Sunday, January 3, 2010

‘A big year for Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library’

There’s a lot of good news coming out of Lexington for 2010. The museum and library on the campus of the headquarters of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite will add a few activities both on-site and off.

Before I get to those items, a change of name has been announced for this cultural center. The National Heritage Museum Library has been renamed the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library. What’s in a name? A lot, in this case. When the museum was established for our country’s bicentennial celebration in 1976, Supreme Council made it clear that the facility was not to be a Masonic museum looking inward, but was a gift to the people of the United States dedicated to the preservation of our common history. Its name was the Museum of Our National Heritage, which during the past decade was abbreviated to the National Heritage Museum. It was announced last month that the new name was chosen to reconnect the museum to Freemasonry in the public eye. “As we are all proud of our fraternity, the name-change better reflects who we are to the public, and puts the names ‘Masonic’ and ‘Scottish Rite’ in the forefront,” says the announcement from Supreme Council. Now flanking its front doors are the Square and Compasses, and the Double Headed Eagle.

I like it. I do not know if this is another aspect of the Sovereign Grand Commander’s stated preference to see the Scottish Rite reorient its focus from doing nice, expensive things for utter strangers (when we ought to be concentrating on helping our brethren in need), but this change appears to reflect that spirit, and I applaud it.

But about the new activities at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library in 2010 (and this might even be breaking news) (and I hope I don’t get in trouble for this):

The Museum and Library will hit the road, taking a program and related artifacts to the brethren around the jurisdiction. The plan is to travel into the field four times a year to Councils of Deliberation and/or Valleys. Arrangements will be made on a first come, first served basis, with the traveling to be divided as equally as possible between locations on the East Coast and in the interior.

Big Change No. 2 – and this is really exciting! 96 days and counting! – is the first of what hopefully will be biannual symposia that showcase Freemasonry in an academic light. (I mean, they’re in Lexington, Massachusetts. How many colleges and universities are there within a 30-minute drive?)

From the official announcement:

Friday, April 9

New Perspectives on American Freemasonry

This symposium seeks to present the newest research on American fraternal groups from the past through the present day. By 1900, more than 250 American fraternal groups existed, numbering 6 million members. The study of their activities and influence in the United States, past and present, offers the potential for new interpretations of American society and culture.

A keynote paper by Jessica Harland-Jacobs, Associate Professor of History at the University of Florida, and author of Builders of Empire: Freemasonry and British Imperialism, 1717-1927, will open the day. Titled “Worlds of Brothers,” Harland-Jacobs’ paper will survey and assess the scholarship on American fraternalism and Freemasonry. Drawing on examples from the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s, she will demonstrate that applying world history methodologies pays great dividends for our understanding of fraternalism as a historical phenomenon. Harland-Jacobs will conclude with some thoughts on how global perspectives can benefit contemporary American brotherhoods.

I received an unsolicited review copy of Harland-Jacobs’ book upon its publication in 2007, and I loved it. Its title put me off initially, because “imperialism” is an epithet in academia (and for some, maybe Freemasonry is also), but her book quickly revealed itself to be a just and true accounting of Masonic history, exhaustively researched, engagingly written, and actually laden with small facts that really grab the eyes of those who notice them. It’s not a love letter; it shows flaws and hypocrisies, but it is undeniably fair. Anyway, back to the press release:

Six scholars from the United States, Canada, and Britain will fill the day’s program:

Damien Amblard, doctoral student, the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, “French Counter-Enlightenment Intellectuals and American Anti-masonry: A Transatlantic Approach, 1789-1800” (NB: Mr. Amblard spoke at the second ICHF in Edinburgh.)

Hannah M. Lane, Assistant Professor, Mount Allison University, “Freemasonry and Identity in 19th-Century New Brunswick and Eastern Maine”

Nicholas Bell, Curator, Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, “An Ark of the New Republic”

David Bjelajac, Professor of Art History, George Washington University, “Freemasonry, Thomas Cole (1801-1848) and the Fraternal Ethos of American Art”

Ami Pflugrad-Jackisch, Assistant Professor of History, University of Michigan – Flint, “Brothers of a Vow: Secret Fraternal Orders in Antebellum Virginia”

Kristofer Allerfeldt, Exeter University, “Nationalism, Masons, Klansmen and Kansas in the 1920s”

The symposium is funded in part by the Supreme Council, 33°, NMJ-USA. Registration is $50 ($45 for museum members) and includes morning refreshments, lunch and a closing reception. To register, complete the Registration Form and fax to 781-861-9846 or mail to Claudia Roche, National Heritage Museum, 33 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA 02421. Registration deadline is March 24, 2010. For more information, contact Claudia Roche at or 781-861-6559, x 4142.

And last, but not least (because it is underway now) is the installation of artist Peter Waddell’s 21 painting exhibition titled “The Initiated Eye: Secrets, Symbols, Freemasonry and the Architecture of Washington, DC.” It opened two weeks ago, and will run through January 9, 2011. That’s 2011.

Images courtesy of The Octagon Museum.

If the title sounds familiar, it’s because this exhibit premiered in Washington (it was commissioned by the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia) in 2005, and since has traveled the country. Augmenting the 21 paintings are 40 artifacts from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum. See all the paintings and read about them here.

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