‘Nineteen Nineteen’ Review: A Year Seen Through the Lens of Its ArtifactsHistorians in the News
tags: historians, Museum, 1919
That was the year that railroad and real-estate magnate Henry E. Huntington and his wife, Arabella, signed the trust agreement creating the Huntington as a public institution. A centennial exhibition was clearly in order. But curators James Glisson and Jennifer A. Watts chose to avoid the obvious—chronicling the institution’s history. They decided instead to show what the world was like during that “cataclysmic” year, full of revolution, recovery, redrawn national borders and struggles for human rights.
This fresh approach celebrates the wealth of the Huntington’s collections but also exposes their idiosyncratic nature, which was determined by the interests of its founders and subsequent directors and donors. Even drawing from its 11 million objects and using the broadest parameters—selecting items that were made, published, exhibited, edited or acquired in 1919—the curators could not create a full portrait of a year that included the ratification of Prohibition, the Russian civil war, the Amritsar Massacre, the Black Sox Scandal and the race riots and lynchings of the “Red Summer,” to name a few events that had to be omitted (except in the blown-up newspaper clips that provide a backdrop to the display).