Should This Painting be at the Smithsonian?

An artist is suing the Smithsonian because the esteemed museum will not display her painting of Donald Trump.  Here is the painting:

Trump painting 2

And here is a taste of an article at The Intellectualist:

When Raven asked the National Portrait Gallery to display his painting to coincide with Trump’s 2017 inauguration, the gallery director, Kim Sajet, told him that the painting was “too political,” “too big,” and not very good.

“The last thing she said to me was ‘it’s no good,’” Raven said.

Raven then filed a lawsuit against the Smithsonian, claiming the museum had infringed upon his First Amendment rights and his Fifth Amendment right to due process. He insists that the art world “is controlled by very strong political ideologies on the left.”

Read the entire piece here.

FYI: The Smithsonian Museums Will Be Open During the Shutdown

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Beth Py-Lieberman fills us in at Smithsonian.Com.  Here is a taste:

Smithsonian officials announced today that the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo will not close in the event of a government-wide shutdown.

Over the holiday period, the museums will remain open as usual, except on Christmas Day, which is the only day of the year that the Smithsonian museums traditionally close. After January 1, officials plan to reevaluate the situation if the shutdown occurs.

The Smithsonian has 19 museums in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Most of the buildings open at 10 a.m. and close most evenings at 5:30 p.m. The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, located at 7th and G Streets, open at 11:30 and close daily at 7 p.m. The grounds of the National Zoo are open at 8 a.m. and visitors can still see the popular holiday Zoolights until 9 p.m. (Zoolights will be closed December 24, 25 and 31).

And the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which recently announced a new policy for its timed-entry passes, will be also open with extended evening hours from December 26-29.

Read the rest here.

Anthea Hartig is the New Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

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Congratulations!  Hartig is the first woman to hold the post in the museum’s 54-year history.  She comes to Washington D.C. with a Ph.D in history from the University of California-Riverside and experience at the California Historical Society and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  From 2000-2005 she taught history at La Sierra University, a Christian (Seventh-Day Adventist) school in Riverside.

Graham Bowley has the story covered at The New York Times:

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has a new director, who will be the first woman to hold the position in its 54-year history: Anthea M. Hartig, currently the executive director and chief executive of the California Historical Society.

Ms. Hartig begins her new role in Washington, overseeing 262 employees and a budget of nearly $50 million, on Feb. 18. She will be the first woman to be director since the museum opened in 1964, the Smithsonian said. In her new role, in 2019 and 2020, she will open three exhibitions that are part of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, #BecauseOfHerStory. She will also complete the revitalization of the museum’s 120,000-square-foot west wing.

Read the rest here.

Do You Need Advance Tickets to Get Into the National Museum of African American History and Culture?

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Here is a taste of a recent piece at Smithsonian.Com:

Visiting Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) without timed-entry passes, or tickets, just got easier. The recently-announced 2019 guidelines mark a significant change for the museum, which has seen almost 5 million visitors since its historic 2016 opening. NMAAHC is open from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. every day of the year except for Christmas Day, December 25. The museum is free, but entry is governed by a system of timed-entry passes, or tickets. The new 2019 policies expand the hours visitors can walk in without timed-entry passes. Here’s how walk-up entry and the passes will work in 2019 and over the holiday season this month:

Read the rest here.

“The American Revolution: A World War”

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This is the title of the newest exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.  Learn more about it in Alice George‘s piece at Smithsonian.com.  Here is a taste:

A new exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., invites Americans to recognize another world war—one that has been traditionally envisioned as a quaint and simple confrontation between a ragtag army of rebellious colonists and a king’s mighty military force of red-coated Brits. “The American Revolution: A World War” demonstrates with new scholarship how the 18th-century fight for independence fit into a larger, international conflict that involved Great Britain, France, Spain, the Dutch Republic, Jamaica, Gibraltar and even India. “If it had not become that broader conflict, the outcome might very well have been different,” says David K. Allison, project director, curator of the show and co-author of a new forthcoming book on the subject. “As the war became bigger and involved other allies for American and other conflicts around the world, that led Britain to make the kind of strategic decisions it did, to ultimately grant the colonies independence and use their military resources elsewhere in the world.”

