Tag Archives: AHS

Where Have We Been?

And now a message from our Director-Curator, T.H. Gray…


Which will it be?

The Hysterical Society recently awoke from every museum’s nightmare – we went away and no one noticed. There were no comments or emails inquiring after our whereabouts (to be fair we don’t a get a lot emails even during the best of times). We just stopped exhibiting and the world didn’t seem to care. We almost didn’t notice ourselves.

We hardly noticed because we were so busy, we were getting nothing accomplished. You know the feeling. And like most of you, that lack of climax left us frustrated. You definitely know the feeling.

To make up for our lack of originality, we busied ourselves by bringing in traveling exhibits – pieces we had nothing to do with, but they filled space and, hopefully, kept your attention. To make sure we became part of your routine, we also tried to show on a regular schedule, every Tuesday and Saturday (bet you didn’t notice that either).

In looking back, those exhibits were repetitive and ineffective. Traveling exhibits seem to have no real cost. The problem is they were a huge time-suck. By the time we had found enough pieces to fill the next few weeks, there was little creative energy left. So we had to find more pieces to fill in, and on and on and on. This left no time to research and write anything original.

It didn’t help that other colleagues were sharing some of the same pieces, but getting lots more attention. It seemed as though we were all doing the same thing, which means the Hysterical Society wasn’t really contributing anything.

It was all very disheartening. So we stopped. Or rather, we never got around to doing more. We effectively closed for more than a year.

Before it was too late and this became permanent, the staff took a small retreat. We realized several things:

  1. We want to work smarter, not harder.
  2. We would rather create than copy.
  3. The only ones paying attention to the posting schedule was us.

In looking over our visitation records, it became apparent that seven of our top ten shows were original Hysterical Society creations, not copies of other people’s work.

So we’ve made a few decisions. Henceforth(1), the American Hysterical Society will:

  • Exhibit our own work first and foremost, without regard to timelines or deadlines, but when shows are ready.
  • Display historical pieces which fit our mission.
  • Share a round-up of modern works (so you can share them at work and look like the office comedian – consider it our gift to you).

Like all museums, the Hysterical Society is chasing relevance so we can be an important part of your life. Our experience shows that the best way to do that is to be ourselves, no matter how silly or profane.(2)


1. Henceforth is used here to demonstrate our seriousness.
2. Experience also shows we’re most popular when we’re profane.


By the way, these are our top ten exhibits, based on discrete visits:

Museum Professionals Make Terrible Visitors

The Best Public History Museum Studies Program Ever

Historian Meme

Circle Jerks

Create Your Own Bayeux Tapestry

Abusing Curators

Bringing History and Visitors Back to Colonial Williamsburg

Love Lost or Lost Love: Results Of The Museum Professional-Reenactor Compatibility Test

New Mount Vernon President & CEO

Registrar Humor

Happy Fifth Anniversary to Us! (NSFW)

Today is the American Hysterical Society’s five-year (or 60-month, 1,825th-day, 43,800th-hour, 2,628,000th-minute, or 157,680,000th-second) anniversary! If the AHS were a child, according to some and among other things, we would want to please our friends, be like our friends, and agree with rules. We don’t actually want those things, but at this age we’d be able to do them if we did.

It’s been an amazing five years for us. We have published 658 posts, logged almost 73,000 visits, and assembled the largest catalog of humorous history and museum books, essays, cartoons, links, and songs on the planet. Not bad for a museum that doesn’t pay for collections or advertise itself.

That said, it has been a difficult year for us. The Society’s staff has gotten a little off-focus. Partly that’s because we have been thinking about some bigger projects (a series of books actually) which has taken time away from our daily work. We apologize for any inconvenience or boredom this has caused. We hope to remedy the situation with a series of strategic retreats and layoffs.

Still, as any five-year-old we like gifts. The traditional five-year anniversary gift is wood. With that in mind we would like to ask, in case you were thinking of getting us something, for these:


Story Here (cause you’re curious).

Not only are they rare examples of historic material culture, they are doubly suited to this particular anniversary.

And remember:

Idealism is what precedes experience; cynicism is what follows. David T. Wolf

Happy New Year!

The staff of the Hysterical Society wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and hilarious new year. Make it one for the books.

Happy Fourth Anniversary To Us!

It was four years ago today we welcomed ourselves into the world with our premier post.

Please, please, please. We don’t need anything. But, if you are interested in getting us something (and what four-year-old doesn’t like gifts?), we would love to have you share any jokes, jests, and japes which you think might be worthy of our collection. Of course, there’s always sharing us with any of Clio’s minions, be they museum professionals, historians, or reenactors, you think might be amused, delighted, or irritated by our exhibits. Hopefully, they’ll tell others too.

And they’ll tell two friends.
And they’ll tell two friends.
And they’ll tell two friends.

This year’s reminder of why the American Hysterical Society exists comes from historian Lewis Mumford:

Humor is our way of defending ourselves from life’s absurdities by thinking absurdly about them.

Happy Third Anniversary To Us!

It was just three short years ago that our director-curator, T.H. Gray, decided the museum world was ready for, nay needed, an online museum dedicated to having a little (or a lot) of fun at its expense. Thus was launched the American Hysterical Society on this day, in the far-gone year of 2011.

You don’t need to get us anything. Not because we don’t want anything, but because you don’t know our size or favorite color. It would be awkward for all of us. Still, if you want to get us something, please consider sharing the AHS with anyone you think, depending on your relationship with them, would be amused or aggravated by our work.

If the past year has taught us anything it’s that we can do both simultaneously.

