September 3-11, 2011
11am to 3pm

For most of us, September 11 is a media event, lived vicariously through commentaries of journalists and designated "experts" who analyze yet again the familiar video clips that have become the collective public memory of that day. It is history through a flat screen. It should be more.

To commemorate the tenth anniversary of September 11, the National Museum of American History will show a selection of objects at the museum on open tables, without cases, and with short labels. Seeing them this way will be intimate and powerful. Staff will be available to discuss the display or answer questions. But we expect that for most visitors, this will not be a time to gather new information, but a time to quietly remember and reflect; a time simply to be in the presence of the objects and ponder their significance.

The objects were there; they were part of it all. Their power lives in their authenticity and their mute, unchanging simplicity. At this tenth anniversary, we are drawn to see and respond to them viscerally: twisted steel, singed clothing, melted plastic, a phone that provided a vital connection in an emergency, a battered fire-engine door.

Our display will be a museum experience reduced to its essence: we will show artifacts that the Smithsonian has chosen to preserve in perpetuity to document this turning point in our history. As we view and contemplate them, they give us continued insight about what happened and why, and how events of that day are affecting our present and future. It is a relationship that matures over time. While these artifacts stay the same, we move on. Their meaning continually changes.

Some day in the future, the museum's role will be to provide extensive commentary on these objects, to restore our memory of the events, and put them into broad historical context. How many planes were there again? What sites did they hit? What made the towers collapse?

But not yet. Not this year. Our goal on this tenth anniversary is to stimulate personal memories. These objects ask each viewer to look back at the shock and horror of that day, and answer the simple question: How has this historic event changed your life?

Here on the web, we invite you to explore images of these same objects. Take a look as well at the full collection of artifacts we have preserved of the event, and at the exhibition mounted in 2002: September 11: Bearing Witness to History.

Most important—become part of our collection yourself. Share your reflections of September 11 and how it has affected your life. Maybe it was a day you will never forget. Maybe you were too young even to remember the day itself. But landmark events like September 11 affect everyone in some way. What is your story?

David K. Allison,
Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs

collecting September 11 >