On July 23, we partnered with Hagley Museum and Library to present an exhibition-style briefing on Capitol Hill. Congressional staff members, humanities advocates, and other local friends had the opportunity to view items from Hagley’s remarkable collections and gain new insights into the impact of NEH funding in preserving our nation’s heritage.
Located in Wilmington, Delaware, Hagley Museum and Library collects and interprets the history of American enterprise. Its archives store thousands of patent models—the largest collection outside of the Smithsonian—and images, documents, and objects gathered from companies and collectors throughout the United States. In addition, Hagley helps businesses and other entities preserve their histories by housing the archives of organizations like the National Association of American Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce.
Hagley tells a uniquely American story, and the objects and materials Hagley’s staff brought to the exhibition showcased that fact. Three patent models highlighted a range of American inventions, from an “Improvement in Stills” developed by Jim Beam, to a steam engine regulator, to a fire escape designed for women and children. Images and documents showcased the work of Raymond Loewy, highlighted the contributions of immigrants and women to American architecture and defense, and illuminated the work of the Intellectual Property Committee during the establishment of NAFTA.
In remarks, NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede and Hagley Director of Library Services Erik Rau focused on the NEH’s support of Hagley’s work, which has included funding for processing and preserving the Raymond Loewy archives and the renovation of its storage facility, as well as funding for a fellowship program that helps scholars make use of Hagley’s collections. Senator Chris Coons, for his part, drew attention to the broad range of support NEH offers Delaware institutions as well as institutions throughout the United States and the important role the humanities play in bolstering our communities.
Attendees to the event left with a better sense of what Hagley holds—and a more nuanced understanding of the role the NEH plays in preserving our cultural heritage. After all, Hagley is one of thousands of collecting institutions, located throughout the United States, that hold significant portions of our cultural heritage, keeping them safe and making them accessible to the public. For each of these institutions, preservation is an incredible responsibility. It is also, often, the stuff of new ceilings, acid-free boxes, and climate control—in other words, work that is hard to raise funding for. By supporting the behind-the-scenes work of these and other institutions, the NEH plays a critical role in preserving our heritage.