Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor
Museum Masters: Their Museums and Their Influence. By Edward P. Alexander. Nashville: The American Association for State and Local History, 1983. Illustrations. Index. 428 Pages. $22.95.
Reviewed by Dr. Stephen A. Colston, Director of the Center for Regional History, San Diego State University.
Edward P. Alexander is a leading figure in the museum world. He is a founder of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), served as a president of that organization, was the Director of Interpretation at Colonial Williamsburg for some three decades, and established the graduate program of museum studies at the University of Delaware. He is also distinguished as an author. His Museums in Motion: An Introduction to the History and Functions of Museums (1982) has become something of a standard textbook in museum science curricula. Alexander’s latest contribution is a compilation of twelve biographical vignettes of individuals who, like himself, have nurtured the development of the museum world.
Drawing upon both secondary and published primary sources, the author has compiled an imposing amount of data which he has adroitly fashioned to present insightful biographies of these twelve museum pioneers (eleven men and one woman). Alexander’s approach transcends simple narrative and he has assessed the masters’ contributions to the museum facilities with which they were most closely associated. Alexander devotes approximately equal coverage to each inductee of his “Hall of Champions” who represent both the United States and Europe and various types of museum facilities. Chronologically, the monograph spans some two centuries, from the mid-eighteenth century when Sir Hans Sloane worked to establish the British Museum to John Cotton Dana’s activities with the Newark Museum during the first quarter of the twentieth century. The other masters portrayed by Alexander are, together with the museums they were so instrumental in developing: Charles Willson Peale and the Philadelphia Museum; Dominique Vivant Denon and the Louvre; William Jackson Hooker and the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew; Henry Cole and the South Kensington (Victoria and Albert) Museum; Ann Pamela Cunningham and Virginia’s Mt. Vernon; Wilhelm Bode and Berlin’s Museum Island; Arthur Hazelius and Stockholm’s Skansen; George Brown Goode and the Smithsonian Institution; Karl Hagenbeck and the Hamburg’s Stellingen Tierpark; and Oskar von Miller and Munich’s Deutsches Museum.
Readers of this journal should find the biographies of Cunningham, Hazelius and Goode of particular interest. Ann Pamela Cunningham (1816-1875) was the major force in renovating George Washington’s famed Virginia plantation and, with other programs she implemented at Mt. Vernon, laid the cornerstone of the historic house movement in the United States. This movement has greatly influenced the museum world since historic houses constitute the most numerous type of history museum. The Swede Artur Hazelius (1833-1901) provided creative, energetic leadership in developing the folk, open-air museum; he was instrumental in furthering the concepts of both the open-air museum and of the ethnographic museum with collections of local and regional historical artifacts. George Brown Goode (1851-1896) conceived the foundation for the United States’ “National Museum,” the Smithsonian’s multi-museum plan, and advanced the idea that the historical museum should be more than a static cabinet of curiosities, it should be a vital instrument for promoting historical studies.
While Museum Masters merits the attention of the serious student of cultural history, its greatest value rests with its contributions to museum science literature. This book provides an indispensable background for cur-rent museum practices and, for that reason, is an excellent companion volume to Alexander’s Museums in Motion.