By Megan Piette
It seems impossible to choose 101 objects – out of 137 million options – to tell the story of America. However, Richard Kurin, the under secretary of history, art, and culture at the Smithsonian Museum, has done exactly that with his new book, The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects. Some of Kurin’s choices are unique, like Benjamin Franklin’s walking stick or the 525 million-year-old Burgess Shale. He explains on the Museum of American History blog that each object relates to the history of America in a way that could never be fully explained in a book. Here is a taste of his post:
A lot of people think history is boring. They remember some awful history class they had to take in junior high school, but we’ve got 30 million people who voluntarily take history every year, walking into our museums. To me, it’s easier to approach history through an object. It hits you in a sensory way, rather than having to memorize something you can’t see; it’s tangible. Objects also relocate you.
If you don’t have the time or the money to take your K-12 classes on a field trip, why not give a virtual field trip a try? I had never heard of virtual field trips until I read this post at the blog of the National Museum of American History. The post not only explains virtual field trips, but it also offers some tips on how to do them effectively. Here is a small taste:
Not sure where to find a virtual field trip? We have a collection of archived programs that you can find on Smithsonian’s History Explorer, including the Decoding History virtual field trip for grades 3-5. We also host a webcast National Youth Summit each year for middle and high school students. You can register now for this school year’s program on Freedom Summer that will be held on Digital Learning Day, February 5, 2014.
There’s Skype in the Classroom, which brings speakers directly to you (check out the offerings from Smithsonian Affiliate Museum the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, especially for resources on Plains Indians), museum outreach programs such as the interactive video conferencing programs from the Minnesota Historical Society or the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and video programs such as the electronic field trip series from Colonial Williamsburg.
Here is an example of virtual field trip:
The blog of the National Museum of American History has an interesting post on James Smithson, the founder of the Smithsonian Institution. Matthew MacArthur, Director of New Media at the museum, discusses Heather Ewing’s The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian. I knew absolutely nothing about Smithson until I read this post. I am now eager to get Ewing’s book on my reading list.
Here is a taste of MacArthur’s post:
One reason that Smithson is such a mysterious figure is that most of his papers and personal effects were destroyed by a devastating fire in the Smithsonian Castle in 1865. So what do we know about him? He was born about 1765, the illegitimate son of aristocracy who was never acknowledged by his father, the Duke of Northumberland. He was haunted by the resulting diminishment of social status in class-conscious England. He found solace in intellectual achievement and foreign travel, becoming a gentleman scientist and performing research that led to some minor discoveries, particularly in the field of mineralogy (the mineral smithsonite, which he identified, is named after him). His achievements were significant enough to allow him to rub shoulders with the great scientists of the day (at the time they called themselves “natural philosophers”), not only in Britain but all over Europe. He was an admirer of the American, and later the French, overthrow of entrenched monarchies and creation of new forms of government based on Enlightenment values. He was a shrewd investor despite a penchant for gambling, for which we can all be thankful, leaving an estate that amounted to $508,318.46 when it was transferred to the U.S. Mint in 1838.