 

The roots of this war lay in the global Seven Years War, known in the United States as the French and Indian War. In that conflict, Britain was able to consolidate its strength, while France and Spain experienced significant losses. At the time of the American Revolution, other European powers were seeking to restrain Great Britain, the greatest world power and owner of the planet’s most threatening navy.

“We became a sideshow,” says Allison. Both France and Spain, to undermine British power, provided both arms and troops to the rambunctious rebels. The Dutch Republic, too, traded weapons and other goods to the American colonists. Ultimately, after struggling to retain its 13 feisty colonies, British leaders chose to abandon the battlefields of North America and turn their attention to their other colonial outposts, like India.

Read the rest here.

A Museum Veteran Writes About Historical Thinking at Historical Sites

cover-higher-resMy friend Tim Grove spent the first part of his career working for the Smithsonian.  He recently left his post at the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. and started a history consulting business.  This will also give him more time to write.

You may also remember Tim from Episode 5 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Check out Tim’s article on the importance of historical thinking at History News, the magazine of the American Association for State and Local History.  Here is a taste:

Clearly, a part of the past can include baggage. Historian John Fea writes that the past can shame us. “The story of human history is filled with accounts of slavery, violence, scientific backwardness, injustice, genocide, racism, and other dark episodes that might make us embarrassed to be part of the human race. If our fellow human beings can engage in such sad, wrong, or disgraceful acts, then what is stopping us from doing the same?” As part of our job, public historians need to help the public navigate the complex reactions that come with telling and processing truth. Fea writes of a certain humility that comes with studying the past. History done well helps people to be empathetic with people from the past, an attempt to step into their shoes and try to look at the world as they did. According to historian John Lewis Gaddis, “Getting into other people’s minds requires that your own mind be open to their impressions—their hopes and fears, their beliefs and dreams, their sense of right and wrong, their perceptions of the world and where they fit within it.”

As we attempt to understand another person’s world, we gain empathy for them. Empathy, of course, is not the same as sympathy. Sympathy is feeling compassion or sadness for someone’s hardship. Empathy is an understanding of a person’s motivations for a decision or action—not necessarily an agreement with their motivations. It is striving to understand their point of view.

Thanks for the plug, Tim! Read the entire article here.

When RFK Announced the Death of MLK

This week–April 4th to be exact–is the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  Over at Smithsonian.com, historian Alice George reflects on Robert Kennedy’s announcement of King’s death.  Here is a taste of her piece:

Kennedy knew King’s death would generate bitterness and calls for vengeance: “For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling,” he said. “I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times.”

After the initial shock, the audience listened silently except for two moments when they cheered RFK’s peace-loving message.

“It’s a very un-speech speech,” says Harry Rubenstein, a curator in the division of political history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “When you watch Kennedy giving the news of King’s assassination you see him carefully and hesitantly stringing his ideas together. Ultimately, what makes the speech so powerful is his ability to share the loss of his own brother to an assassin, as he pleas with his audience not to turn to violence and hate.” Rubenstein concludes.

“It’s the first time he talks publicly about his brother’s death and that he has suffered the angst and anguish of losing someone so important to him, and they were all suffering together . . . . everyone on the stage as well as in the crowd. And there was a real vulnerability in that,” adds curator Aaron Bryant from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“It was such a risky thing for him to do as well because he was confronting a crowd that was ready to retaliate for the death of Martin Luther King, but he was ready to confront any retaliation or anger that people might have felt over King’s death. That took a certain amount of courage and spiritual power and groundedness,” says Bryant.

Read the entire piece here.

Early American Religion at the Smithsonian

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Are you looking for something to do this weekend?

Why not head to Washington D.C. to see the new “Religion in Early America” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History?  The exhibit, which is curated by historian Peter Manseau, is part of a larger exhibit on American identity titled “The Nation We Build Together.” It opened this week.

Over at Religion News Service, Adelle Banks reports on the new exhibit:

Enter the “Religion in Early America” exhibit and there are objects you expect to find: Bibles, a hymnal and christening items.

But on closer inspection, a broader picture of faith in the Colonial era emerges: a Bible translated into the language of the Wampanoag people, the Torah scroll of the first synagogue in North America and a text written by a slave who wanted to pass on the essentials of his Muslim heritage.

