Myrtle: The Provenance and Meaning of a Plant

A version of this post first appeared on the Biodiversity Heritage Library blog. Provenance can be defined as the chain of ownership of any type of object from its creation to the present day. Co-organized by the Smithsonian Libraries, the Smithsonian’s Material Culture Forum recently held a lively session of presentations and discussions on this topic, with speakers from across the Institution: the National Zoo; Natural History Museum scientists and researchers in more »

Women’s Work in the Early Book Trade

In 16th-century Spain, manuals detailing the finer points of sailing and navigation were printed. It was the Age of Discovery and the country was establishing lucrative trade routes across the seas while expanding their colonial empire. Other nations were keen to tap into the Spaniards’ great expertise found in this literature, as there was little maritime information published elsewhere. Books were a means of developing knowledge of geography and voyaging to be more »

“An American Slave:” The Narrative of Frederick Douglass on the 200th Anniversary of his Birth

February 14th, 2018 marks the 200th birthday (observed) of Frederick Douglass. Interested in contributing to his legacy? Join the Transcribe-a-thon organized by Colored Conventions and the Smithsonian Transcription Center. Autobiographies of antebellum slaves, fugitive or former, are an extensive and influential tradition in American culture and a distinctive contribution to world literature. They speak to the country’s founding identity, giving voice to those in bondage and their search for freedom. They provide more »

The Last Jedi’s Monastic Retreat

The Skellig Islands. More stunning and other-worldly than any of the special effects of the past two Star Wars movies is the real-life towering rock outcroppings glimpsed in the closing moments of The Force Awakens (2015) and now playing a starring role in the blockbuster, The Last Jedi (2017). Although the Great Skellig, also known as Skellig Michael and Sceilig Mhichíl, and the Lesser (or Little) Skellig appear to be in a more »

The Great Halifax Explosion

Along with time, humankind invariably changes the landscape. The geography and a series of events and errors that occurred in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on December 6th, 1917, contributed to the most catastrophic and dramatic man-made violence to a surrounding area and its inhabitants before the Atomic Age. In the annals of disasters of the 20th century, including the Great War, the explosion that occurred at the Canadian harbor was particularly horrifying and more »

Native Fruit: Cranberry for all Seasons

Is there a food in North America more intrinsically linked with the landscape of the past and nostalgically intertwined with a holiday feast than the cranberry? From Cranberry Lakes in Nova Scotia, Cranberry River of West Virginia, Cranberry Pond in Sunderland, Massachusetts, the Cranberry Isles of Maine, Cranberry Mountain in New York, Cranberry Meadow in New Jersey, and many a Cranberry Bog dotting coastal areas, the plant deserves the appellation of First more »

Eating, as an Art

  Beautifully produced but small, the cookbook Home at the Range with George Rector packs a lot of material culture in its 140 pages. Anything but stuffy, this culinary artifact of 1939 evokes America trying to shake off its Depression-era hardships. It reveals a longing for European sophistication while evoking New York City in the livelier era before Prohibition. It displays the development of consumer interest more in style than a recipe. more »

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