National Museum of American History FAQs

  1. How did the National Museum of American History acquire objects related to September 11? How did you decide what objects to include in the September 11 collection?
  2. How many objects related to September 11 do you have? Do you have artifacts from all three sites?
  3. Do you have any 9/11 artifacts on display?
  4. I have an artifact I’d like to contribute to the collection. Does the museum accept donations?
  5. Have more questions?

  1. How did the National Museum of American History acquire objects related to September 11? How did you decide what objects to include in the September 11 collection?
    In the immediate aftermath of the event, the Museum chose its top collecting curators—those with special experience in identifying and acquiring objects with useful stories to tell and who were able to distill a large story into manageable segments—to determine which aspects of the story to collect. These curators focused on three areas when documenting the story of September 11: the attacks themselves, the experience of first responders, and the recovery effort.

    As curator David Shayt* noted, “What we are doing is building a collection for all time here. It’s not something that we take lightly, so even a Barbie doll here is looked at with great scrutiny if it is offered to us. What messages, what stories does it tell? Does it have lasting value for the museum? Does it have research potential? Is it made well, so that it will endure over the decades and decades?

    These same questions were asked of everything I did at the World Trade Center. Looking through piles of rubble, talking to policemen, asking co-workers and workers up there, ‘What have you seen lately?’ Frankly we were offered many things that we declined… The criteria we had in mind was stories within stories, lasting physical value and authenticity.”

    To hear from more curator as they discuss the process of collecting in the aftermath of September 11, visit the website September 11: Bearing Witness to History.

    *Please note, David Shayt, who was instrumental in developing the September 11 collection, passed away in November 2008.

  2. How many objects related to September 11 do you have? Do you have artifacts from all three sites?
    The September 11 collection is growing, but currently includes over 1,000 photographs, over 300 objects, 15,000 comment cards from visitors to the Museum’s exhibition September 11: Bearing Witness to History, which opened on September 11, 2002, and additional documents in the Archives Center. The Museum was designated by Congress as the official repository of September 11 material in 2002, and holds artifacts from all three sites. Artifacts include clothing from first responders and survivors, airplane fragments, photographs of the search for the missing and of temporary memorials, and remembrances.
     
  3. Do you have any 9/11 artifacts on display?
    Yes, the exhibition The Price of Freedom: Americans at War includes a small section on September 11. Also, from Sept. 3 to 11 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. the museum will present September 11: Remembrance and Reflection, which will provide visitors with a close-up view of objects from the three sites—New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Penn. as well as recent acquisitions related to how American lives have changed since then. To create an intimate experience for visitors, the objects will be viewed on tables rather than behind glass exhibit cases. Artifacts will include airplane fragments; a door from a crushed FDNY fire truck; a piece from the damaged façade of the Pentagon and objects recovered from offices. Photographs from the museum’s collection will provide a context for each site. As Director Brent Glass has noted, this program will provide visitors “an opportunity…to speak with museum staff and to have a place to remember and reflect on what it means to be an American today.”
     
  4. I have an artifact I’d like to contribute to the collection. Does the museum accept donations?
    Soon after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History began collecting objects to document and preserve the material record of this important event in American history. The immediate collecting priorities focused on the attacks, the response and rescue efforts, and the commemoration that followed.

    The assembled collection may expand somewhat over time. The National Museum of American History would be pleased to consider donations of additional material. While we have been offered many objects related to the attacks and to the numerous responses from around the world, we cannot accept everything. If we do not accept an artifact, we might be able to direct the offer to another institution: we are working with a consortium of museums to document and preserve a selection of objects and responses.

    If you have an artifact that you would like to donate, please email the Museum’s Office of Curatorial Affairs at september11donations@si.edu to obtain the proper procedure for donating items to the collections. It is Smithsonian Institution policy not to accept unsolicited donations, so please do not send any items directly.  

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