937 report on the techniques of display at the Palais de la Découverte. I will argue that their contrasting assessment of European industrial museums, which in only ten years ceased to be seen as cathedrals of a new age to become old-fashioned storehouses, is symptomatic of the significant transformation of museums of science and industry as cultural institutions during the 1930s in the United States.
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