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A Taste of Sticky Rice, Laos’ National Dish

Smithsonian Magazine

Luck was losing patience, and his stomach was grumbling like the diesel engine of the bus transporting him to northern Laos. He needed to eat sticky rice, he said, so badly!

He checked his cellphone: No service. Slumping into his seat, he looked out the windows — but it was mid-November in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and in field after field, Laotian farmers were harvesting sticky rice and burning the discarded husks for fertilizer. Luck sighed. The smoky air carried a sweet, ricey aroma.

It was the first day of a six-day, northbound journey from Vientiane, the tranquil capital, to a remote village near the Laos-China border. Luck — short for Vilayluck Onphanmany — is my 23-year-old Laotian friend and translator whom I’d met on my first of three previous trips to the landlocked Southeast Asian country. He was assisting a gastronomic investigation: a friend and I were on a mission to learn the secrets of sticky rice, the mainstay of Laotian cuisine, and in the process, to eat as much of it as possible.

When our bus rattled into a dusty market, a group of women crowded the windows. “Ao khao bor?” they called (“Do you want sticky rice?”). Luck snapped to attention and called for two bags — one for me and my traveling companion, and one for himself. We ate with our hands, Laotian-style. Luck finished his portion before the bus started rolling.

“I feel better!” he said, and promptly dozed off. Other passengers were either eating sticky rice or, like Luck, sleeping it off.

What explains the national love of sticky rice? Many Laotians laughed when I asked them. Sticky rice is what their grandparents and great-grandparents ate, they said. Perhaps they were caught off guard by my question: like baguettes in France and sushi in Japan, sticky rice is so ingrained in Laos’ culinary heritage that most Laotians don’t think about it in isolation.

Sticky, or “glutinous,” rice has been growing in mainland Southeast Asia for at least 4,000 years. Historians debate whether ancient farmers grew sticky rice because it was suited to local growing conditions or because they liked its taste and chewy texture. What’s clear is that, by the 18th century, sticky rice had been largely replaced across the region by varieties of non-glutinous rice, a.k.a. “white rice.”

But sticky rice is still the primary staple in Laos parts of the five countries bordering it: China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. In Laos, slightly larger in area than Utah, per-capita sticky rice consumption is the highest on earth at more than 345 pounds per year. The average American, by contrast, eats less than 20 pounds of rice annually, according to the United States Drug Administration.

Urbanization, migration and other forces are altering rice-consumption habits across Laos, says historian Grant Evans, to the point where some urban dwellers now associate sticky rice with “country bumpkin ways of eating.” But Evans, the author of several books about Laos, also says he doesn’t know a single Laotian person who never eats sticky rice. From a cultural perspective, he explained, sticky rice is still “the way the Lao identify themselves.” Case in point: as of the mid-1990s, a popular Laotian band in the United States was calling itself Khao niaw — the Laotian words for, sure enough, sticky rice.

The dish comes in various shapes and sizes — a recent agricultural research project on rice in Laos involved more than 13,000 rice samples, more than 11,000 of them glutinous — but the basic method of consuming khao niaw is the same countrywide. Harvested sticky rice grains, which are typically shorter and fatter than non-glutinous ones, are soaked overnight, steamed in the morning and eaten all day.

Sticky rice still tastes great after two steamings, said Luck, but steaming it thrice makes it “too sticky.” Because sticky rice lacks the starch amylose, it congeals — and breaks off into fist-sized pieces — more easily than white rice under similar cooking conditions.

Image by Ashley Szczesiak. Sticky rice grows in Laotian lowlands and uplands. Lowland farmers plant it in flooded paddies. (original image)

Image by Ashley Szczesiak. Upland farmers intercrop sticky rice on hillsides with companion crops like taro, cassava and chilli peppers. (original image)

Image by Ashley Szczesiak. Sticky rice is so ingrained in Laos' culinary heritage that most Laotians don't think about it in isolation. (original image)

Image by Ashley Szczesiak. In Laos, sticky rice harvests are communal affairs. These Laotian students are cutting and threshing mature sticky rice stalks near Luang Namtha on a sleepy Saturday morning. (original image)

Image by Ashley Szczesiak. Historians debate whether Laotian farmers of old grew sticky rice because it was suited to local growing conditions or because they liked its taste and chewy texture. (original image)

Image by Ashley Szczesiak. Urbanization, migration and other forces are altering rice-consumption habits across Laos, says historian Grant Evans, to the point where some urban dwellers now associate sticky rice with "country bumpkin ways of eating." (original image)

Image by Ashley Szczesiak. Harvested sticky rice grains, which are typically shorter and fatter than non-glutinous ones, are soaked overnight, steamed in the morning and eaten all day. (original image)

Image by Mike Ives. In Laos, which is slightly larger in area than Utah, per-capita sticky rice consumption is the highest on earth at more than 345 pounds per year. (original image)

A hunk of sticky rice is a delicious, bread-like dipping implement. Laotians prefer to eat sticky rice with non-soupy dishes, rather than with just curries and sauces, said Caroline Gaylard, co-founder of Tamarind, a café and cooking school in Luang Prabang, the former Laotian royal capital. According to Gaylard, an Australian who moved to the country, sticky rice complements the popular Laotian dish jeow, a dry paste made from chili peppers and herbs, as well as the royal dish mok pa fork, which features steamed fish, dill, shallots and coconut milk.

Sticky rice figures in religious traditions across Laos, where the predominant faith is Theravada Buddhism. Laotians cook sticky rice dishes — notably khao tom, a fusion of sticky rice, coconut, banana and mung bean — for ceremonies related to plantings, rainfall, harvests and death. During the popular baci ceremony, uncooked sticky rice grains are tossed into the air after communal prayers. And when a Laotian is dying, a village elder may rub sticky rice on the person and throw the rice away to banish bad spirits.

But sticky rice isn’t merely spiritual fuel. Because it takes longer to digest than white rice does, it sates hunger for longer periods. That’s good for Laotian monks, who generally don’t eat after midday. “People give us only sticky rice, which is awesome,” said Sary Phonesay, a 19-year-old monk with brown eyes and a gentle smile. He was standing in the sun-dappled courtyard of a Buddhist temple in Luang Prabang, where tourists line up each morning like band groupies outside of a stadium box office to place steaming clumps of khao niaw into the monks’ collection pots. When I asked why he prefers sticky rice to white rice, the monk said, “If I eat sticky rice, I’ll be full longer.” Laotian farmers I asked repeated variations of Sary’s explanation. Agriculture, mainly subsistence rice farming, employs three out of four Laotians. Sticky rice packs well in banana leaves and is a common field-side snack.

Sticky rice grows in Laotian lowlands and uplands. Lowland farmers plant it in flooded paddies; upland farmers intercrop it on hillsides with companion crops like taro, cassava and chili peppers. Because hillsides generally receive less-predictable supplies of water than paddies do, hillside rice fields tend to be more susceptible to drought.

Curious about hillside sticky rice, my friends and I rode an overnight bus from Luang Prabang to Luang Namtha, a one-lane town near the Laos-China border. At a Luang Namtha eco-outfitter, we asked a friendly guide to take us into the surrounding countryside and introduce us to hillside sticky rice farmers. We cruised out of town on rented motorbikes. The passing landscape alternated between forests, rubber plantations, thatch-roof houses and cleared hillsides whose golden color reminded me of California’s Santa Ynez Valley.

Soon we were hiking near a sleepy village whose sign read Khoua Soung. Farmers from the Kmhmu ethnic group were harvesting sticky rice on a distant hillside. As we approached russet-colored rice stalks, Luck praised the view: he had sketched similarly pastoral scenes in primary school, he recalled, but always from his imagination. “We’re not in the lowlands anymore,” said Luck, whose white headphones were playing Laotian pop music from a pocket MP3 player. “Those people have to stand up all day, and they don’t have any technology to help!”

Watch this video in the original article

Indeed, most Kmhmu people are upland subsistence farmers, and they use decidedly low-tech production techniques. Men and women stripped sticky rice grains by hand from mature stalks, then dropped the grains into woven baskets attached to their hips. After dumping the rice into white sacks, they carried the sacks down the hill.

Rural development experts told me that many Laotian farmers wage a constant battle against food insecurity. The farmers of Khoua Soung were no exception: Because of drought and rodent infestations, they said, 16 of their village’s 57 families wouldn’t harvest enough sticky rice this year to meet their own needs. “In the cities, they eat sticky rice for taste,” said Juelang, a quiet farmer who was drinking water from a plastic motor-oil can. “Here we eat it for survival.”

Over an evening bonfire in Khoua Soung — a roadside cluster of wooden stilt houses — farmers discussed survival strategies. Some were selling rubber sap and wild cardamom to Chinese traders; others were selling rice-harvesting baskets to tourists. If all else failed, said 41-year-old farmer Han Tom Keo, needy farmers would borrow sticky rice from their neighbors.

