Historian curates exhibit for financial industry museum
Rockville firm researches everything from company histories to complex legal cases
The word "museum" conjures images of soaring pillars, glassed-off exhibits and hushed tour guides.
For one Gaithersburg historian, that vision expanded when he started work on an exhibit for an online-only museum.
"Calling it a gallery and looking at it like a museum is a great approach," said Kenneth Durr, executive vice president and director of the history division at History Associates, historical research company in Rockville. "You can click from one place to another or go from one room to another, so to speak. It does not have to be linear anymore."
Durr, a Gaithersburg resident, curated a new exhibit that explores 200 years of self-regulation in the financial industry for the Securities and Exchange Commission Historical Society's digital museum and archive, www.sechistorical.org.
The gallery, "The Institution of Experience: Self-Regulatory Organization in the Securities Industry, 1791-2010," opened Dec. 1.
"The big thing the gallery drives home is that the securities regulatory system is an organic thing. It grew up. No one would have designed it this way," Durr said. "People look and say it is a ridiculous system. When you look historically and see why it grew the way it did, you tend to be more sympathetic."
Durr has worked with the SEC Historical Society, a privately funded nonprofit organization, since the virtual museum and archive were created in 2002, said Carla Rosati, executive director of the society.
Rosati said the virtual museum was fairly revolutionary then. In the first month, they saw 213 visitors. Last year, 300,000 visitors browsed the museum's "halls."
"There are people from Asia to California that are in the museum right now," Rosati said.
The society adds between 500 and 1,000 items to the museum each year and has decided not to create a physical museum after the success of the virtual one, Rosati said.
"We can serve so many more people online. We could never get 300,000 people in one space in one city," she said. "To have it online, it makes it possible for people anywhere to come and visit any time."
Only a handful of virtual museums exist in the U.S., according to Dewey Blanton, spokesman for the American Association of Museums.
The association accredits museums across the country, but also keeps a database of those that are not association members. That database contains 22 virtual museums, Blanton said.
"Our list of virtual museums is not complete because they're hard to track," Blanton said. "In fact, the number of all museums [is] hard to track."
Online museums can impart information on a much grander scale than a physical gallery, he said.
"There's nothing like the real thing, but if it helps people from middle school all the way up to doctoral research in their studies, that's a good thing," Blanton said. "The objective of museums is rooted in education, and if this makes the museum collections around the world more accessible, that's tremendous."
A growing trend is to combine the best of both worlds, Blanton said, with more museums putting parts of their collections online.
The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation uploaded more than 200,000 pages of documents, pictures and audio recordings this month. The Smithsonian Institution's online collections search has more than 6.4 million records available.
The shift to online archives isn't shocking to Durr, who has worked at History Associates doing everything from documenting the history of the trucking industry to creating company history narratives for annual reports and websites.
Almost 50 professional historians, archivists, records managers and other staff at History Associates oversee projects including historical research, legal research, records management, museum and corporate exhibits, archival services and written histories.
"Everyone is generally studying two to three things at a time," Durr said. "I never thought I would be a historian of the securities industry. It just worked out that way. You have to be willing to learn whatever comes your way and enjoy it."