Tag Archives: Smithsonian

America’s Great Cities, Before and After – Interactive Maps via Smithsonian Magazine

San Francisco Peninsula, c/o Wikimedia Commons

San Francisco Peninsula, c/o Wikimedia Commons

Smithsonian Magazine has recently uploaded a series of interactive maps that help Americans to explore the topography of various cities – comparing the way they once looked to the present day. Check out all of their maps here: America’s Great Cities, Before and After. A couple of my personal favorites:

What Did San Francisco look like in the mid 1800s? – The interactive map allows you to compare the mid 19th century city to the modern, sprawling urban center. Explore the expansion of the city by the bay!

Compare New York City 1836 to Today – This interactive map compares New York City of 1836 to the megalopolis of today. You can explore the evolution of city neighborhoods, the park system, and more.

Other maps include Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Denver. All of the maps are very cool, interactive, and allow an overlapping comparison of urban development in these regions.

A Democracy of Images – Smithsonian Online Exhibit

Smithsonian_InstituteCheck out the Smithsonian’s online exhibit “A Democracy of Images.” Here is the Smithsonian explanation of the exhibit:

The photographs presented here are selected from the approximately 7,000 images collected since the museum’s photography program began thirty years ago, in 1983. Ranging from daguerreotype to digital, they depict the American experience and are loosely grouped around four ideas: American Characters, Spiritual Frontier, America Inhabited, and Imagination at Work.

The title A Democracy of Images refers to Walt Whitman’s belief that photography was a quintessentially American activity, rooted in everyday people and ordinary things and presented in a straightforward way. Known as the “poet of democracy,” Whitman wrote after visiting a daguerreotype studio in 1846: “You will see more lifethere—more variety, more human nature, more artistic beauty. . . than in any spot we know.” At the time of Whitman’s death, in 1892, George Eastman had just introduced mass market photography when he put an affordable box camera into the hands of thousands of Americans. The ability to capture an instant of lasting importance and fundamental truth mesmerized Americans then and continues to inspire photographers working today.

The online exhibit allows you to browse, search, and further explore the exhibit. It’s a great resource for those interested in American history and Art History.

Smithsonian 3D Scanning its Collection

The Smithsonian is 3D scanning its collection to preserve it for future generations. Curators have prioritized more than 14 million objects for digitized preservation.  See the full article at Engadget. Check out the video of the process of scanning and preserving the Gunboat Philadelphia.

Smithsonian Exhibit: The National Woman Suffrage Parade, 1913

Beginning this month, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will host an exhibit on the 1913 National Woman Suffrage Parade.

On March 3, 1913, 5,000 women marched up Pennsylvania Avenue demanding the right to vote. Their “national procession,” staged the day before Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration, was the first civil rights parade to use the nation’s capital as a backdrop, underscoring the national importance of their cause and women’s identity as American citizens. The event brought women from around the country to Washington in a show of strength and determination to obtain the ballot. The extravagant parade–and the near riot that almost destroyed it–kept woman suffrage in the newspapers for weeks. This 30-foot long showcase display recreates the mood of the parade and illustrates its impact using costumes worn by participants along with banners, sashes, postcards, letters and photographs.

If you cannot make it to Washington D.C. and want to look at some of the high resolution images, be sure to check out the exhibit online.


Patrick McGovern – the “Beer Archaeologist”

Photograph by Landon Nordeman

Any student of ancient civilization recognizes the importance that alcohol has played on the development of our cultural past. When we all started living together densely (a.k.a. – civilization), food and water became immediate, problematic needs as pollution (generally in the form of human waste) destroyed our resources. Water was generally a dangerous drink (as any traveller to Mexico has discovered) and alcohol was a safe alternative – the fermentation process often killed or prevented the growth of dangerous bacteria and parasites. In fact, in ancient Egypt, a common breakfast was a hunk of bread and a bucket of beer.

One man has made his name on the study of alcohol in the ancient world, specifically the role it played in our own cultural and social evolution – Patrick McGovern. “Dr. Pat” is the world’s foremost expert on ancient booze, but his expertise expands beyond the rate of hops or blended barleys. As an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania, he has travelled the world, poured over manuscripts, and excavated the remnants of ancient distilleries, breweries, and wineries in his quest to further understand humanity’s relationship with intoxicating beverages.

To read more about this topic and learn about Patrick McGovern’s work, check out the article in this month’s Smithsonian Magazine.

Smithsonian Postpones Belitung Exhibit in the Midst of Controversy

The Smithsonian Museum’s Sackler Gallery has formally postponed its exhibit of the Belitung shipwreck in order to address the controversy surrounding the artifacts origins from a looted shipwreck site. I have posted earlier about the controversy (see this earlier article for context) – the American Institute of Archaeology issued a formal statement condemning the exhibition.

The Washington Post reports that the museum’s curator, Julian Raby, has formally put the exhibit on hold to further consult with professional archaeologists and organizations. The concern for displaying artifacts procured via looting is that it continues to support the illegal trade and furthers the demand for materials regardless of the legality in how the objects are obtained. To read more about the decision, check out the Washington Post article.

AIA’s Formal Statement on the Belitung Shipwreck & the Smithsonian

Previously, I posted on the controversy surrounding the Smithsonian’s exhibit of materials looted from the Belitung Shipwreck. You can read those articles here:

Museums & Looted Antiquities: Conflict at the Smithsonian

Museums & Looted Antiquities – the Smithsonian

Recently, the American Institute of Archaeology (AIA) has issued a formal statement opposing the Smithsonian’s display of these artifacts.  I have included the statement in its entirety below. You can also read it in its entirety here.

As the largest and oldest organization devoted to archaeology in North America, the Archaeological Institute of America is committed to the protection of the world’s cultural heritage. As part of this commitment we strongly oppose the commercial salvage of antiquities and any exploitation of archaeological materials obtained in this manner.

The Belitung Shipwreck was salvaged unscientifically by commercially-motivated treasure hunters. Although the excavation and disposition of these materials may be technically “legal,” it is the AIA’s position that involvement by the Smithsonian Institution in the exhibition of these artifacts will serve to blur the distinction between bona fide nautical archaeology and treasure hunting. Following this path puts the Smithsonian in the indefensible position of aiding those who believe that antiquities are a commodity to be mined for personal or corporate financial gain. They are not—they are part of the world’s cultural patrimony.

As the premier museum of the United States and the largest museum and research institution in the world, the Smithsonian is a model for others and should endorse the highest ethical standards for American archaeological and museological practice. The AIA urges the Smithsonian’s leadership to heed the voices of archaeologists worldwide—including many within its own walls—in cancelling the plans for any exhibition of the Belitung shipwreck and its artifacts. To proceed with plans to display these objects will increase the risk to other equally valuable shipwrecks that have yet to be discovered.

Elizabeth Bartman
President, AIA