The threat of hunger didn’t diminish their hospitality. As stars replaced the sun in a cloudless sky, the farmers invited us into a stilt house and served us spicy jeow, pickled bamboo shoots, fresh chicken soup and steaming hunks of khao niaw. I handled my sticky rice carefully, conscious of how much elbow grease had gone into each grain. We ate and chatted, and ate some more, until about 8 p.m.. Afterward we were so full that we went directly to bed.

Lying under a mosquito net in the head villager’s drafty stilt house, I listened for sounds of evening activity. Silence. The farmers were sleeping, and for good reason: There was more sticky rice to harvest, starting at daybreak.

Mike Ives is a freelance writer based in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Why the Avocado Should Have Gone the Way of the Dodo

Smithsonian Magazine

Image courtesy of Flickr user Elsa4Sound.

The avocado is a fruit of a different time. The plant hit its evolutionary prime during the beginning of the Cenozoic era when megafauna, including mammoths, horses, gomphotheres and giant ground sloths (some of them weighing more than a UPS truck) roamed across North America, from Oregon to the panhandle of Florida. The fruit attracted these very large animals (megafauna by definition weigh at least 100 pounds) that would then eat it whole, travel far distances and defecate, leaving the seed to grow in a new place. That’s the goal of all botanical fruits, really. Survival and growth via seed dispersal.

But the great mammals disappeared forever about 13,000 years ago in the Western Hemisphere. Around that time, North America lost 68 percent of its diverse Pleistocene megafauna, and South America lost 80 percent, Connie Barlow, author of The Ghosts of Evolution: Nonsensical Fruit, Missing Partners, And Other Ecological Anachronisms says. But even after this major shift in the land mammal population, the wild avocado still requires the same method of seed dispersal, which makes it somewhat of an evolutionary anachronism.

“After 13,000 years, the avocado is clueless that the great mammals are gone,” Barlow explains. “Without larger mammals like the ground sloth to carry the seed far distances, the avocado seeds would rot where they’ve fallen and must compete with the parent tree for light and growth.”

A fruit with smaller seeds, like a berry, for example, can be consumed whole and dispersed by small mammals, making the chances of fruiting in a new place higher.

After the giant mammals had died out, if an avocado tree was lucky, a jaguar might’ve found the fruit attractive—the cat’s stomach is designed for digesting large hunks of meat, leaving potential for swallowing the avocado whole, though there is no evidence to support this idea. Rodents like squirrels and mice may have also contributed, as they traveled and buried seeds in the ground, rather than letting it rot on the surface. Wild avocados were appealing to larger animals because it had enough tasty flesh to lure them in and could be eaten in one bite. The fruit had a larger pit and less flesh than today’s avocados, but it really served as a quick snack for big mammals like the mammoth. Barlow writes in “Haunting the Wild Avocado,” originally published in Biodversity:

The identities of the dispersers shifted every few million years, but from an avocado’s perspective, a big mouth is a big mouth and a friendly gut is a friendly gut. The passage of a trifling 13,000 years (since the Pleistocene extinction) is too soon to exhaust the patience of genus Persea. The genes that shape fruits ideal for megafauna retain a powerful memory of an extraordinary mutualistic relationship.

How the avocado still exists in the wild after surviving its evolutionary failures remains a puzzle. But once Homo sapiens evolved to the point where it could cultivate the species, the fruit had the chance to thrive anew. Back when the giant beasts roamed the earth, the avocado would’ve been a large seed with a small fleshy area—less attractive to smaller mammals such as ourselves. Through cultivation, humans have bulked up avocados so there is more flesh for us to eat.

The avocado has been a staple food in Mexico, as well as Central and South America, since 500 B.C. Spanish conquistadors discovered the fruit from the Aztecs in the 16th century, but the ahuacate, the Aztec word for “avocado,” wasn’t grown commercially in the United States until the turn of the 20th century. By 1914, the exotic fruit made an appearance on California soil. Roughly 90 percent of today’s avocados are grown in California according to NPR. But Barlow is quick to point out the difference between a cultivated avocado and those found naturally.

“The wild varieties of avocados that are still somewhat available have a thin fleshy area around the seed—it wouldn’t necessarily be something that we would recognize as edible,” says Barlow. “When we go to the store and we see an avocado on sale, it’s always a question of will this be one with a tiny seed, or will it be a batch where the seed takes up five-sixths of the space of the fruit?”

Ecologist Dan Janzen conducted groundbreaking research on these and other “anachronistic fruits” and found that the avocado isn’t alone in this regard. His research in the late ’70s in the neotropics— an ecozone that includes both Americas and the entire South American temperate zone—sparked a shift in ecological thinking regarding these evolutionary-stunted fruits. Other examples include: papaya, cherimoya, sapote and countless other fleshy fruits of the neotropics. Another surprising “ghost” you may see everyday: Honey locust pods scattered about your driveway. All of these fruits are not considered edible by most native mammalian standards today. Barlow continues:

In 1977, however, was beginning to suspect that he—along with every other ecologist working with large tropical fruits of the New World—had been wrong in one very big way. They all had failed to see that some fruits are adapted primarily for animals that have been extinct for 13,000 years.”

 What makes the avocado even stranger as an evolutionary dancer without a partner is that the pit is actually toxic.

“We don’t have the liver or the enzyme systems to detoxify our bodies from something like the avocado seed,” Barlow says. “But at the same time, the rhino which has been around for ages, can eat all kinds of things that are toxic to everyone else.”

A South American folk recipe for rat poison mixes avocado pits with cheese or lard to kill off unwanted rodents. Whether or not humans are supposed to eat avocados from an evolutionary standpoint, America produced 226,450 tons of the fruit and consumed 4.5 pounds per capita in 2011. The avocado, a true “ghost of evolution,” lives on.

More avocado facts to drop at your next party:

  • The Aztec word for avocado, ahuacatl means “testicle”. This is most likely because the avocado, growing in pairs, resembled the body part. After the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, Spanish speakers substituted the form avocado for the Aztec (Nahuatl) word because ahuacatl sounded like the early Spanish word avocado (now abogado), meaning “lawyer.”
  • The Spanish-Mexican word “guacamole” was derived from ahuacamolli, meaning “avocado soup or sauce,” made from mashed avocados, chiles, onions and tomatoes.
  • For reasons related to the word’s origin, the avocado is also considered an aphrodisiac. According to the book The Aphrodisiac Encyclopaedia, by the time the fruit traveled to Europe, the Sun King (Louis XIV) nicknamed avocados la bonne poire (the good pear) because he believed it restored his lagging libido.
  • The Hass variety of avocado was named after a postal employee, Rudolph Hass, who purchased the seedling in 1926 from a California farmer.
  • For more information regarding other “ghosts of evolution” Barlow’s theme song is a great listen:

How Thousands of Dead Bugs Become a Mesmerizing Work of Extraordinary Beauty

Smithsonian Magazine

Jennifer Angus’ artwork is startling, especially when it dawns on you that what is on view is not beautifully drawn, patterned wallpaper. Depending on your mindset, it's either a nightmarishly freakish, or beautifully mesmerizing assemblage, of insects.

Beyond the visceral gut reaction, a deeper provocation comes with the ideas behind her work—what is beauty? What does it say about the power of nature, or man’s quest to control nature? What about man’s impact on the planet?

Angus, whose In the Midnight Garden is on display at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., does not shy away from expressing her own thoughts about what might otherwise be taken as an abstraction. She aims to play with perceptions, to challenge hard and fast beliefs about the insect world, and to stir a broader thought process.

Over the last decade or so, she’s specialized in what she calls “a kind of over-the-top grotesque aesthetic,” pinning dead insects to gallery walls in installations that evoke a fussy but dark Victorian sensibility. The show’s curator Nicholas Bell pushed her to go beyond her routine, says Angus. “As I tried to consider it in a more contemporary way, I loosened up a bit,” she adds.

The installation has its orderly parts—neatly arranged patterns of concentric circles, squares and other shapes—all made up of a variety of insects, including thorny sticks (Heteropteryx dilatata), moving leafs (Phyllium giganteum), white-winged cicadas (Ayuthia spectabilis), clear-wing cicadas (Pompoina imperatorial), blue-winged cicadas (Tosena splendida), brown-winged cicadas (Angamiana floridula), katydids (Sanaa intermedia), green stag beetles (Phymateus saxosus) and several varieties of grasshoppers.

“I get pretty much the same three questions all the time: are the insects real, is this their natural color, and do I collect them all myself,” Angus says. (C & N Photography)

But it’s also animated by swarms of cicadas seemingly ready to fly off the walls. Six oversized skulls—outlined and filled in by hundreds of weevils (Eupholus species)—anchor the installation as a recurring theme at chair-rail level.

A pinkish floor-to-ceiling wash—a dye extract that comes from the cochineal, a scale insect—gives the whole scene a Day of the Dead feel. “The skull is a potent motif,” says Angus. It has become iconic in pop culture, but is also still a signifier of death. Indeed, she’s using them as a reminder to viewers.