“Religion in early America was not just Puritans and the Pilgrims, and then the Anglicans and the negotiation of Christian diversity,” said Peter Manseau, curator of the exhibit that opens Wednesday (June 28) at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

“It was a much bigger picture. It was a story of many different communities with conflicting, competing beliefs, coexisting over time with greater and lesser degrees of engagement with each other.”

Read the rest here.

Will There Be a Smithsonian Museum of Women’s History?

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Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.)

Momentum is building for a national museum of women’s history.  The Hill reports:

Momentum for a museum of women’s history on the National Mall is building, with 198 lawmakers signing on to co-sponsor legislation to create it.

That’s a jump from 150 co-sponsors on June 6, a surge in support that is edging closer to a House majority.

“I believe that there’s no reason not to support it,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who introduced the bill. “It helps the country, it helps women, and it’s truly bipartisan.”

Maloney took a letter to the White House Thursday asking President Trump, first lady Melania Trump and adviser Ivanka Trump for their backing.

The top Republican sponsor, Rep. Ed Royce (Calif.), said he is encouraging House members from both sides of the aisle to support it.

Read the entire article here.

Become a Smithsonian Digital Volunteer!

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From the Smithsonian webpage‘s “Transcription Center”:

LEARN HOW TO TRANSCRIBE

Become a Smithsonian Digital Volunteer and help us make historical documents and biodiversity data more accessble.

Join 8,783 volunteers to add more to the total 295,013 pages of field notes, diaries, ledgers, logbooks, currency proof sheets, photo albums, manuscripts, biodiversity specimens labels that have been collaboratively transcribed and reviewed since June 2013 – Get started Now!

Follow us on Twitter and learn more about projects: @TranscribeSI

Partner on projects and ask your #volunpeers for best tips and tricks.

You’ll also find updates on Facebook and behind-the-scenes shots on Instagram.

Check out some of the projects here.

The Smithsonian Women’s History Initiative

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The Smithsonian is trying to raise $10 million for this new initiative.

A synopsis:

Women have influenced eras, changed nations and shaped history. Yet countless of their stories are not well known, their contributions not fully integrated into our national narrative.

The Smithsonian’s American Women’s History Initiative will amplify women’s voices to honor the past, inform the present and inspire the future. As the preeminent institution about the American experience, the Smithsonian will tell the critical stories of women to millions of people in Washington, D.C., and around the world, elevating their pivotal roles in building and sustaining our country.

We seek donors who share our vision for women’s history to help launch this initiative. Your support will allow the Smithsonian to hire the best educators and curators to be positioned in museums throughout the Smithsonian. These experts will investigate our vast collection to uncover and illuminate women’s stories—and then plan programs, exhibitions and publications to inspire the next generation and reach a global audience.

Here is how the money will be used:

  • Recruit at least six new curators for five-year terms to work in museums across the Smithsonian and provide start-up funds for their research, exhibitions and programs.
  • Survey the Smithsonian’s collections for objects relevant to women’s history and establish an acquisitions fund to build the collection.
  • Hire an education specialist for a five-year term and allocate start-up funds to develop programs and educational materials.
  • Produce an annual symposium and other public programs, such as lectures, film series and curator talks.
  • Mentor ten paid interns each year.

OUR GOALS FOR THE INITIATIVE are ambitious. We aspire to grow far beyond the foundation of activities described above. With additional gifts, we will:

  • Recruit a senior curator for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and provide funds to help develop a landmark exhibition to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020.
  • Create print and digital resources such as books, documentaries, podcasts and a website for a large and diverse audience.
  • Develop Washington, D.C.-based and traveling exhibitions, including a traveling exhibition of posters to reach hundreds of communities across the country.
  • Launch a venture fund, to seed new projects and provide competitive grants for emerging topics in women’s history across the Smithsonian.

Learn more here.

Is the Smithsonian American History Museum Too Corporate?

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Colette Shade, writing at Current Affairs, thinks so.

Here is a taste of her piece:

The Smithsonian has long carried a special virtuous sheen in the American imagination. It feels like one of our country’s few genuine projects for the common good. It was established out of the bequest of James Smithson, a wealthy British scientist who gave his estate to the young American nation in order to create an institution “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” In 1846, it became a trust administered by a special Board of Regents to be approved by the United States Congress. No other museum in the country has such an arrangement. And because its buildings line the National Mall, and admission is free, it has been regarded as something like the American people’s own special repository for knowledge. The Smithsonian helps define how America sees itself, and carries a weighty sense of dignity and neutrality.

