The Greatest Digitization Project on Earth

The Barnum Museum is delighted to be a must-see destination for researchers from around the world, drawn by the remarkable story of P.T. Barnum’s life and contributions to American culture.

But a visit to Bridgeport is not always easy, and moreover, collections items from the 19th century can be fragile to say the least – not the sort of things that hold up well to repeated handling.

All of this was very much on the mind of the Museum’s indefatigable staff in 2012 as the Museum was deeply engaged in the early stages of disaster recovery. Curator Adrienne Saint Pierre, along with a project team of staff and vendors, secured two transformative grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for the purpose of making the wealth of P.T. Barnum’s life and work digital for the 21st century.

A planning grant from the NEH in 2013 allowed the Museum, in partnership with the Bridgeport History Center, to fully assess Barnum collections and set a path towards digitally preserving these remarkable assets and making them available via the Internet. An implementation grant followed in 2016, allowing “The Greatest Digitization Project on Earth” to begin in earnest.

This was truly a team effort. The images you’ll see in the digital archive represent behind-the-scenes artistry from a wide variety of scholars and museum professionals, including experts from the Northeast Document Conservation Center, who assisted throughout the process of evaluating and digitizing our wonderful collections. Museum photographer Paul Mutino gave each object its moment in the (artificial) sunlight. The Textile Conservation Workshop in South Salem, NY, and Augerson Art Conservation of Millbrook, NY, provided conservation support. Dr. Kasey Grier of the University of Delaware and Dr. Neil Harris of the University of Chicago worked with the Museum as our humanities scholars, and the grant allowed the Barnum Museum to hire Cataloger Meg Rinn and Technical Coordinator Susan Luchars.

Rosewood bed, gift to Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren
Miniature double bed made of rosewood, prepared for the photoshoot. The bed is said to have been a wedding gift from P. T. Barnum to “General and Mrs. Tom Thumb” (Charles S. Stratton and Lavinia Warren) in 1863.

The Barnum Museum is pleased to unveil the result of many years of planning and hard work and point our readers to the Connecticut Digital Archive (CTDA), a project of the University of Connecticut, where curious visitors, scholars, students and enthusiasts can dive into the primary sources that make P.T. Barnum’s story come alive – sources like the amazing 1845 copybook, a bound volume of hundreds of letters handwritten by P.T. Barnum during his travels with Tom Thumb in Europe.

The Museum has its own digital collection in CTDA, as well as the shared P.T. Barnum Digital Collection, which draws from both the Museum and Bridgeport History Center’s collections – a one-stop shopping treat for Barnum enthusiasts!

If you’re new to Barnum or the Connecticut Digital Archive, a great starting point is with ABC: A Barnum Companion, which contains guides to the collection, teaching materials and companion essays.