“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 »

The Renwick Gates in the Smithsonian Libraries

 Morgan E. Aronson and Julia Blakely co-authored this piece.   James M. Goode, former Keeper of the Smithsonian Institution Building (affectionately known as “The Castle”) received this year the Individual Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation in Washington, DC. In a short biographical video for this honor, Dr. Goode references a guidebook in the Smithsonian Libraries as a key source in the creation of the Renwick Gates, one of his more »

Beer on Board in the Age of Sail

Brewing and seafaring are mainstays of ancient human endeavors. Beer was first fermented by at least the 5th millennium BC in Mesopotamia. From the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers of the Fertile Crescent, the grain beverage either traveled along trade routes or was spontaneously developed in other ancient civilizations (including Egyptian, Grecian, Roman, Norse, Aztec, Chinese) before landing in northern Europe in the early medieval period. Producing beer became a more »

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