“There are at least 5,000 dead things in here,” she says. But she wants that to be a conversation starter, and expects that many people will come in and ask—how many thousand of insects died for this show? It’s a good question, Angus says. “I want people to ask that.”

None of the insects she uses are endangered. There are disappearing species, “but most of them are threatened because of loss of habitat, not over-collection,” she says. Insects—a renewable resource—are at risk because of human incursions, Angus says. But, unlike birds, or bees, or turtles, or whales, or wolves, “insects aren’t so sexy,” she adds. They are important, however, to the ecosystem, pollinating plants that humans and animals need to survive, and decomposing matter.

“We are in a culture where insects are not very highly valued,” agrees Bell. Angus puts them in a setting that forces people to pay attention, he says. At first, they might not realize what they are seeing, but as they get closer, it becomes clearer that they are, indeed, “surrounded by very large dead insects,” says Bell. “That’s an interesting thing to watch.”

The insects in her show are perhaps less threatening than those encountered at home or in the wild, in part because they are dead, but also because she’s imposed some order on them. And, they are colorful and beautiful in their own way. Angus hopes that people “will think about insects differently when they leave,” she says.

In the process of viewing the exhibit, “people have to negotiate their preconceived concepts about what insects are, and I think that’s okay,” says Bell.

A detail of Jennifer Angus' work In the Midnight Garden, 2015 (Ron Blunt/ Renwick Gallery/ SAAM)

Angus has not always been the insect lady. It’s something she came to accidentally.

The Edmonton, Alberta, native’s first love was archaeology, an interest that fizzled out in her first year at the University of British Columbia. She blamed her waning focus on a boring professor and dropped out of school. While working ten days on and five days off on a ferry that ran between Vancouver Island and Vancouver, she began taking art courses—like weaving. She found a new love—patterns.

It gave her a new direction. So she pursued and won a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1984, and then a master of fine arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1991. Ten years later, she joined the University of Wisconsin, Madison, faculty, where she is now a professor of design studies.

That position gives her the luxury to pursue her art. Her initial interest was in textiles, more specifically, the patterns that can be created with cloth and other textiles. She has designed textiles and wallpaper. And she’s studied the interweaving of culture and cloth—that is, what patterns say about the wearer or the society. During forays to Southeast Asia, for instance, Angus learned that textile patterns often signify status or tribal identity, or even that the wearer is pregnant.

On a trip to northern Thailand in the mid 1980s, she saw a woman from the Karen tribe wearing a “singing shawl,” that had fringe decorated with what appeared to be shiny green fake fingernails, but were in fact the hard exterior wings of a type of beetle.

It was a pivotal moment; she’d never thought of insects as beautiful, merely as annoyances. She was “entranced,” she says.

The notion of weaving her two loves—patterns and insects—together began to evolve over subsequent trips to the Southeast Asia in the early 90s. During an art residency in Tokyo in 1995, Angus started creating insect dioramas—complete with kimono-wearing rhino beetles. She was aided by a few schoolboys who were regular visitors to her studio, and like her, shared a fascination for insects. Angus learned that in Japan, it is not uncommon for children to keep insects as pets.

In The Midnight Garden, by Jennifer Angus is on view at the Renwick Gallery through July 10, 2016 (Ron Blunt/ Renwick Gallery/ SAAM)

The project sort of reached a natural conclusion—over a period of five years—with, literally a three-ring Bug Circus.  In that piece, created in 2000, she posed insects as strongmen lifting weights in one ring, a lion-tamer scenario in another, and two beetles at a water bowl in the third. Angus then began doing fuller installations that incorporated both insects and elaborate patterns. “Pattern can be just a visual stimulus, but it has the potential for so much more, to tell a story,” says Angus.

The stories Angus tells in her pieces are of transformation—from the unknown to the known, from off-putting to enchanting.

Each insect has a story: where it came from, how it was collected, how it ended up in her possession, how she prepared it for exhibit, and how it was chosen to be a part of her art. She has a collection of at least 30,000 insects, ranging in price from 25 cents to $20 apiece, which are re-used from show to show, and put up in storage in plastic bins (with mothballs to ward off insect predators like mites) at her university and home studios, and a one-room schoolhouse she has converted.

She purchases the insects primarily from a dealer in France, who, in turn, sources them mostly from indigenous people in Southeast Asia. If she can get farmed insects, she will use them.

“I get pretty much the same three questions all the time: are the insects real, is this their natural color, and do I collect them all myself,” she says. The insects are definitely real, none have been color enhanced, and she never collects them herself, although she does prepare them when they arrive from the dealer by humidifying them and placing them with stainless steel entomological pins on foam board.

At chair-rail level, six oversized skulls—outlined and filled in by hundreds of weevils (Eupholus species)—anchor the installation as a recurring theme. (Ron Blunt/ Renwick Gallery/ SAAM)

Angus has digitized photos to scale of every insect in her collection, which she uses to design the exhibition, once she knows the floor plan. It has to be tightly designed. “I have to know how many insects to bring,” she says adding, “I can’t go, ‘oh, I wish I brought more cicadas.'”

For the Renwick show, she and two assistants drove the insects from Wisconsin. Once in the gallery, Angus and the assistants began the arduous, multiday process of hammering the pinned specimens into place according to her design plot.

Angus chooses particular species for their wow factor, but also for their durability, and how well they fit into specific patterns. Some insects will never be a part of an Angus exhibition. Cockroaches, for instance. “It’s almost like it’s so obvious that it’s not worth doing,” she says. Nor will she use any butterflies because “everybody knows butterflies are beautiful.”

They provide no chance to educate or stimulate wonder.

And that would basically defeat her mission. “I’m trying to rehabilitate the image of insects,” Angus says. She’s hoping that, “Instead of stomping on them or rolling up the newspaper,” people might consider “gently escorting them out the door instead.”

An Angus show always makes a big impression and they have proven immensely popular.

None of the insects Angus uses are endangered. But she wants people to think about that. There are disappearing species, “but most of them are threatened because of loss of habitat, not over-collection,” she says. (Ron Blunt/ Renwick Gallery/ SAAM)

The artist has exhibited in galleries and small museums in Canada, Australia, England, France, Germany and the U.S.

Being at the Renwick offers the opportunity to perhaps make an even bigger impression, in part because people who can affect environmental policy might see the show. But there’s also the general appeal in a big city. “A lot of people who have never walked into an art museum will come because they want to see the big bugs,” says Angus. She expects it to be one of the highest-attended of all of her shows so far.

But she says she’s not ready to make a life-long career of being the insect lady. “Doing these installations is very physical.” While she thinks she’ll eventually become tired of them, she adds, “obviously, this is a significant investment, so they’re going to be around for awhile.”

Jennifer Angus is one of nine contemporary artists featured in the exhibition “Wonder,” on view November 13, 2015 through July 10, 2016, at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Angus' installation closes on May 8, 2016.

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Behold the Most Distant Object Ever Visited by Spacecraft

Smithsonian Magazine

The most distant planetary exploration in history required a significant amount of careful planning and preparation, as well as a little bit of luck.

“We started panicking by the time we got into 2013, especially late 2013,” says Hal Weaver, project scientist on the New Horizons mission to Pluto and beyond. “We were realizing, ‘Oh my gosh, we haven’t discovered the next target for New Horizons yet.’”

In June 2014, the Hubble Space Telescope came to the rescue, spotting a small pinprick of light slowly moving across the sky in the region the New Horizons spacecraft was headed. The mission, with a primary objective of exploring and characterizing Pluto, presented a unique opportunity to seek out another planetary object in the distant “third region” of the solar system, the Kuiper Belt. Launched back in January 2006, New Horizons didn’t make its closest approach to Pluto until more than nine years later in July 2015. If the team couldn’t find a new target for the spacecraft, it would likely be decades before another spacecraft could be approved, built and flown to the outer reaches of the solar system.

“It’s going to take so long before another mission is out there, we feel some responsibility to make sure that we looked under every rock,” Weaver says.

Now, the target object, known by its designation from the Minor Planet Center, 2014 MU69, has been revealed for the first time. The distant planetary body is a bi-lobed contact binary, meaning it was formerly two objects that formed separately and then very gently collided with each other and fused together. The larger lobe is about three times the volume of the smaller one, and 2014 MU69 has a reddish hue, thought to be the result of radiation in the outer solar system. From the early images, the team believes the object may be covered in features such as hills, ridges and plateaus. 2014 MU69 rotates once about every 15 hours, and it appears to contain exotic ices such as nitrogen or methane, something that scientists will look to confirm as more data about the composition of 2014 MU69 reaches Earth.

The first color image of Ultima Thule, taken at a distance of 85,000 miles (137,000 kilometers) at 4:08 Universal Time on January 1, 2019, highlights its reddish surface. At left is an enhanced color image taken by the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), produced by combining the near infrared, red and blue channels. The center image taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) has a higher spatial resolution than MVIC by approximately a factor of five. At right, the color has been overlaid onto the LORRI image to show the color uniformity of the Ultima and Thule lobes. ( NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute)

Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission and Smithsonian Ingenuity Award Winner, said at a press conference at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory that the encounter with 2014 MU69 was “a technical success beyond anything ever attempted before in spaceflight.”

