Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Author: btrayl01

The JFK Presidential Library and Museum’s Exhibit, “To the Brink: JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis” Lends A Voice To The Past

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, located along the waterfront just south of Boston, serves as the nation’s official memorial to John F. Kennedy. The institution boasts an incredible research collection consisting of over 8.4 million pages of paper, approximately 400,000 photographs, thousands of audio recordings, and 8 million feet of film. The museum also features a permanent exhibit that offers a highly immersible experience about JFK’s running for presidency in 1960 and the Kennedy White House years that followed.

I went to the JFK Library and Museum over this past weekend to see their current special exhibition, “To the Brink: JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis.” The exhibit chronicles the daily events and conversations between the President and White House personnel as the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded. As you travel through the crisis day by day, you get a sense of the gripping intensity faced under the threat of nuclear war, as well as the furious work that went in to preventing it.

Audio recordings throughout the exhibit not only magnify the event but they create a more powerful experience for the exhibit goer in that they add a human element to what otherwise would be an exhibit consisting of text and objects. As you wind through “To the Brink,” you have the opportunity of listening to various conversations between JFK and his advisors, from the initial debriefing on photographic evidence of Soviet missiles present in Cuba, to the President eerily grappling with, and saying, “You’re talking about the destruction of a country.” The recordings give a literal voice to the event and to history from those most close to it.

From jfklibrary.org

Along these lines, the exhibit examines the Cuban Missile Crisis from the perspectives of Nikita Krushchev and Fidel Castro through their own written words as well. This is helpful in that it lends a better look at what is considered to be perhaps the closest call to thermonuclear war in history.

For a total of thirteen days in October of 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis gripped the world. Fifty-two years later, this dramatic exhibition brings you back to those harrowing days as if you were in the midst of the White House deliberations yourself.

 

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is open every day from 9am to 5pm except major holidays.

The Massachusetts Historical Society’s Current Exhibition, “Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country,” Explores the Experience of Massachusetts Women in World War I

The Massachusetts Historical Society’s latest exhibit, “Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in the First World War,” tells of the Great War from a lesser-known perspective: that of American women. Featuring photographs, letters, diaries, and memorabilia, this exhibit captures the experiences of Margaret Hall and Eleanor “Nora” Saltonstall, two women from Massachusetts who served in France and Belgium as volunteers for the Red Cross.

The exhibit is simple and sparse, but the poignant voices of these women shine through. Both women witnessed some of the most climactic months of the Great War and both documented their experiences in great detail. Margaret Hall’s photographs serve as powerful images of battered and war-torn Europe. Hall’s large-format photographs, which are on loan from the Cohasset Historical Society, strikingly hang on the gallery walls. She captured various subjects with her camera lens, from the crumbling ruins of Reims, France, to candid moments between Italian soldiers outside of battle.

Eleanor Saltonstall wrote many letters home to her family while she was a nurse in France. It is through her words that we get a more vivid and complete understanding of what the experience as a volunteer nurse was like during World War I. In one letter dating from 1918 that is on display, Saltonstall explains why she is serving abroad. She writes, “Don’t look upon me as headstrong and seeking excitement; I’m not, but I have been hunting for a job which is real work and which is a direct help, even if it is the tiniest drop in the bucket, to the ultimate close of war.”

Accompanying this exhibition are powerful World War I propaganda posters heralding American patriotism and service. In “Persuasive Images,” the visitor gets a more broad sense of the war effort at home.

“Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in the First World War” is open at the Massachusetts Historical Society until January 24th, 2015. The exhibit is free and open to the public Monday through Saturday, 10am to 4pm.

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