It’s strange, then, that in certain parts of the Smithsonian, you may feel rather as if you’ve walked into the middle of a corporate sales pitch. When I visited the Smithsonian American History museum in December, for example, a “Mars Chocolate Demonstration” entitled “From Bean To Bar” was set up in a vestibule between exhibits. A half dozen people stood at a long table, showing how different stages in chocolate production worked. I had assumed they were docents until I noticed that most wore shirts embroidered with the Mars logo.

The lead presenter passed around a silicone model of a cacao pod, describing the process of growing the trees, explaining the role of hot chocolate in the American revolution, and telling us that the Aztecs used to consume only the white pulp that grows around the beans in the cacao pods. He informed us that nobody knows how the Aztecs discovered that the beans themselves had value, but offered a theory that they left the discarded beans by the fire, where they burned fragrantly. Then he passed around a bowl of roasted cacao nibs.

Later, I asked him whether he was a historian.

“I make M&Ms for a living,” he told me.

The demonstration was sponsored, I learned, by American Heritage Chocolate, a sub-brand of Mars that is sold exclusively at museums and historical sites. It is hard to critique a candy-making exhibit without seeming like a killjoy. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that the Mars promotional demonstration has somewhat limited relevance to the core mission of Museum of American History, or that having chocolatiers speculate about Aztec history is possibly below the expected Smithsonian standard of rigor. Having a chocolate-making demonstration is certainly a crowd-pleaser, and we did get free hot chocolate samples. But one cannot escape the suspicion that Mars, Inc. is using the Smithsonian to advertise chocolate to kids.

Read the rest here.

Episode 23: Giving in America

podcast-icon1When we historians say, “everything has a history,” we mean it. Even charity and philanthropy have rich histories and have changed over time. Host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling explore this history in an American context, touching on everything from robber-baron philanthropy to more recent trends like all-night college dance marathons and the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge.” They are joined by the David M. Rubenstein Curator of Philanthropy at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Amanda Moniz (@AmandaMoniz1).

Friday at the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians in New Orleans

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Friday appears to have been a busy day for American historians in New Orleans.  The OAH offers some highlights at Process blog.

The highlight of the day was the afternoon plenary session “African American History, Art, and the Public Museumfeaturing Lonnie Bunch III, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

Here is a taste:

“This plenary session was a unanimous ‘no brainer’ for the program committee and OAH president Nancy Cott to organize,” said program co-chair Robert Self of Brown University. “We wanted to recognize and honor one of the most important developments in public history in the last decade or more.”

“The audience was not disappointed,” Self continued. “Lonnie Bunch explained the political strategy (make congressional allies before you need them), the economic strategy (tap corporations and the wealthy black donor class), the collecting strategy (encourage ordinary people to donate materials to local museums, which would feed the national museum), and the rhetorical strategy (African American history is American history). He and Richard Powell reflected on the decade-long process of collecting and curating more than four centuries of black history in North America. Bunch also revealed that an astonishing 70 percent of the museum’s permanent collection came from the attics, basements, and storage closets of ordinary people. The plenary offered a fascinating look at how Bunch guided the museum from an idea to an architecturally powerful new building on the National Mall, curating an intellectually honest and unflinching portrait of black American history and culture. Thank you, Lonnie, Richard, and the excellent moderator, Darlene Clark Hine.”

Read the entire post here.

National Museum of African American History and Culture: The Backstory

Museum of African American History and Culture, (NMAAHC) construction site

There is a lot of buzz up here at Messiah College about the September 24 opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.   Over the last week I have learned about at least one field trip and two more that are in the works.  (Washington D.C. is a two hour drive from Mechanicsburg, PA).

In the September 2016 issue of Smithsonian Magazine Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s founding director, tells how the museum “came to be.”

Here is a taste:

This moment was born out of a century of fitful and frustrated efforts to commemorate African-American history in the nation’s capital. It was in 1915 that a group of African-American veterans of the Civil War proposed a museum and memorial in Washington. In 1929, President Calvin Coolidge actually signed enabling legislation for a memorial celebrating “the Negro’s contributions to the achievements of America,” but the Great Depression put an end to that.