“It’s only really the size of something like Washington, D.C.,” Stern says of 2014 MU69, which is about 21 miles on its longest side. “And it’s about as reflective as garden-variety dirt, and it’s illuminated by a sun that’s 1,900 times fainter than it is outside on a sunny day here on the Earth. So, we were basically chasing it down in the dark at 32,000 miles per hour.”

2014 MU69 has been nicknamed Ultima Thule by the New Horizons team, a Latin phrase used by the Romans to describe unexplored regions to the north and, more generally, a region that lies beyond the known world. The phrase was used by Virgil in the poem Georgics, and the term “Thule” has a long literary history, appearing in works such as James Thompson’s 1730 poem “Autumn,” which is quoted in the first chapter of Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre. Versions of “Ultima Thule” also appear in the poem “Dream-Land” by Edgar Allan Poe and in the works of Vladimir Nabokov.

However, the phrase and nickname for 2014 MU69 has drawn criticism because “Ultima Thule” was also a mythical region in early Nazi lore, used by the German occultist Thule Society to describe a lost land that was the birthplace of the “Aryan race.” “Ultima Thule” is an unofficial nickname for 2014 MU69, and now that the object has been explored and characterized, the International Astronomical Union can begin the process of giving the object an official name.

“The term Ultima Thule, which is very old, many centuries old, possibly over 1,000 years old, is a wonderful meme for exploration, and that’s why we chose it,” Stern said at the press conference when asked about the nickname. “And I would say that just because some bad guys once liked that term, we’re not going to let them hijack it.”

While the Pluto flyby revealed a remarkable world of active geology, with flowing glaciers of exotic ices such as carbon monoxide and methane, and towering mountains of water ice, 2014 MU69 is expected to provide a window into the history and evolution of the solar system itself. 2014 MU69 is what is known as a classical Kuiper Belt object, which are icy and rocky bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune that have relatively circular orbits, meaning that unlike Pluto, they never cross Neptune’s orbit. At this great distance, between about 40 and 50 Astronomical Units, or about 3.5 to 4.5 billion miles from the sun, classical Kuiper Belt objects constitute an incredibly primitive population, virtually unchanged since the dawn of the solar system.

“Because of [2014 MU69’s] current orbit, we think it’s been in that position for 4.6 billion years, in which case it’s been kept in a deep freeze since the time of its formation,” Weaver says.

The fact that the object is a contact binary allows scientists to further study how material aggregates into objects like 2014 MU69 and continues to grow and form full planets. “It’s actually gratifying to see these almost perfectly formed contact binaries in their native habitat,” says Jeff Moore, geology and geophysics team lead for New Horizons. “People have speculated for a long time the processes… [of] how the initial primordial clumps come together to form what’s called planetesimals, which are the things which in turn go on to the make the planets. But to actually see the things that are consistent with the explanations that we have and theories we’ve had for how these things form is extremely gratifying.”

An illustration of the formation process of a contact binary object. (NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI / James Tuttle Keane)

More than 4 billion miles from the sun, 2014 MU69 serves as something of a remnant of the original material the solar system formed from. Stern called 2014 MU69, “probably the best time capsule we’ve ever had for understanding our solar system.”

It was not known until the 1990s that the region beyond Neptune is not empty, but rather full of hundreds of thousands of objects in a distinct zone of the solar system now called the Kuiper Belt, named after Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper, who predicted the region’s existence decades earlier. The discovery of Eris in 2003, a dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt about the same size as Pluto, further revealed the significance of this third region and its influence on the formation and evolution of all that orbits the sun.

While it can be easy to think of the planets in the solar system forming in the orbits they are in today, astronomers now know that this was not the case. The giant planets migrated inward and back outward as the solar system was taking shape, affecting the orbits of everything else and even ejecting some objects from the solar system entirely.

“During the first tens of millions of years of the solar system’s history, Jupiter and Saturn get into this weird dance that caused a lot of chaos in the orbits of all the giant planets,” Weaver says. “Jupiter may have come in almost as close as Mars’ orbit and then went back out again. We think that Neptune and Uranus actually flipped places. … And that stirred the pot in the solar system, finally ending up with what we have today.”

While the pot was stirring, astronomers believe that some objects in the Kuiper Belt like 2014 MU69 were thrown inward on elliptic trajectories that pass close to the sun before flying back out to distant realms. Today we call these objects comets, and when one gets close to the sun, the ices near the surface are heated and sublimate into gas, forming a “coma” or ball of gas that surrounds the comet's rocky core, called the nucleus.

“Anytime we see comets we need to remember that they’re post-toasties,” Moore says. “They’ve been fried and crackled and crunched by the sun, and they’re badly damaged examples of former Kuiper Belt objects. And so being able to go out and see a pristine Kuiper Belt object tells us now that indeed contact binaries really do form, and maybe when we see comets we’re seeing smaller versions of very badly damaged contact binaries.”

At the moment, only about one percent of the data stored on New Horizons has been received by the science team on the ground. The spacecraft will transmit data to Earth for the next 20 months, revealing more about 2014 MU69’s topography and composition. Meanwhile, New Horizons will continue its flight toward the edge of the solar system at some 30,000 mph—but its days of exploration are not over yet.

“The spacecraft is in peak health,” Stern says, adding that New Horizons has enough power in its radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) to operate for 15 to 20 more years. The craft can continue science operations to about 2.5 times its current distance from the sun, and it has enough fuel left to fire its thrusters to change course toward another object. (The New Horizons team had to conduct multiple trajectory corrections leading up to the flyby with 2014 MU69.) As it continues to fly toward the edge of the solar system, New Horizons will keep an eye out for additional planetary bodies to study, either by observing them through its telescopic cameras or, if we are lucky, by flying near another object.

“The key to the science that we do is whether it’s studying objects remotely with our telescopes, or whether that science in the Kuiper Belt also will include one more flyby,” Stern says. “And I can’t give you the answer today, because we don’t know.”

For now, the team looks forward to receiving the remaining data on the spacecraft to learn more about 2014 MU69, the most distant and ancient world ever explored.

Taste-Testing the History of the Hamburger

Smithsonian Magazine

Where did the hamburger really come from? The theories vary, with old recipes being discussed and debated far more often than they are eaten. Plenty of historians have argued over whether a recipe from Apicius, a fourth-century Roman cookbook, really constitutes a hamburger. Prevailing wisdom says that the modern hamburger evolved from another ground meat dish called Hamburg steak that made its way from Germany to the United States, where the addition of a bun made it the hamburger of today.

What could be learned by recreating a few of the key dishes in the evolution of the hamburger? I decided to find out.

I teamed up with Leni Sorensen, a culinary historian who specializes in the history of American cuisine. After careful research, we spent a day in her kitchen recreating the history of the burger. Mary Burruss, a friend and fellow writer, served as an additional taste-tester.

The recipe in Apicius seemed like a good place to start. The text was named after a first-century A.D. gourmand, who was almost certainly not its author. Apicius’ origins are unclear, but we know that it was written in a largely colloquial form of Latin and provided various advice and recipes useful for cooking in a wealthy Roman or other Mediterranean household. Several translations into English have been made, based on various somewhat differing copies of the text in Latin. The first translation, published by Joseph Dommers Vehling in the 1800s, is freely available through the Gutenberg Project, and it’s what we used as a reference for our endeavor.

Vehling labeled the dish, “Kromeskis,” borrowing a term for a vaguely similar European dish that he happened to be familiar with. Most of the ingredients listed in the recipe were easy to come by, but a few assumptions had to be made. No definite quantities of any of the ingredients were specified, although standardized units of volume and weight existed in ancient Rome. The recipe calls for nuts but does not specify which type. Pistachios were commonly available in Rome so that was what we used. The recipe also calls for wine without specifying the varietal. The exact varieties of wine grapes grown in the Roman empire have been difficult to trace, and it isn't clear which modern varieties are descended from them, but we do know that wealthy people generally drank white wines and the poor drank reds. As such, we selected a pinot grigio for the recipe.

I chose a beef chuck roast for the Roman burgers, figuring that wealthy Romans may have been able to afford to fatten up their cattle before slaughter. Ideally, I would have liked to use meat from an Italian-heritage breed like the maremmana primitiva.

As the patties sizzled on the pan, they smelled like burgers cooking. Leni, myself and Mary simultaneously took a bite. “It's like a gourmet burger,” said Mary. “It's absolutely a burger. There is no doubt in my mind.”

“The Romans would have had mustard,” Leni pointed out. I slathered my patty with a dollop of her homemade mustard, which only added to the appeal. It looked like a burger, it smelled like a burger, and it tasted like a burger. The only thing missing was the bun.

But there is no clear connection between the burger-like meals of ancient Rome and the modern quarter-pounder. The Roman recipe fell out of use and probably would have been lost if the Apicius text had not been preserved by monks and scholars. Part of the reason for this may be the labor involved in mincing meat manually with a knife. Apicius was intended as a manual for cooking for the wealthy. These recipes would have been prepared by slaves.