In the meantime and in honor of our anniversary, here is a piece from the collection which explains our work and places it into its proper historical context:

The Played-Out Humourist

By William Schwenck Gilbert (half of Gilbert & Sullivan)

Quixotic is his enterprise, and hopeless his adventure is,
Who seeks for jocularities that haven’t yet been said.
The world has joked incessantly for over fifty centuries,
And every joke that’s possible has long ago been made.
I started as a humorist with lots of mental fizziness,
But humour is a drug which it’s the fashion to abuse;
For my stock-in-trade, my fixtures, and the goodwill of the business
No reasonable offer I am likely to refuse.
And if anybody choose
He may circulate the news
That no reasonable offer I’m likely to refuse.
Oh happy was that humorist – the first that made a pun at all –
Who when a joke occurred to him, however poor and mean,
Was absolutely certain that it never had been done at all –
How popular at dinners must that humorist have been!
Oh the days when some stepfather for the query held a handle out,
The door-mat from the scraper, is it distant very far?
And when no one knew where Moses was when Aaron blew the candle out,
And no one had discovered that a door could be a-jar!
But your modern hearers are
In their tastes particular,
And they sneer if you inform them that a door can be a-jar!
In search of quip and quiddity, I’ve sat all day, alone, apart –
And all that I could hit on as a problem was – to find
Analogy between a scrag of mutton and a Bony-part,
Which offers slight employment to the speculative mind:
For you cannot call it very good, however great your charity –
It’s not the sort of humour that is greeted with a shout –
And I’ve come to the conclusion that my mine of jocularity
In present Anno Domini, is worked completely out!
Though the notion you may scout,
I can prove beyond a doubt
That my mine of jocularity is utterly worked out.

“Ask A Curator Day” and “Talk Like a Pirate Day” Are Both This Week

In honor of these two auspicious days, our Director-Curator, T.H. Gray, will happily answer any and most questions put to him (Actually, Mr. Gray is not interested in such drollery, but our marketing department said this would help elevate awareness of the Hysterical Society).

Mr. Gray is a graduate of the prestigious Peale-Barnum Public History Museum Studies Program, where he lettered in copperplate penmanship and wrote his dissertation on the conversion of the Ship of Theseus into Washington’s (or Lincoln’s) Hatchet, making it the single most important artifact of the twentieth century. More recently he was a Summerthur Fellow, focusing on early American decorative sciences. While he will do his best to answer many of our members’ questions, he does have a few ground rules:

First, in keeping with the spirit of tomorrow’s Ask a Curator Day, all questions must concern themselves with the Hysterical Society’s mission, collections, or vision.


Second, as Talk Like a Pirate Day is this Thursday, all questions must be in Piratese (including the rolling R – for a guide, see this).


Lastly, please direct all questions to  thgray@yahoo.com. Your questions and our responses will be posted later in the week (sorry, this isn’t twitter. These things take time).

We Look Forward to Hearing From You!

Weekend Work 7-29-13: The Hits Just Keep Coming

Last Tuesday started off pretty typically here at the American Hysterical Society: we quietly exhibited a new collections piece, this one an original perspective on the visiting habits of museum professionals. That was six days, 4,000+ Facebook and Twitter shares, and almost 15,000 views from 30 countries ago!

All we can say is Holy Charles Willson Peale!

So many museum folks not only got the joke, but gleefully laughed at themselves. After everything the museum field has been through these last few years, it was heartening to see people take a breath and a step back. We would like to thank all of you who laughed along with us. You are our target audience.

Of course, not everyone thought it was funny. There were some who felt we had gone too far or that we shouldn’t pick on the noble museum profession. We would like to thank those people for showing us where we went wrong:

First, it’s now clear that museum professionals are, and should be, above parody and satire. God and Mr. Rodgers aren’t, but we are.

And secondly, that some informal, but standard museum practices are not acceptable. For example, in writing our post we used anecdotal evidence, based on our own and others’ observations, to create our perception of one particular visitor demographic. Museum folks develop these anecdotal theories about visitors all the time, and then use them to justify their actions and policies. All we did was do to our colleagues what our colleagues do to visitors. That simply wasn’t fair.

Fortunately, we seem to have amused more than annoyed. Of course, perhaps we’re wrong here and the offended were the silent majority. Maybe it meant something that on Saturday our stats page presented us with this curious view:

It may be a rude gesture, but thousands of hits don’t lie.

Despite the criticism, not only do we believe we lived up to our mission, we also feel we achieved some of the ideals current in our profession. We started a host of conversations on Facebook (including the AAM’s and the Small Museum Association’s pages), on Twitter, and in the post’s comment section. One of our favorites was this one from our comments section:

Yes Val, we did forget about the illicit photography. Thanks to you and several others for reminding us. BTW, did you hook Katie up?

All museum professionals hope to contribute to the ongoing conversations about who we are, who we want to be, and what we mean (even if it is in some small, but meaningful way). We’d say that we accomplished that (in a small, but irritating way).  In fact, even if we turn out to be a one-hit-wonder (and we know some of you are hoping we will be), we are proud and humbled to have contributed even this much.

Of course, thanks to the state of the field, we’ll always have more to offer…

Two Years of the American Hysterical Society

Today is the second anniversary of the opening of the American Hysterical Society.

If we were a child, we would look like this.

If we were a child, we would look like this.
Portrait of a Two-Year Old Girl.
Source Wikimedia.

None of the staff here at the AHS would have guessed that two years later we would still be collecting, creating, and curating such a wonderful collection. In fact, some of us thought we would have gotten bored with all of this by now.

Please, gifts aren’t necessary. We have everything we want. But if you are hell-bent on doing something for us, and our rabid fan usually is, please share the AHS with anyone you think might find us of value. Remember, membership is free and we come to you. How many other museums can say that?

And remember:

Look for the ridiculous in everything and you will find it. – Jules Renard

“It is our responsibilities, not ourselves, that we should take seriously.” Peter Ustinov

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