Monday, February 21, 2011

A Gateway to the 19th Century: The William Steinway Diary, 1861--1896

Where: National Museum of American History

When: through April 8, 2011

This exhibit, in the Small Documents Gallery, is part of an enormous project to digitize the diary of William Steinway - of piano fame. Over 100 volunteers have worked to create an online searchable diary. The exhibit itself features music from Steinway pianos playing in the background - it makes for a lovely atmosphere. The actual diaries are on display; a few slim volumes that give a window into the late 1800s.

Steinway was a German-American patriot. It's rather hard to take pride in one's German ancestry now (being of German descent myself, I know), but for Steinway, being German was very important, and he was involved in German-American societies in New York City.

Celebrating his ethnic background was not the only thing that kept Steinway busy, however. He was also a civic leader who laid the blueprint for the New York City subway. His diary begins with a description of the draft riots held in New York to protest conscription into the Union army - just showing that wars are never universally popular.

Steinway pianos are still made in Steinway, NY, a company town advertised as "country homes with city comforts." They were also located away from the influences of unions, anarchists and socialists!

This is a small exhibit (no pun intended), and easy to see in a lunchtime. If you have any interest in 19th century history or the process of digitizing information to make it accessible to large numbers of people, don't miss this.

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