“It takes a lot,” said Leni. “I have hand-minced meat before and you have to put out some energy to do it. That's one of the reasons it would have been elite because you would have had to have someone else do it. You, yourself, would not choose to do it.”

The ancient Roman burgers, cooked. (Jackson Landers)

Our next stop through hamburger history was Hamburg steak, which is usually described as a patty made of ground beef that is more or less the same thing as the modern interpretation of Salisbury steak. That turned out to be less than the whole truth.

Hamburg steak allegedly originated in the German city of the same name and made the leap to the United States by way of the many ships that made Hamburg their last European port of call before crossing the Atlantic for New York or Boston. German sailors and migrants are purported to have requested the dish at American restaurants.

But the history of Hamburg steak – and hamburgers -- in America has been muddied by several different versions of a fake menu purporting to be from Delmonico's, the famous New York City restaurant, in 1834, 1837 and various other years. As outlined by scholars Jack Prost and Ellen Steinberg, very little about this menu adds up, from the restaurant’s address (cross-referenced with business listings) to the menu items to even the font and typeset used.

Delmonico's was always a high-end restaurant specializing in French cuisine and would have been unlikely to serve Hamburg steak or hamburgers until well into the 20th century. This was a restaurant that offered Dindonneaux Viennoise Aux Champignons, Petits Pois A La Parisienne for two dollars – not pork and beans for four cents.

Aside from a few earlier mentions of “Hamburg steak” that give no indication as to what the dish is, descriptions and recipes in English begin to appear in newspapers and cookbooks starting in the 1870s. The earliest detailed recipe we could track down comes from Mrs. Lincoln's Boston Cookbook published in 1884 (link is to a later edition). The recipe instructs the reader to:

Pound a slice of round steak enough to break the fibre. Fry two or three onions, minced fine, in butter until slightly browned. Spread the onions over the meat, fold the ends of the meat together, and pound again, to keep the onions in the middle. Broil two or three minutes. Spread with butter, salt and pepper.

“This is quite a well-known cookbook,” said Leni. “Boston was a cosmopolitan city and a chef there would have been aware of new dishes, aware of what people were serving in restaurants around Europe.” The Hamburg steak at that time was pounded – not minced or ground – and it is likely that a prominent Boston cookbook author would have gotten it right.

A shorter description from an 1873 edition of The Lincoln Weekly, a Nebraska newspaper, also gave instructions to “cut or pound round steak to make it tender,” before adding onions.

I began mincing an onion as Leni pounded the meat in accordance with the instructions in the Boston cookbook. “Only use one,” she advised. “Onions were smaller in the 1880s.”

Pounding meat in order to tenderize it takes a lot of work (though it is easier than mincing). It was much more work than running it through a meat grinder. But mechanical grinders were still rare items in the 1880s. A typical kitchen would not have had one when Mrs. Lincoln's Boston Cook Book was first published.

The Hamburg steak before it went into the broiler. (Jackson Landers)

The meat sizzled coming out of the broiler. It looked delicious. It tasted delicious. But it bore no resemblance to a burger.

“It's not a hamburger,” declared Leni. “If you put it on bread, you'd call it a steak sandwich.”

“It's delicious but it's not a hamburger,” Mary concurred.

It was becoming clear to us that the critical step in the evolution of the hamburger was probably the availability of meat grinders. In 1897, a company called Landers, Frary and Clark launched their “universal food chopper. Originally marketed for chopping and grinding almost any food in the kitchen, today we would look at this object and refer to it as a meat grinder. As a culinary historian, Leni just happened to have a vintage model dating back to 1902 for us to use. Other grinders had been available in the previous decade, but the Universal Food Chopper was the first really big hit.

The Sears Roebuck catalog was partially responsible for the spread of the grinder. By 1894, the catalog had expanded to include almost anything that an American farmer, housewife or kid could want. Many of the items were things that readers didn't even know they wanted until they saw it in the Sears catalog. Sears was able to put the universal food chopper in front of millions of people across the United States, along with a simple way of ordering one.

Our next experiment used the exact same ingredients and methods as described in Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cookbook, except that we ground the meat using Leni's vintage grinder rather than pounding it. It took astoundingly little effort to crank. In minutes we had the next batch of proto-burgers ready to cook. This time, we shaped the meat into patties.

These were hamburgers. I knew the moment I bit into one. Even without a bun. The ingredients were the same as the authentic Hamburg steak, but running the same meat through a grinder made a world of difference. Steak Hamburg turned into a completely different food once people switched from pounding to grinding.

Most of the claims to the invention of the hamburger fall between 1885 and 1904, which is right around when mechanical meat grinders started to become widely available. They also mostly involve someone putting Hamburg steak between two pieces of bread, usually at a fair, festival or an amusement park. All events where people were walking around and couldn't eat food with a fork and knife. In order to make Hamburg steak quickly in a fairground setting, you would probably want to be working with a meat grinder rather than spending ten minutes pounding a piece of meat for every person standing in line.

Meat grinders like these were a major driver of the "invention" of the hamburger (Jackson Landers)

Our final step was to simulate those first fairground burgers that seem to have been invented independently across the U.S. The hamburger bun did not exist yet, so we used Leni's freshly baked white sandwich bread, sliced thinly to maximize the number of slices, as any enterprising food vendor might. An oven or broiler would have been more awkward to transport to a fairground than a simple grill or griddle over a fire, so we fried the patties rather than broil them. Both mustard and ketchup were common, and probably would have been available at an American fair in that era, and we allowed ourselves those two condiments and no others.

“I like it on the thin bread better than on most modern hamburger buns,” said Leni between bites.

“The steak Hamburg is definitely not a hamburger,” said Mary. “But then the fairground hamburger is.”

The early fairground hamburger was not exactly like any modern burger that I have ever eaten. But it tasted as much like a real burger as a Model T looks like a real car.

“People like to think that their uncle Joe with his pushcart in Poughkeepsie was the first guy to serve hamburgers,” said Leni. “And he may have been the first guy to serve ground meat between two pieces of bread on his corner in Poughkeepsie, but he's got to share the stage with a lot of other people [who had the same idea.]”

Numerous towns and restaurants ranging from Athens, Texas’ Uncle Fletcher Davis to Louie’s Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut, make claims to inventing the hamburger.

Who is telling the truth? Maybe all of them.

Using slices of sandwich bread, we put the "fairground" burger to the test. (Jackson Landers)

How Dog Parks Took Over the Urban Landscape

Smithsonian Magazine

A Friday afternoon at Ohlone Dog Park in Berkeley, California, is a riot of canine joy. A collie chases a ball with thrilled abandon; a boxer puppy learns to run on his still-new legs; a heap of paws and snouts tangles in a friendly wrestling match. Nearby, in the corner, stands an unlikely sight: a blue-painted mock fire hydrant dedicated to Doris Richards. “Donated By Friends,” the plaque next to it reads.

Richards (who died a decade ago) reportedly laughed when she heard about her hydrant. She saw it as a particularly fitting tribute to her work in creating what is widely believed to be the world’s first municipal dog park.

In the late 1960s, Berkeley was a hotbed of revolutionary ideas of all kinds. Perhaps most notably, the Bay Area community produced the free speech movement, which fueled activism against the Vietnam War and shaped American ideas about freedom of expression. That movement spawned the notorious People’s Park—a place designed for humans to be humans, saying and doing what they wanted. But less well known is another, related cultural byproduct: the idea that dogs needed a place to do what they wanted, too.

In 1979, with that idea in mind, activists from People’s Park began bringing their dogs to play at an empty lot that had been cleared for San Francisco's new subway system. The “dog park” went viral as only an idea whose time has come can. Richards spent the rest of her life corresponding with municipalities around the world, advising them on how to build dog parks of their own. Forty years on, Ohlone Dog Park, has birthed some 2000 offspring and has left an indelible mark on the American city.

* * * * *

The 1960s and ’70s were a time of great change for American cities. Expanding urban areas swallowed up rings of newly established suburbs and outlying small towns, eating up their green spaces in favor of what became known as “urban sprawl.”. The open space that remained was hotly contested, resulting in the spread of strict leash laws rooted in fear and “anti-canine sentiment,” as writer Candace Crane put it in a 1990 Animals magazine article on dog parks. In San Francisco, for example, the city’s health code still requires dogs to be on a leash no longer than eight feet whenever they are off their owners’ property.

Berkeley hosted its share of conflict as it implemented leash laws. This was in addition to frequent clashes between activists and the police at People’s Park—including “Bloody Thursday,” which left one student dead and sent 128 people to the hospital. Even years after the Vietnam War had ended, the Park’s activists engaged with the authorities on other matters, in particular the creation of public parks and green space as the Bay Area urbanized. In 1979, activists from People’s Park pushed through fencing and took over an area that had been razed for subway tunnel construction, christening it People’s Park Annex. (The moniker “Ohlone Park,” named for the indigenous people who have lived in the Bay for millennia, came later.)

