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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Collections Connections: Past and Future

"A museum has to renew its collection to be alive, but that does not mean we give on important old works." - David Rockefeller

I have surely come to understand this concept during my internship with the Anacostia Community Museum (ACM).  As a research intern, I have seen first hand the importance of older archival collections to serve as stepping-stones for building contemporary collections. The exhibition and research records of ACM’s 1994 show Black Mosaic: Community, Race, and Ethnicity Among Black Immigrants in Washington, D.C. is a collection that centers on perceptions of identity, construction of community, and the lived experiences of Black immigrants in the DC area.  Decades later, Black Mosaic is providing insight for Bridging the Americas, an Anacostia exhibition in process that highlights historical and contemporary Panamanian experiences in the DC area. The new show, opening in 2014 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal, draws in part on the stories from Panamanian participants in Black Mosaic. While researching, I often felt like I was transported to another time period. Time warping provided me with the historical context I needed to find similar themes and make relevant connections. 

Participants carry the Panamanian flag during a Latino Festival in Washington, DC on July 28, 1991. Black Mosaic Research Project (S000044), Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Harold Dorwin photographer.

My internship has been a hands-on education experience. I have engaged with material for Bridging the Americas through many different avenues. This includes: looking through vertical files in the DC public library’s Washingtoniana Room, reading digitized news articles from well over a century ago, looking through collections in the Anacostia Community Museum Archives, searching census data, looking at pictures in the Wetmore Papers in the Smithsonian Institution Archives, or conducting an interview with research participants.  I’ve engaged with the material in ways I could not have imagined prior to receiving an internship at the Smithsonian.

The interview is my most memorable form of engagement. I had the privilege to conduct an oral history interview with two DC residents, a mother and a daughter, regarding their experiences growing up, the role of language, expressions of identity, understandings of community, and their lived experiences as Panamanian women. Though very nervous, I gained insight about aspects of Panama and DC I was initially unfamiliar with. It was wonderful to see the mother-daughter dynamic at play as their unique narratives weaved together to form an intriguing story. They even brought a Trinidadian passport from the early 20th century to show their family’s migration to Panama. It brings me great satisfaction to learn how the work at ACM helps link past and present museum collections.

Panamanian Independence Day party, November 03, 2013. Susana Raab, Anacostia Community Museum photographer.

Every moment has been worthwhile--If only you could see the countless times I've scribbled in my notebook, “I love this” or “This is so cool.” I am very grateful for my experience and every person I've met along the way. Museums and exhibitions tell stories; the narratives of people, objects, and events.  One day distant from now, the Bridging the Americas exhibition records will be a collection of the past, but as Rockefeller infers, we should not forget its importance. I surely won’t!

Danielle Moore
Latino Studies Curatorial Intern, Winter 2014
Anacostia Community Museum  


  1. Thank you Danielle. Your time with us at ACM proved to be rewarding for all of us. - CG Akeju, Director, ACM

  2. The perception of identity construction of the community and the experiences of black immigrants certainly a fascinating subject that will for many collections.
    Identity and community are two words that speak volumes of stocks, we must not forget our identity to integrate into a community, it enriches our culture and honor our memory.
    Certainly exciting and vivid history leaves us full of passion scraps.
    Best wishes and my sincere greeting.

  3. It is so wonderful to see younger people engaging with the past as they plan for the future. This is such a great example of learning from our elders while charting one's own exciting path through life. A great blog! Pam Henson, History Division, SI Archives