A Zinnia Grows in Space

National Garden Month blasts off with zinnias, written by Robin Everly and Julia Blakely. Smithsonian Libraries, most days, is like a typical library system — we assist staff and visitors with information needs, purchase books, check in journal issues, digitize, catalog, and of course, shelve books. However, the Smithsonian being the Smithsonian, sometimes your ordinary day turns upside down into something else. It’s what makes working here so fun and interesting. Such a day occurred November 10, 2016, when a Smithsonian Gardens’ horticulturist contacted our librarian in the Botany and Horticulture Department about attractive 19th-century books featuring information about zinnias. He was working with a National Air and Space Museum (NASM) film crew on an educational program about Astronaut Scott Kelly’s growing zinnias on the International Space Station (ISS). The botanical librarian, along with our catalog librarian in the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History, came up with some stunning botanical illustrations and set up a display in the rare book reading room for the filmmakers. From these more »

Looking Closely: Two Women in Book History

The Smithsonian Libraries does not contain an overwhelming number of notable bookbindings in its collections. Unlike some other research institutions, fine or interesting covers are not a collecting focus or reason for acquiring a title. Many of our books have had a hard life, well-used over the decades by staff and researchers in the museums’ departments. These survivors have often been rebound in library buckram (sturdy but oh so boring) or been more »

America’s First Known African American Scientist and Mathematician

At the beginning of February, Black History Month, the former slave Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) was much in the news. The most prominent African American of the 19th century, he first moved to Washington, D.C. in the early 1870s after his home in Rochester, New York burned down. Here he published his newspaper, The New National Era. From 1877 until his death in 1895, Douglass lived and worked in a stately Victorian house, more »

The Wondrous Winter Wonderland that was 16th-Century Sweden

An entry into this magical season can be gained through the Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (History of the Northern Peoples) by Olaus Magnus, first published in Rome in 1555. It is a work greatly valued by Smithsonian curators and researchers and other scholars, since the author – a true Renaissance man – wrote down his geographical, anthropological and naturalistic observations of a land unknown to much of Europe of the time. In more »

Joe Froggers: The Weight of the Past in a Cookie

Interested in culinary history and books? Join us on Wednesday, November 16th for our Annual Adopt-a-Book Evening, featuring a food and drink theme! Slavery and freedom, the Revolutionary War, New England’s maritime culture and life, Colonial revivalism, trade, women’s role in the economy, the development of regional cuisines, the not-fully-explored history of African Americans in the North. More than just molasses, spices and rum, there is a heady mix of history in the Joe Frogger. Can all these ingredients of America’s past be found in a cookie?

Celebrate the Potato

September is National Potato Month. Almost all the potatoes grown in the United States are planted in the spring and gathered in the fall. It is the time of year that schools in northern Maine have “harvest break” when students work to dig and sort the season’s spud crop soon after summer vacation. Maine’s custom is one small part of the very long and interwoven agricultural, economic, social, culinary, medical, and ritual more »

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