Tag Archives: Smithsonian

101 awesome Smithsonian artifacts, plus a set of Spidey tights

If you were wondering which artifacts made The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects but didn’t want to shell out the shekels for the book, you’re in luck.  Here’s the whole list, plus an interview with author Richard Kurin.

Speaking of the Smithsonian, the National Museum of American History is getting a costume from that Spider-Man musical.  Seems like an odd addition for the NMAH.  I saw that show when I was in New York this past summer, and it was pretty meh.

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What impact will minority museums have on majority visitors?

There’s a movement underway to add a new National Museum of the American Latino to the Smithsonian system.  The NMAL would be one of several Smithsonian museums focused on the experiences of particular ethnic groups, alongside the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of African American History and Culture (slated to open in 2015).  There’s also been some recent activity in an effort to put a women’s history museum on the National Mall, so we could be seeing quite a few new D.C. museums focused on the history of various minority groups in the coming years.

I’ve always been of the opinion that you can’t have too many museums.  Going to museums is one of my favorite things to do, so every new facility means something else I’ll get to enjoy visiting.

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At the same time, though, part of me worries that these new museums might lead to some unintentional “re-segregation” of public history.  The National Museum of American History is a popular destination, and “American history” is a subject broad enough to appeal to a lot of people.  Trying to encompass everybody’s history under one roof has its disadvantages; you don’t get as many chances to cover minority-related subjects.  But when a general museum does mount an exhibit on the history of a minority group, it exposes visitors of a variety of backgrounds to the material, even visitors who wouldn’t normally visit a museum focused solely on minority history.  How many people who weren’t necessarily interested in twentieth-century black history got to experience the NMAH’s highly successful “Field to Factory” exhibit on the Great Migration?  Indeed, one wonders how many thousands of people have been exposed to specialized aspects of history at the NMAH just because they came to see the Star-Spangled Banner and then decided to explore the other exhibits.

I should point out that I’m not saying your average white visitor to the Smithsonian is a closet racist who will consciously avoid a black or Latino history museum.  I’m just saying that it might not occur to them that such a museum would be of interest.  The problem I’m concerned about here is visitor apathy, not hostility.  White Americans shouldn’t think of black or Latino history as “somebody else’s” history, but as critical components of American history as a whole.

And I definitely don’t want to give the impression that I think the construction of any of these museums would be a bad thing.  I just hope white visitors to D.C. don’t assume the new museums are irrelevant to them and miss out on all they have to offer.

On the other hand, maybe the addition of new museums focused on minority history will have the opposite effect.  Maybe a lot of white visitors to the Smithsonian will pay their first visit to a black history museum when the NMAAHC opens, since the new building will be right there on the Mall, in a location frequented by tourists who are passionate about their country’s past.

Your thoughts?

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Hope you weren’t about to visit a national park or the Smithsonian

Too bad we can’t let the park rangers and curators stay on the job and send the guys who make the decisions home without a paycheck instead.

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How to secure $12 million in museum funding in one easy step

Step 1: Get $12 million from Oprah Winfrey.

All levity aside, this museum is going to feature some fantastic artifacts:

Some of the highlights of the collection include a lace shawl owned by abolitionist Harriet Tubman; a Jim Crow-era segregated railroad car; slave rebellion leader Nat Turner’s Bible; and the glass-topped casket that held the body of 14-year-old Emmett Till, whose 1955 murder in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman helped spark the civil rights movement.

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Pilgrims, iPods, and everything between

A new exhibit at the National Museum of American History covers pretty much everything from the first English colonies to the present day.

Highlights include Benjamin Franklin’s walking stick and a genuine Kermit the Frog puppet.  Anyone who wields both items simultaneously cannot be killed in battle, save by the hand of the Archangel Gabriel.

You can read more about the exhibition at the Smithsonian’s website.

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Storage conditions at the Smithsonian need improvement

…according to a new report.  Read it and weep.

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The Smithsonian should’ve jumped on this

Take a look at these sample ads produced as a portfolio project by Jenny Burrows and Matt Kappler.

These things have been circulating online, originally with the Smithsonian’s name and logo.  A lot of folks assumed that they were actually part of a Smithsonian ad campaign.  I thought this was some of the best public history PR I’d ever seen.  It turns out the Smithsonian wasn’t aware of them until they went viral, and then asked one of the creators to remove the name and logo.

I think they’re awesome.  The folks at the National Museum of American History should’ve snapped this up in a heartbeat.

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