Tom Nigman was a student at nearby University of California, Berkeley at the time, and a self-described hippie. Nigman, who still lives near the park with his 15-year-old Labrador, Harvey, had participated in the People’s Park riots and enthusiastically joined the takeover of the Annex. He remembered dogs having the run of his neighborhood when he was younger, but times were changing. He was happy to see that, along with the demonstrations and bail fund drives for arrested protesters common at People’s Park, the new space was frequently full of dogs playing and socializing—especially during a period when they were increasingly hemmed in.

Eventually, the denizens of People’s Park Annex drew up a petition, Nigman says, hoping to receive explicit permission from the city to break the leash laws and let their dogs play freely within the Annex. Without a word to express what they wanted, they made one up.

“No one had heard the term before,” his colleague, Richards, wrote in an essay years later. “They kept saying: ‘A run?’

“‘No,’ we’d say, ‘a park. For dogs.’”

* * * * *

Richards—who over years of media coverage has been referred to as “Ohlone Dog Park Founder and Spiritual Guide Doris Richards,” “mother of the free dog movement,” and “the sort of woman who doesn’t go away, tail between her legs”—arrived on the scene not long after Nigman. She was a Bay Area native who worked stints at local hospitals and the university over the course of her lifetime, though persistent back problems and accompanying surgery often kept her at home.

Richards was in her 40s when she joined the group at the Annex. She used her unconventional post-surgery schedule to jump quickly into the fray, leading a years-long fight with the city over the logistics and complexities of the first-of-its-kind park.

“In the beginning there were only a handful of us, but we grew,” Nigman says. “We were in the hundreds by the time we were going to city council meetings. And it was people of all walks of life. Not just hippies or students or married couples with kids, the whole gamut.”

With a mix of determination, humor and persuasiveness, Richards helped organize first the petition, then letter writing and demonstrations at City Council meetings, many of which featured at least a hundred attendees in matching turquoise t-shirts. Eventually, through passionate debate and by bringing city staff to the park, Richards got the heads of the Berkeley Parks Department and Animal Control on her side, followed by the rest of the city administration.

In 1983, Berkeley agreed to establish an “experimental” dog park over the long-completed subway tunnel. Shortly after, Richards became the longest-serving president of the Ohlone Dog Park Association (ODPA), her husky, Killik, by her side. During her 17-year tenure, Richards led ODPA through fights with neighbors over noise pollution and zoning, presided over much beloved potluck barbecues and disseminated news through her often irreverent newsletter, Scoops, which ran with the tagline: “All the hot poop.”

During those initial years, ODPA fielded so many requests for advice on starting a dog park from other communities that it published a popular informational brochure including step-by-step instructions (Step 1: Form a park users’ association from a core group of dedicated people. “Some of them should know how to work the system, and if possible one of them should be an attorney.”)

A 1990 article in the San Francisco Chronicle noted that, within a few years, “the movement has hopscotched across Northern California.” By then, at least 25 dog parks had sprung up in the San Francisco area. Los Angeles and New York soon established their own—plus Austin, Texas; Toledo, Ohio; and Alexandria, Virginia. Richards even corresponded for a time with a town in Finland looking for canine help.

“God bless Berkeley,” Cathy Doyle, the head of the influential Los Angeles dog owner group Parkwatch, told the Chronicle. “Progressive Berkeley, of course, they’d be the first and show us the way.”

*

Urban planning, metropolitan identity, gentrification. “When you start unpacking what a dog park means, you really open a Pandora’s box,” says Julie Urbanik, who studies how animals interact with the man-made landscape as part of her work at the Coordinates Society in Missouri. The widespread adoption of dog parks grew out of the changing role of dogs in American society, Urbanik says, and they continue to drive that change, “reconfiguring” our ideas about and our relationships with dogs.

A generation ago, dogs worked and lived outside; their job was to be protectors or to help with farm work. “We didn’t give them birthday parties,” says Urbanik. “We didn’t take them to the groomer every week.” Dog parks appeared as the rapid urbanization of the late 20th century made access to “outside” increasingly limited and contentious. “That’s the heart of it,” Urbanik says. “It’s about how we look at public space; who gets to be in public space.”

DePaul University professor Heidi Nast sees the changing role of dogs in the city’s public square as part of a larger evolution. As we’ve moved away from agriculture and manufacturing, and as we’ve brought dogs inside our homes and our cities, she argues, we’ve recast them as parts of our family. Today, instead of a protector, families have what Nast calls a “little doggy baby,” sometimes literally bathed, dressed and pushed in a stroller. “That wouldn’t happen if you’re on a farm and you have lots of real babies,” she says.

In envisioning and creating public space for dogs, Urbanik adds, dog park proponents and designers are building on this private idea of a more-than-human family to envision a new kind of public city. A family with children believes they deserve a playground; a family with dogs believes the same.

“Dogs are for the first time being formally and regularly accommodated in doggie beaches, parks, high-class hotels, cafes and restaurants,” Nast writes in a series of influential articles on pet culture—included, essentially, in all the trappings of upper-class life.

She notes that it’s people with political power, disposable income and extra time who decide where dog parks go. Recent surveys in Calgary, Alberta; Texas; and Florida found some 80 percent of dog park users were white. All but one of Chicago’s 11 dog parks (at the time of Nast’s articles) were located on the city’s majority-white North Side, leading some to call the city’s South Side a “dog park desert.”

Although “technically any person can visit and enjoy the public spaces discussed here,” Nast argues, “their racialized location and privileged creation cannot be overlooked.” Wealthy families with pets often choose a neighborhood expressly because of its dog facilities; a recent poll by SunTrust Mortgage found that among American homebuyers aged 18 to 36, one-third listed better space for their dog as a top-three motivator. The dynamic, she notes, is often a driver of gentrification.

* * * * *

Decades after it introduced the world to dog parks, Berkeley is now not just a leader in human-dog relations. It also is among the most expensive places to live in the United States, and of late its canine obsession has taken on a new meaning.

“In very practical ways, pets are easier to love and more suitable to transient lives than are children,” Nast says, noting the balance many millennials struggle to strike between skyrocketing living costs and a precarious gig economy. She goes so far as to argue that, in some circles, dogs have “replaced” children. (Bay Area conventional wisdom does hold that San Francisco is home to more dogs than children—a statistic that local NPR affiliate KQED recently confirmed, finding that 115,000 children and at least 120,000 dogs lived in San Francisco in 2016. And a related 2017 story by The New York Times included a quote from venture capitalist Peter Thiel describing the city as “structurally hostile to families.”)

After 40 years, Ohlone Park hosts plenty of millennial owners, who, yes, bring their dogs in strollers but also on leashes; in sweaters but also ready to roll in the mud. The play areas were subdivided for small and large dogs several years back. At some point, ODPA installed a new water fountain.

But much remains the same. Nigman and other old-timers still meet regularly in the afternoons at one of the picnic tables. Dogs—big, little, curly, fluffy—still romp around them with sheer joy that borders on mania. They don’t care that theirs is the first dog park, nor about complexities and tensions behind their parks’ spread through the Bay Area and beyond. For them, inside this canine world, very little has changed.

Five Things The Gulf Oil Spill Has Taught Us About the Ocean

Smithsonian Magazine

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill is considered the largest accidental marine spill in U.S. history and a disaster for human and non-human communities along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. But the spill created an opportunity to rigorously study the effects of oil spills on the environment and public health, and to develop new technologies to fight future spills.

BP set aside $500 million to fund spill-related research, and for the past five years the independent Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) has used that funding to support the research of more than 1,200 scientists.

Along the way, these researchers have made fundamental ocean science discoveries that otherwise may never have been known. Here are five of the most interesting ocean findings that have come out of Gulf oil spill research:

Never-Before-Seen Ocean Currents

Researchers launched plastic drifters into the Gulf of Mexico in 2012. (CARTHE)

Our understanding of ocean currents is limited by our tools, says Tamay Özgökmen, a physical oceanographer at the University of Miami. Our eyes can pick out small currents off the side of a boat, and satellites can identify large ones that are tens to hundreds of miles wide. But we don't have good tools for seeing currents that lie somewhere in the middle—around 300 feet to 6 miles wide—and they remain largely invisible.

Led by Özgökmen, the CARTHE team of oceanographers and engineers found a new tool during the Gulf spill: the oil slick itself. By some estimates, the slick covered almost 4,000 square miles by the end of April 2010. They carefully watched the slick spread across the ocean's surface, and they noticed that it didn't move in the way they suspected based on known currents. "We looked at many images of the oil spill, and it became clear to us that flows at the small scale were very influential on how this thing spread," Özgökmen says.

CARTHE researchers developed a suite of small, GPS-enabled ocean drifters that could be dropped into the Gulf and tracked by location. Their data confirmed the existence of these small currents, called sub-mesoscale currents. "This was a discovery, the first time that these currents have been measured," Özgökmen says. "People always suspected them, but they could never measure them because they required a huge number of drifters." The CARTHE team continues to develop cheap, compact, easy-to-build and biodegradable drifters that researchers can use to identify other small, local currents throughout the world.

