It takes a committed partisan to wear a funny hat or campaign button at a presidential nominating convention. But it takes two committed curators to plow through the convention crowds to collect the hats and buttons, plus the bumper stickers, lapel pins, party geegaws and discarded texts of speeches delivered in moments of extreme hope.
Larry Bird and Harry Rubenstein, curators at the National Museum of American History, have been navigating the crowds at both major parties’ conventions to collect such stuff since the 1980s—all to keep the museum’s political history collection of more than 100,000 artifacts current.
“We go to the conventions to sample and see,” says Bird, a Smithsonian curator since 1976. “We’re documenting the continuing American political tradition of how people elect a president.”