“Many Voices: One Nation” Brings Together Diverse Storytelling with Collaboration of Local Institutions

HSW_ManyVoicesOneNation_Entrance

Many Voices: One Nation, which opened at the National Museum of American History on June 28, 2017, aims to explore the questions of equality, belonging, and freedom that are encompassed by E Pluribus Unum. From past to present it unpacks how individuals have negotiated their place in the community and how that activity – in turn – has shaped the nation we know today.

The Historical Society of Washington, D.C. was invited to attend a “TweetUp” tour of the exhibit on July 19, with a special behind-the-scenes look guided by the exhibit’s curators. What impressed us the most – aside from the many ways that D.C. echoes the pursuit of belonging and freedom played out across the nation – was the purposeful way the exhibit depends on objects from local, often smaller, cultural institutions nationwide. Many Voices: One Nation includes 90 objects on loan from 23 different institutions. Smithsonian Curator, Nancy Davis, stressed that the collaboration was an integral part of how the exhibit was envisioned to come together.

When planning for Many Voices: One Nation began three years ago, the National Museum of American History was already seeking out local institutions – some with only a single staff member, or a staff comprised solely of volunteers – to collaborate in telling the story of the never ending process of becoming one nation. There was an understanding that what the exhibit required was more complex than the story they could tell with objects solely from the Smithsonian’s collections.

The result is a touchstone exhibit that highlights the depth and diversity that can be achieved when institutions come together to share their common histories.

Preview Many Voices: One Nation with highlights from our behind-the-scenes tour below and virtually with the Many Voices: One Nation site.

Smithsonian Curator, Nancy Davis, introduces the tour and the significance of E Pluribus Unum in "Many Voices: One Nation."

Smithsonian Curator, Nancy Davis, introduces the tour and the significance of E Pluribus Unum in “Many Voices: One Nation.”

Columbia figure personifying the new United States as a nation, 1860s.

Columbia figure personifying the new United States as a nation, 1860s.

Inlaid wood table made by Peter Glass with 30,000 pieces of wood using symbols from his new home: America.

Inlaid wood table made by Peter Glass with 30,000 pieces of wood using symbols from his new home: America, 1868.

One focus was on the importance of local business. Sign from the La Esperanza bakery in Louisiana owned by immigrants to the United States from Mexico.

One focus was on the importance of local business to creating community. Sign from the La Esperanza bakery in Louisiana.

Immokalee Statue of Liberty by Kat Rodriquez, 2000.

Immokalee Statue of Liberty by Kat Rodriguez, 2000.