A Tally of Gulf Critters

A scanning electron micrograph of the mud dragon Echinoderes skipperae. (Martin Sørensen)

After the spill, one of the first questions asked was how it would affect animal populations in the Gulf and along the coast. People immediately worried about large charismatic animals like dolphins, pelicans and bluefin tuna, as we can easily see and empathize with their suffering. However, many of the abundant but less traditionally appealing animals, like insects and zooplankton, are just as crucial to these ecosystems, if not more so.

The spill gave researchers an opportunity to count and identify these tiny critters in the Gulf region, some for the very first time. Linda Hooper-Bui, an entomologist at Louisiana State University, studies insects and spiders, which play often unnoticed but important roles in coastal habitats, such as aerating and altering nutrients in soil, competing with crabs and other arthropods for food, transporting plant seeds and serving as food for songbirds and other animals. In the wake of the spill, Hooper-Bui studied the effects of stressors on insects and spiders in the marshes and coastal dunes fringing the Gulf of Mexico. One of those stressors is oil—but she has also been looking at flooding and storm surges, which will be increasingly common as sea level rises along the Gulf coast. "We now have excellent data on diversity of insects and spiders, those taxa that are resistant to stressors, those that are resilient in the face of extreme stress and those that take a longer time to recover," she says.

Meanwhile, Troy University biologist Stephen Landers is digging around in the sand for meiofauna, microscopic animals that live between grains of sand. Before the spill, he and his colleagues collected sediment off the Gulf coast and counted more than 33,300 animals, including nematodes, copepods and small marine worms called polychaetes. As he continues the sampling work post-spill and puts names to the meiofaunal faces, he's "found about 15 species that appear to be new to science," he says. For instance, he and University of Copenhagen's Martin Sørensen have described two new mud dragon species. "Only through an understanding of what is out there now will we be able to look at the effects of changes in the future," Landers says.

Energy and Life Surround Deep-Sea Seeps

Methane ice worms gather on a lump of methane hydrate in the Gulf. (NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Gulf of Mexico 2012 Expedition)

Every year, natural oil seeps leak up to 1.4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Bubble by bubble, oil and gas escape from reservoirs beneath the seafloor—the same reservoirs that oil and gas companies tap into when they drill in the deep sea.

Unique communities of animals surround these seeps, feeding on microbes that can digest the hydrocarbon-rich oil and gas. "The presence and movement of oil and gas is essential for these organisms to flourish," wrote Caroline Johansen, a graduate student at Florida State University, in a blog post at the Smithsonian Ocean Portal. As part of a deep-sea GoMRI project, she films the seeps to precisely measure how much oil and gas emerges and to identify factors that control bubble release.

These seeps are also a formation site for methane hydrates, a crystalline form of methane that is considered both a potential new source of natural gas and a potentially dangerous contributor to future climate change. Methane hydrates are a major hazard at deep-sea drilling sites, and even prevented BP from stopping the Deepwater Horizon spill in early May 2010 when they grew inside the containment dome.

There's still a lot to be learned about how and why they form, their stability at different temperatures and pressures and what role they play at seep sites. The spill has given researchers an opportunity to spend dedicated time at these inaccessible sites and better understand their physics, chemistry and biology. "This all relates to the 'big picture', in that we generate a better understanding of the workings of these seep sites that are energy-producing areas for many of the organisms in these benthic ecosystems," Johansen says. Perhaps more urgently, the Gulf of Mexico is considered the best spot in the U.S. to drill for methane hydrates—if scientists can figure out how to safely extract them. The more that researchers can learn about Gulf hydrates before that day, the better.

How Hidden Sharks of the Deep Migrate

A bluntnose sixgill shark in Hawaii. (Dean Gubbs)

We fear and delight in sharks when they swim at the surface. But the majority of sharks stay in the ocean depths, remaining invisible to us. "Most people don't realize that more than half of all shark species in the world live their whole lives below 700 feet deep," says shark scientist Dean Grubbs of Florida State University.

While sampling deep-sea fish for oil exposure after the spill, Grubbs used the opportunity to learn more about one of the most common large deep-water sharks: the bluntnose sixgill shark. Reaching lengths of 17 feet, they are found throughout the world in water up to 6,000 feet deep. With his team, he attached satellite tags to 20 of these sharks around the world, including seven in the Gulf of Mexico, to track their movements. They were surprised to find that Gulf sixgill sharks swim towards the ocean's surface at sunset and back to the depths at sunrise, following a strict schedule. This follows the same pattern of daily vertical migration used by billions of small fishes, squids and shrimp. Grubbs thinks that sixgilll sharks may be following this migration to feed on the predators of these smaller organisms.

Additionally, his team sampled deep-sea fish populations, including sharks, throughout the eastern Gulf. They were surprised to find that deep-sea fish communities vary significantly across the region. This is relevant to understanding the impacts of the spill, since as many as 10 million gallons of oil may have settled on the seafloor where these fish live and forage. But it also provides fundamental information to researchers trying to understand what forces shape these deep-sea communities.

Invasion of the Lionfish

In the summer after the spill, Will Patterson of the University of South Alabama and Dauphin Island Sea Lab surveyed artificial and natural reefs across the north central Gulf shelf to see if oil affected the reef fish living there. Taking video with small remote-controlled cameras, he and his graduate student Kristen Dahl made a surprising observation: invasive lionfish perched all over the artificial reefs.

These fish are voracious predators, reproduce quickly and are hard to catch and kill. This was the first time that the troublesome fish had been seen in such high numbers around artificial reef communities the northern Gulf of Mexico, so Patterson started tracking them. By late 2013, lionfish populations in the region had grown exponentially, and they've increased even more since then. He found higher lionfish densities on artificial reefs than natural reefs, densities that are among the highest in the western Atlantic.

As they continue to study the oil spill's impacts, they'll also follow the lionfish. "What we're interested in documenting are lionfish population trends, potential mechanisms to control lionfish and what impact they are having on native reef fish populations," says Patterson. 

Explore Armenia's Medieval Monasteries in Interactive 360-Degree Panoramas

Smithsonian Magazine

I'm sitting in my living room, peering down through a virtual reality headset into a dirt pit in Khor Virap where legend says St. Gregory the Illuminator was held for 15 years before curing his captor, King Trdat, of an ailment and convincing him to convert to Christianity. Fable or not, by the early 300s AD Trdat had declared Christianity the official state religion, making Armenia one of the first, if not the first, countries to institute a national Christian church.

Armenia’s claim to be the first Christian nation is contested by some—particularly the nation of Ethiopia, which also purports to be the first. The early history of Christianity is murky, but overall, many scholars today agree that Armenia holds this designation.

“Though there were Christians in Ethiopia—a few at least, very early—the same was true everywhere,” Dr. Dickran Kouymjian, Berberian Chair of Armenian Studies, Emeritus, at Fresno State, told Smithsonian.com. “The Armenian Church claims an official conversion of the nation to Christianity in [the year] 301, though many scholars speak of 313 to 314.” Kouymjian says the actual date differs among Armenian historical sources, but researchers prefer to use a date of 314, because it comes after the Edict of Milan, which allowed the open practice of any religion throughout the Roman Empire. Even so, he said, this is still “some decades before Ethiopia, where we learned that a majority of the inhabitants converted after 340.”

Historians believe Trdat's decision may have been motivated both by a desire to consolidate power over the growing community of Christians within Armenia and as a political move to demonstrate to Rome, who at the time offered protectorate support, a parting of ways with Rome's region rival, the pagan Sasanian regime.

Regardless of the reasoning, with Trdat's support, St. Gregory became the first Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church and went about the region spreading the faith and constructing churches on top of pagan temples. 

Today, the Armenian landscape is dotted with spectacular churches, the most notable of which date back to the medieval period when the development of communal monasteries transformed these remote locations into centers of art and learning. Today, many of these historic monasteries are still off the beaten path, perched overlooking vast gorges or hidden away in forested valleys. 

This is part of what the 360GreatArmenia VR app and website is trying to solve for by making virtual tours available from anywhere. In addition to the Khor Virap Monastery​, the project has captured more that 300 virtual reality tours of ancient sites within modern Armenia.

The project's founder, Vahagn Mosinyan, said seeing a 360-degree image of another town online back in 2012 "triggered...an interest to make the same 360-degree platform for Armenia, because it is a great tool to preserve and to archive cultural heritage." The resulting stitched images, taken both by drones and photographers on the ground, allow viewers to switch from aerial to street views, navigate through interiors and view relics and historical art. Users are invited to annotate the destinations with information and stories. Backed by Ucom, an Armenian internet service provider, the project was also recently featured in a special exhibit at the National Gallery of Armenia in Yerevan that focused on the more than 50 cultural monuments the project has captured in historical Western Armenia, in modern day Turkey.

The monasteries below can be explored through interactive 360-degree panoramas or navigated virtually using the project's smartphone app (iOS, Android) and a VR headset.

