Magnificent Obsessions: Why We Collect

Courtesy of Smithsonian Exhibits

By Angela Hickey

Magnificent Obsessions: Why We Collect is an exhibit of a classical depiction of the human need to impulsively collect, hosted by the National Museum of American History. From national museums to one’s own home, humans have been collecting historical objects for centuries. This exhibit shows the importance of collections, and how collecting is an art imperative to the preservation of history. 

Magnificent Obsessions: Why We Collect is an immersive exhibit that reveals to visitors why humans feel the need to collect. Curated by Stephen H. Van Dyk and Mary Augusta Thomas, this exhibition features historical pieces from the Smithsonian Libraries’ own private and personal collection. 

Located in the National Museum of American History, this exhibit features rare books, manuscripts, and other items from across the Libraries of the Smithsonian Institution. Part of the exhibit highlights the personal motivations and long lasting impact of book collectors who were compelled to share their “magnificent obsessions” with the nation.

The National Museum of American History has been devoted to the scientific, cultural, social, technological, and political development of the United States ever since its opening in January 1964. The museum’s extensive collection contains more than three million historical objects and documents that explore the evolution of the American identity. Through the collection of artifacts and pieces from the past, people are provided with a glimpse into history.

Magnificent Collections explores the importance of collecting different artifacts throughout history and from specific time periods. Visitors are able to walk through personal collections of people throughout history thanks to this exhibit. Ultimately, this collection of objects from the past attracts all kinds of visitors because it does not only give a glimpse into the past, but it also shows the similarities to the people in the present as well. 

Magnificent Obsessions was officially opened on November 7 in 2018 by the museum as a part of the National Museum of American History’s 50th Anniversary celebration. The exhibition attracts viewers from diverse backgrounds due to its intriguing subject matter. With an extensive collection spanning many centuries, there is bound to  be something interesting in this exhibit for everyone. 

Magnificent Obsessions: Why We Collect inspires generations by sharing many diverse eras of history, as well as sharing ideas of many different disciplines and cultures, and ultimately inspiring creativity and illuminating parts of history that would otherwise be unknown. By sharing this collection with the public, the museum is not only answering the question of why humans collect, but  is also showing the similarities between people now and their ancestors and even people they never would have imagined having any similarities to.

The exhibit will remain open to the public in the National Museum of American History until July 1, 2020. It is available for viewing during the museum’s normal hours from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

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