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Smithsonian Launches Exhibition Inspired by Olivier Zunz’s book

Dec 03, 2015 |

Commonwealth Professor of History Olivier Zunz explored the growth of philanthropy as an integral force in American society in his 2012 book, Philanthropy in America: A History. His study covered the influence of large-scale foundations established by John D. Rockefeller and other tycoons, as well as the mass mobilization of small donors by the Red Cross and March of Dimes, and the more recent social advocacy of billionaires such as Bill Gates and George Soros.

A new permanent exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History was inspired in large part by the book, and Zunz was on hand in Washington, D.C. for a Dec. 1 event celebrating the launch of the Smithsonian’s new Philanthropy Initiative. Among those sharing the stage with Zunz for a discussion moderated by David Rubenstein were David Rockefeller, Jr. and Warren Buffett.

Commonwealth Professor of History Olivier Zunz with David Rockefeller, Jr., Warren Buffett and David Rubenstein

“I am deeply gratified that my work inspired the museum curators to undertake a reorganization of their exhibit space and make room for the history of philanthropy – a critical means of civil society-government cooperation throughout American history,” Zunz said.

The Smithsonian’s Philanthropy Initiative is a long-term project aiming to collect research, documents, and exhibit materials relating to the history and impact of American philanthropy. As part of the Initiative, rotating exhibits, programs, and public outreach will explore the collaborative power of giving in all forms and at all levels across a wide spectrum of issues and movements.

As one of the first steps in this initiative, the National Museum of American History is opening two preview exhibit cases coinciding with the first in a series of annual symposiums dedicated to exploring the past, present, and future of American philanthropy. According to theGiving in America” exhibit website, the preview focuses on how philanthropy has shaped American civic culture in two eras – the Gilded Age (1870s–1900) and the present day.

More information about the Smithsonian’s new American Philanthropy initiative is available on the National Museum of American History’s blog

Zunz Teaching New Seminar at UVA

In other news, Zunz will be conducting a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar on Alexis de Tocqueville next summer at the University of Virginia. Olivier is convening the two-week course in July 2016 with another celebrated Tocqueville scholar, Arthur Goldhammer. The two began their collaborative work more than a decade ago, when they produced the Library of America’s edition of Democracy in America. Since then, Zunz and Goldhammer have collaborated on two other volumes of Tocqueville’s work: a compendium of the letters and diaries and other writings of Tocqueville and his traveling companion Gustave de Beaumont, and a forthcoming new translation of Tocqueville’s Recollections, both published by the University of Virginia Press.

The NEH course is open to college and university teachers and to two full-time graduate students. For more information visit the seminar website: Exploring American Democracy with Alexis de Tocqueville as Guide.