Modern Mongolia: Reclaiming Genghis Khan, UPMAA Exhibit Information
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About the Traveling Exhibit
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About the National Museum of Mongolian History
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A Traveling Exhibition from
The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and
The National Museum of Mongolian History

An all-new exhibition that questions our view of Genghis Khan, Modern Mongolia: Reclaiming Genghis Khan, invites the visitor to experience Mongolian life from the beginning of the twentieth century to today and discover Genghis Khan's real legacy to his people, the challenge of democracy.
The exhibit features 192 Mongolian costumes and artifacts shown in America for the first time. Rare archival photographs and gers (Mongolian yurts) reconstruct twentieth-century nomadic life. Four films made especially for the exhibition provide historic background and Mongolians' feelings about living in Mongolia today. New maps and photographs generously illustrate the 24 text panels.
The exhibition is organized around three authentic gers that depict life in Mongolia under feudal (Manchu Dynasty), Communist, and, most recently, democratic times. The exhibition opens with a national treasure, the Manchu Dynasty period ger. Visitors peer into a wealthy Mongolian home of the early twentieth century. Here a mother, father, grandmother and child wear the traditional dress of the dominant ethnic group, the Halh - the distinctive and ornate deel (pronounced dell) and boots with upturned toes. The ger is richly furnished with hand-made felt carpeting, a rustic bed, Chinese hearth, horse-head fiddle, fully equipped kitchen, and items associated with a herding livelihood. In the place of honor, a three-tiered wooden altar holds silver and brass religious objects, indicating the family's Tibetan Buddhist faith.
The centrality of shamanism and Lamaism in Mongolian life is reflected in the compelling costumes of a shaman and lama of high standing in a separate case.

A transitional film describes the struggle for independence from Chinese domination. Chief among Mongolia's revolutionary heroes was D. Suhbaatar. His military costume and weapons are displayed in a section that explains the Mongolian leaders' decision to accept communism, the only feasible alternative to Chinese rule at the time.
The second ger, an open diorama, shows nomadic life during the height of communism, in the 1960s. The new government's influence is apparent everywhere in the ger, from the subtle change of fabrics to the blatant absence of religious objects. The clothing worn by the mother and father, once made of Tibetan or Chinese silk, is now made of Russian cotton, and the style of the mother's clothing is greatly modified. A chest of drawers replaces the Buddhist altar of the first ger, displaying family photos and awards rather than religious artifacts.
Although Mongolia had become the second Communist nation in the world, communism was never popular with the people. A second film shows that within days of the destruction of the Berlin Wall, Mongolians held demonstrations and then hunger strikes to end the oppressive Communist regime. The government capitulated sooner than most Eastern bloc countries and granted open, multi-party elections. Soon after, the people ratified a new, democratic constitution based on a free market economy, and the democratic period was underway.
The third ger diorama brings visitors face-to-face with the Mongolians of today. The clothing of the family in this ger, a mixture of Communist- and democratic-era items, shows the blend of old Soviet and new international dress. Schoolbooks include one on English language study, and a stack of newspapers and pamphlets brings national and international ideas into the home. With freedom of religion restored, a framed photograph of the Dalai Lama returns to the place of honor in the ger, on the chest opposite the door. Unlike the early twentieth century altar, however, religious objects are displayed alongside photographs of family and friends.
Having followed Mongolian nomadic life from one ger to another, the visitor also learns that urban, industrial life has grown in Mongolia over the course of the century. Indeed, over half the population is now urban. In the final diorama, the visitor sees the interior of an urban apartment where a TV plays interviews of an urban teenager, young herder, teacher, businessman and pensioner. They each describe their life and speak of the heritage and future of Mongolia.
Throughout the exhibition, the visitor catches glimpses of Genghis Khan, who dominates the soul of the Mongolian people, especially as they build a democratic nation today. As the visitor prepares to leave the exhibition, Genghis Khan's true gifts to his people - independence and the foundation for building a true democracy - are shown to be alive and central to Mongolian life today.
Modern Mongolia: Reclaiming Genghis Khan—Background Information
The Curator of this historical ethnography exhibition is Dr. Paula L.W. Sabloff, Senior Research Scientist and Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. To tell the story of Modern Mongolia, Dr. Sabloff presents her recent anthropological research on democracy in Mongolia and works closely with Associate Curator Dr. Dashdendev Bumaa, Curator of Twentieth-Century History, and Assistant Curator Ms. Eliot Grady Bikales, Assistant Curator of Twentieth Century History, both of the National Museum of Mongolian History.
An accompanying book, Modern Mongolia: Reclaiming Genghis Khan, richly illustrated with more than 120 rare color photographs and specially created maps, features interpretative essays on Mongolia's culture, history, and modern life. Retailing for $34.95 cloth and $17.95 paperback, the book will be available in early October.
A Teaching Manual providing activities for several age groups accompanies the book. And an interactive website will be available at beginning September 15, 2001.
If you would like to book Modern Mongolia: Reclaiming Genghis Khan for your institution, please contact:
  Jane Epstein
Traveling Exhibitions Coordinator
(215) 898-1563
Fax: (215) 573-3274
  University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
3260 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6324
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