American Social History Project • Center for Media and Learning

P. T. Barnum’s American Museum Rises Again!

Published March 24, 2011

ASHP/CML is pleased to announce the completion of The Lost Museum: Exploring Antebellum American Life and Culture, one of its most ambitious and innovative Web projects ever. Eight years in the making and almost 140 years after the fiery destruction of the original structure in lower Manhattan, The Lost Museum is an interactive re-creation of P. T. Barnum’s American Museum, circa 1865. Barnum’s Museum, mid-nineteenth century America’s pre-eminent popular cultural institution, offered its visitors a cornucopia of attractions that merged entertainment and education and, often in odd but compelling ways, highlighted some of the major compromises, accommodations, and conflicts of the antebellum and Civil War periods. Its present-day digital reincarnation combines a 3-D spatial exploration of four rooms containing 130 interactive artifacts and attractions, a searchable archive of more than 300 primary documents, and 14 teaching resources geared to diverse classroom settings. Working independently and together, these features allow contemporary virtual visitors to experience the fascinating intricacy of nineteenth-century exhibitions, to embark on a search for clues to solve the mystery of who burned down the building in July 1865, or to choose lesson plans and strategies suitable for high school and college teaching.

Lecture Room from The Lost Museum

Even before its completion, The Lost Museum garnered coverage in The New York Times and on CBS News Sunday Morning and won the 2000 New York Metropolitan Archivists Roundtable Prize for “the most innovative application of archives to the Internet.” Now, with the help of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and thanks to the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Old York Foundation, you are welcome to point your browser to and investigate the past in a way you’ve never done before!

And after you’ve paid a visit, let us know what you think–or tell us how The Lost Museum worked in your classroom.

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