Five years ago, I reviewed the National Museum of American History in these pages. What I found was a mess, a tired, run-down behemoth of a building, originally built to be a museum of both technology and history, yet still uncertain about its mission.

It was confusing and incoherent. Its vast open spaces had been divided into numerous galleries filled with thousands of objects and accompanied by what seemed like miles of wall text. Its millions of visitors wandered aimlessly and guideless around crowded displays of locomotives, coins from all nations, Julia Child’s kitchen, President Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, and the first working light bulb invented by Thomas Edison. They searched in vain for a unifying theme, something that would give them even a summary idea of the history of America. It was no wonder the museum was derisively called “the nation’s...

 
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