July 13, 2011

Brent Glass ’69 to Retire as Director of National Museum of American History

As director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History since 2002, Brent D. Glass ’69 has become a national leader in the field of history. He will retire in mid-August and continue to serve as senior adviser to the Office of the Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture through the end of the year.

Brent Glass '69 at Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Brent D. Glass stands in front of the display that features the “whites only” counter of the F.W. Woolworth store in Greensboro, N.C., where on Feb. 1, 1960, four African American students deliberately sat. When denied service and asked to leave, they remained in their seats—a key moment in U.S. civil rights history.

Glass, who joined the Lafayette College Board of Trustees in 2005, has served on the Committee on Educational Policy and the Easton Committee and is currently a member of the Committee on Grounds and Buildings.

“It has been an honor and joy to further the Smithsonian mission for the past nine years by working to increase awareness of American history and national memory,” Glass said in a story reported on “I am enormously proud of the museum staff and their team efforts. We transformed the museum and created a new public square on the National Mall. We acquired new collections, created more than 50 exhibitions and hundreds of public programs, and launched innovative online projects. We have enjoyed record attendance, and visitors love the museum.”

“Now, after more than 35 years in government service, I am leaving in response to expanding opportunities to promote history education, historical literacy and public memory nationally and internationally,” he added in the ArtDaily report.

During his time in this prominent role, Glass appeared on the “Colbert Report” and the “Oprah Winfrey Show.” In March 2009, worldwide attention was focused on the museum when a watch once owned by Abraham Lincoln was opened to reveal a secret message.

Before his role at the Smithsonian, Glass was executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in Harrisburg, consisting of 25 different sites. From 1987 to 2002, he supervised major expansion and renovation projects on various historic sites and in museums throughout Pennsylvania.

Glass, who is a history graduate, holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and history from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a master’s in American Civilization from New York University.

When he arrived at Lafayette, Glass says that even though history was all around him growing up, he didn’t have a firm intent to major in that subject. The times and the faculty helped him decide his course of study.

“There was a real consciousness of national and international events, with the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and the election of 1968 coming up,” Glass says. The summer reading assignments for incoming students–Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King Jr., and The Other America by Michael Harrington–also got him to think of larger issues. “I owe a lot to the history professors, including Albert Gendebien ’34, Jacob Cooke, John Coleman, George Heath, and Richard Welch.” Glass reconnected with Gendebien when he was named executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission.

“We renewed our friendship, and I invited Al to make the keynote speech at a celebration of the museum commission’s 75th anniversary,” Glass says. “He was interested in and supportive of my career, and we maintained a friendship until his death. I’m sorry he’s not with us now.”

Read more in ArtDaily.

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