1907 American Association of Museums Meeting Identifications

Presentation by Dr. William Powell Wilson


Dr. William Powell Wilson’s presentation regarding these “country cases” is interesting in that they provided educational instruction in the schools while promoting the imperialistic viewpoint of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum. The functions of this museum were to encourage economic expansion abroad by facilitating foreign trade within the business community and to inform the American public about the availability of foreign products. From this worldly endeavor he fostered the notion of commercial education through both the display of foreign objects in museum exhibitions and the sharing of global information based on extensive research conducted by the museum. For further information about the Philadelphia Commercial Museum please refer to Museums and American Intellectual Life, 1876-1926 by Steven Conn, 1998, published by the University of Chicago Press (chapter 4, pages 115–150). In the text, Wilson spells Porto Rico in the Anglicized manner promoted by the federal government following the acquisition of this Caribbean island in 1898 during the Spanish-American War.

A large number of individual collections, each representing the leading industries, institutions, habits and customs, with products of a country, have been made up, placed in large telescopic, rectangular, canvas cases, and labeled on the end with the name of the country which each collection represents, in large letters. Thus we have on the shelves, like books on a library shelf, ten cases with “Japan” on the ends, all exactly alike, ten cases labeled “China,” ten cases inscribed “Philippines,” ten cases labeled “Mexico,” and so on throughout the leading countries of the world. We have selected ten, thinking it a sufficient number to enable us to always have some of each country on the shelves.

When a teacher in any school is ready to teach her children about Mexico or Japan or Australia or Porto Rico, she sends for the case containing the collection for that country.

I. The principal industries of Japan are the manufacturing of (1) Lacquer work, (2) embroidery, (3) cloisonne, (4) porcelain, (5) mattings, (6) leather work, (7) bamboo wares, (8) metal wares, (9) paper of many qualities, (10) carvings in wood and ivory, (11) painting and drawing, (12) silk fabrics, (13) cotton and woolen goods, (14) toys, and (15) straw and chip braids.

II. The forest products are lumber, bamboo, lacquer, and wax.

III. The farm products are rice, barley, and other grains, beans, silk, most important of all, tea, peanuts, lily bulbs, wax, peppermint-oil, menthol, ginseng, cotton, ginger, oranges, red pepper, persimmons, tobacco, rape, and other oils, sake or rice wine, etc.

IV. The mineral products are copper, sulphur, manganese ore, coal, iron, lead, silver, gold, petroleum, etc.

V. The fishery products are dried or salted fish, including bonito, anchovies, sardines, mackerel, salmon, fish oil, pearls, coral, fertilizers, cuttle fish, seaweed gelatin, etc.

These industries in the shop, on the farm, or on the sea, are nearly all well represented in the collection by specimens as well as photographs. This collection, coupled with some historical and commercial information, enables the teacher to make a more intelligent discussion of Japan, or any other country treated in similar manner, than could be done through ordinary methods.

These collections are drawn from the museum in the same way that books are drawn from a library. They are carried out, delivered, and returned at the proper times by the museum conveyance.

Such work as this, I am aware, has been extensively done in natural history in the city of New York by the American Museum of Natural History, but so far as I know has not been undertaken under the general lines of ethnology, commerce, and geography in any institution in the United States.

Dr. Wilson illustrated what he said by an exhibit of one of the circulating collections prepared by the Philadelphia Museums for use in the schools, the collection consisting of material illustrating the life and industries of Japan.

[A brief discussion among W. P. Wilson, O. C. Farrington, and one unnamed member about the “country cases” followed the paper in the Proceedings.]

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