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Peter Kleeman

Portrait of Peter Kleeman

M.A. Candidate
Fields: Public History, 20th Century Modern U.S. History, Material Culture, International History of Science and Technology
Education: B.A. Social Thought and Political Economy, UMass Amherst
Interests: Space Age Material Culture, History of the Future

I believe a core element of the human experience is contemplating our place in the Cosmos. Part of that philosophical-cultural exercise involves pondering the distant future of humanity, a future which promises to unfold beyond the confines of planet Earth.

As a historian, I want to look back into unexamined corners of the past and forward to unknown possibilities for the future. To date I have focused my attention and camera lens on discovering how people in the 20th Century participated in the cultural phenomenon of a “Space Age”. That endeavor has resulted in a long-term project, which I have pursued in partnership with my father, known as Space Age Museum.

Having spent years researching the material culture of the Space Age, I have come to believe that during the 20th century certain art and design forms emerged in popular culture which reveal a craving for a new of kind of speculative inquiry into the distant future of humanity. Accelerating rates of technological advancement and scientific discovery inspired people, individually and collectively as a society, to imagine elaborate projections of futures. The proliferation of a new material culture which incorporates science-fiction themes opened up a new way of participating in the contemplation of possible futures on a grander scale of time and place.

In developing Space Age Museum, I have discovered and preserved cultural evidence of how everyday people used imagination and creative expression to engage in the adventure of space exploration. Because popular culture inevitably places that adventure some distance into the future, many relevant cultural artifacts reflect a speculative or futuristic design. In addition to curating Space Age Museum, on numerous cross-country trips I have pursued a related mission – shooting photographs to document folk renderings of rocketships, robots, flying saucers, UFOs, extraterrestrials and other futuristic forms along America’s back roads and blue highways.

I am inspired by Carl Sagan’s notion that we are “star stuff” which has evolved as a way for the Universe to know itself. I see myself as a historian aiming to explore that self-reflective process. We can learn much from popular culture’s portrayal of our voyage into space. To do so, however, requires immersion in an interdisciplinary approach to cultural archaeology and historical inquiry that includes my writing, archiving, photographing and curating. Furthermore, because I identify as a futurist, I choose to engage in some degree of speculation about the arc of humanity’s evolution and progress.

I am pursuing the question, “What should a museum of and about the future look like?” I seek the help of others to discover new paths and possibilities. It will take a team of committed individuals to create a resource which aspires to facilitate reflection and inspiration for people today and for those who, centuries from now, wish to learn about the pivotal time when humans first contemplated migration to the stars.

I look forward to working on other Public History projects, particularly those involving popular culture so that I can explore more topics and new methods of presentation.

Currently, I am working as an intern at the Florence Griswold Museum, photographing and curating a web-based exhibition and archive of the American Impressionist painter, Edward Volkert. This online retrospective will make a significant number of works from private collections publicly accessible for the first time. It will also highlight his artistic documentation of draft animals in agriculture during the early 20th century when industrial farm machinery was quickly replacing them.

Bringing collections like these to the public and archiving them is a service I’d like to continue to develop throughout my graduate studies and beyond.

My work can be seen at: www.peter-kleeman.com and www.spaceagemuseum.com