Ideas proposed during the 1960s and ’70s found little support among members of Congress. The desire to create a museum was resurrected in the 1980s thanks to Representative Mickey Leland of Texas, among others. A bill introduced by Representative John Lewis of Georgia in the late ’80s spurred the Smithsonian to launch a formal study of what an African-American “presence” on the National Mall might be. The study concluded that that presence should be a separate museum, but budget concerns curtailed the initiative.

In 2003, a commission appointed by President George W. Bush studied the question again and issued a report whose title reflected its verdict: “The Time Has Come.” Congress passed the law authorizing the museum that year.

All that was left for the museum’s director to do was to articulate a vision, hire a staff, find a site, amass a collection where there was none, get a building designed and constructed, ensure that more than $500 million could be raised from private and public sources, ease the apprehension among African-American museums nationwide by demonstrating how all museums would benefit by the creation of NMAAHC, learn to work with one of the most powerful and influential boards of any cultural institution and answer all the arguments—rational and otherwise—that this museum was unnecessary.

I knew that the new museum had to work as a complement to the National Museum of American History on the Mall. I’d worked there for 12½ years, first as a curator and then as the associate director of curatorial affairs. (A colleague and I collected the lunch counter from the Greensboro sit-ins, one of the museum’s signature artifacts.) But I’ve been a historian for my entire professional life. I knew that the story of America is too big for one building.

Read the entire piece here.

Will Donald Trump Replace David Skorton as Head of the Smithsonian?

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Ted Cruz would like to see it happen.

In last night’s debate he suggested that Donald Trump was more qualified to be the president of the Smithsonian than President of the United States.

First of all, I am not sure the statement is true.

Second, Cruz meant this as an insult to Trump, but it is really an insult to museum workers everywhere, especially at the Smithsonian.  (By the way, this is a good time to say that Episode 5 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast will drop on Sunday.  Our guest is Tim Grove, chief of education at the Air and Space Museum).

David Skorton currently runs the Smithsonian.  I don’t think his job is in jeopardy.

And I don’t think Ted Cruz will be getting the museum-workers vote in upcoming primaries.

Smithsonian Head: Government Must "Take the Lead" in Funding the Humanities

Here is a taste of an article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.  His point about national security is on the mark.

David Skorton, who joined the Smithsonian on July 1 and formally took over in a ceremony in October, spoke Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington. In a speech titled “What Do We Value?” he said he has heard “many times” that the private sector “can and should” shoulder more responsibility for supporting the arts. He said he disagrees.

“The government must take the lead in reinvesting in the arts and humanities,” said Skorton, who was the president of Cornell University before joining the Smithsonian. “We cannot count on philanthropy to do this entirely. The arts and humanities must be seen as a national priority, and the government must be seen as leading, both in rhetoric and with resources.”

The Smithsonian has an annual budget of approximately $1.25 billion, and about two-thirds of the money comes from the federal government. The rest comes from philanthropy, revenue and the institution’s endowment. Skorton called the Smithsonian’s financial health “robust” but said that officials on both the federal and local level are investing less in the arts and humanities. Skorton, a physician, says the arts and humanities complement science.

“We need only to look at today’s current events to recognize that our national security alone would benefit if we all shared a better understanding of different religions, languages, philosophies and the history of our world. Yet, rather than embrace this opportunity from the federal to the local level, we are investing less and less in education and in the arts and humanities,” Skorton said.

Making History Fun

Tim Grove is the Chief of Museum Learning at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. and a Messiah College graduate.  His new book, A Grizzly in the Mail and Other Adventures in American History, chronicles some of the adventures he has had bringing American history to the public.

Over at the History News Network, Grove suggests five ways to make history fun.  I have listed them below, but please go to HNN and read the details.  Or better yet, buy a copy of his book!

1.  Share your sources.  Ask your audience questions and get them looking at the evidence.

2.  Make a personal connection

3.  Introduce the unexpected

4.  Never forget people stories

5.  Find ways to convey your joy.

Has Anyone Ever Lived on the National Mall in Washington D.C.?

Absolutely.

  • Nacotchtank Indians lived there in the early 1600s.
  • A small group of slave-holding farmers lived there in the 1790s.
  • Thomas Jefferson moved there in 1801 and all the subsequent presidents followed. 
  • Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian, lived there for twenty-three years in the mid-19th century.  
  • From 1840-1930 there was a working-class neighborhood there.