Geghard Monastery, Goght

This rock-hewn collection of churches and tombs are cut right into the surrounding rock, earning its past name Ayrivank, or Monastery in the Cave (not to be confused with another location of the same name in Kiev, Ukraine today). Over the centuries since its construction, it became famous for the various relics housed in the complex. The most famous of these gave the monastery its current name: Geghard is said to have housed the spear that wounded Jesus’ side during his crucifixion for about 500 years, and Geghardavank means “Monastery of the Spear.”

Haghartsin Monastery, Dilijan

Hidden among lush green trees, Haghartsin is a beautiful example of Armenia's medieval architecture. The complex features four churches, a dining hall, a gavit and a refectory and is the starting point for several hiking trails. It was built between the 10th and 13th centuries by the order of two princes from the Bagratuni kingdom. Their family seal can be seen on the back of one of the three churches, and intricately carved stone carvings, including one of the Madonna and child stand near the door of another.

Haghpat Monastery, Haghpat

The 10th-century monastery was built halfway up a hillside overlooking the Debed River. The complex includes eight buildings encircled by a fortified wall. The oldest building, St. Nishan church, was completed in 976 during the reign of King Ashot III. The church appears from the outside to be rectangular but forms a cruciform shape in the interior. On the exterior wall, a full-scale relief statue depicts two 10th-century kings holding a small model of the St. Nishan. Inside, part of a 13th-century fresco can still be seen.

From the 10th to 13th centuries, Haghpat was considered an important learning center, and today, visitors can still see the library, a domed building with a vaulted ceiling and skylights.

Kecharis Monastery, Tsaghkadzor

In its heyday, Kecharis was plated in silver and gold, a stunning display of wealth worthy of one of the great learning centers of the 11th to 13th centuries. The best Armenian academics are known to have traveled to teach at the school here. The first church on record at this site was built in 11th century, but ruins of a 5th-century basilica can be found here, as well—though scholars are not sure about its history, nor that of the earlier structures that also occupy the grounds.

Noravank Monastery, Areni

Noravank was built in the 13th century as a home for bishops as well as a prince’s tomb. Today, three churches sit inside a narrow gorge in the Amaghou valley, surrounded by red and gray rock cliffs. Momik, the architect of one of the churches and a sculptor who carved an intricate khachkar—an Armenian cross-stone—at the site, is also buried there. Noravank is most well known for a two-story church with a rock-hewn staircase on the outside wall of the building.

Saghmosavank Monastery, Saghmosavan

According to legend, a priest at Saghmosavank offered to cure a violent ruler and invader of his deadly illness, provided that he release as many captured Armenians as would fit inside the church. Seventy thousand prisoners packed into the monastery—and at this point, lore says, the priest turned them into doves and released them through a church window to fly back to their homes where they would return to human form. Beyond the legend, Saghmosavank is famous for its manuscripts and was considered an important center for calligraphy.

Sanahin Monastery, Alaverdi

Like Haghpat, Sanahin (which is less than 30 minutes from Haghpat) was an important learning center in Armenia. This monastary was renowned for its calligraphy and illumination school and is a notable example of Armenian religious architecture that combined Byzantine styles with traditional designs from the Caucasian region. Sanahin is a bit older than Haghpat, and that may have played a role when it was named “sanahin,” meaning “it’s older than the other one.”

Sevanavank Monastery, Sevan

Think of Sevanavank as a holy reform school; monks from Ejmiatsin were sent here after committing a sin. As a result, Sevanavank had the strictest lifestyle and conduct guidelines of any monastery in Medieval Armenia. At the time when the monastery was built, the peninsula on which it is located was an island. Later, when Armenia was under soviet rule, water was drained from the nearby lake Sevan, dropping the water level roughly 20 meters and creating a land bridge.

Tatev Monastery, Tatev

Construction of the current complex began in the 9th century on a large basalt plateau overlooking the Voratan gorge, the largest gorge in Armenia. Starting in the 14th century, it became known as a university, making it one of the oldest in the world, where students could study science, religion, philosopy and the arts. Modern day Tatev holds a Guinness Book record for having the longest non-stop, reversible, aerial tramway in the world, called the “Wings of Tatev,” that transports visitors from the monastery to Halidzor village.

Akhtala Monastery, Akhtala

This is one of the few Orthodox monasteries in the country. Researchers have dated the main church to between the 11th and 13th centuries, with murals inside dating to 1205. At one time, the monastery held the cross that some believe John the Baptist used to baptize Jesus. Frescoes and murals cover the walls and domed ceiling inside, depicting scenes from the old and new testament, including the Last Supper.

Harichavank, Harich village

Harichavank is a seventh-century monastery, but excavations at the site have found evidence of use as far back as the second century BCE. It was famous in its heyday for its school and scriptorium, housing an impressive selection of Armenian manuscripts and art—including one copied page of the Bible from 1209, reportedly done by Margare, a famous painter of the time.

At one time, after 1850, the Catholicos of Echmiadzin used Harichavank as a summer residence. Many of the monastery's ancillary buildings were added upon his arrival.

11 Heart-Pounding Moments at Kennedy Space Center

Smithsonian Magazine

There's power in place—and when it comes to space flight, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex℠ in Florida is truly the center of the universe. Since 1962, the site has been host to some of NASA's most important launches, including all human missions to space, the Hubble Space Telescope, Mars rovers and New Horizons probe, which entered the Pluto system in January 2015. The Space Launch System, which will bring astronauts to Mars, is set to launch from launch pad 39-B in the coming years.

And trips to space are just the beginning: In addition to its space flight programs, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex welcomes 1.5 million visitors a year. From meeting astronauts to seeing historic spacecraft up close, here are 11 heart-pounding moments from the epicenter of American space travel:

1) Watch a Live Rocket Launch

The fact that a rocket weighing thousands of tons can travel from the Earth's surface into orbit is staggering in and of itself—but witnessing takeoff is unforgettable. As engines ignite in a burst of flame and sound waves rip through the air, your heart skips a beat. 

Four locations at the visitor complex offer launch viewings accompanied by live commentary. From the viewing room of the four-story LC-39 Observation Gantry, watch rockets take off from the same launch pad that launched the Apollo and space shuttle missions while sizing up the Vehicle Assembly Building, where the center assembles its largest rockets. From the lawn of the NASA Causeway, enjoy an up-close view of the launch pads across Indian River, or watch from the comfort of the Apollo/Saturn V Center and main complex. Whatever the location, the anticipation is palpable as the countdown reaches 3…2…1.

2) Launch Into Orbit

While very few people have experienced the thrill of space travel, veteran astronauts say the Shuttle Launch Experience® is the next best thing. In this simulation, travel from four hours before launch to the final seconds in a matter of minutes. Following a prelaunch briefing by veteran Space Shuttle Commander and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, your seat shifts back into a vertical position to prepare for takeoff. The final countdown commences, engines rev up and suddenly you’re flying at simulated speeds of 17,500 miles per hour. Eight-and-a-half minutes later, a feeling of weightlessness settles over you. The payload bay doors open to reveal Earth—a shifting mass of vivid greens and blues, set against a starry sky only astronauts can recount.

3) Walk the Apollo 11 Gantry

(Image Credit: Aaron Sheldon)

On July 16, 1969, the crew of Apollo 11 left Earth to complete the first crewed mission to the moon. Four days later, Neil Armstrong took the first step on the moon, proclaiming: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” In the Rocket Garden, relive the historic mission by walking on the very same gantry that Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins used to board the Saturn V rocket. Outside of the gantry, walk among rockets that span the history of space flight. Or climb inside replicas of capsules from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo eras to understand the conditions experienced by America’s first astronauts.

4) Touch the Moon in the Apollo Treasures Gallery

The Apollo/Saturn V Center is a trove of items commemorating the Apollo missions. Held up by support beams and spanning a football field in length is the sister rocket to the one that transported the crew of Apollo 11 to the moon. After walking its length, stop by a replica moon buggy used to train astronauts on Earth, or peer inside a full-size model of Skylab, the precursor to the International Space Station. The Apollo/Saturn V Center is also one of the only places on Earth where you can touch a piece of the moon. As you glide your fingers over a sample of moon rock, the fact that man traveled 238,000 miles to the moon and back—a round trip almost 20 times the circumference of the Earth—sinks in.

5) Meet an Astronaut

No one tells the story of space travel quite like the people who have been there themselves. Each day in the Astronaut Encounter Theater, a featured astronaut shares his or her experiences training for and living in space, followed by a tell-all Q&A session. “If you’re bold enough to ask, I’m bold enough to answer,” says astronaut Bob Springer, who served as a mission specialist on the STS-29 Discovery and STS-38 Atlantis shuttle flights. He enjoys the Q&A sessions for the chance to inspire a new generation and share what NASA releases leave out – “the emotional part” and “stories behind stories." After the Q&A, visitors can meet and take photos with featured astronauts, who range from commanders to pilots, mission specialists and payload specialists.

6) See the Space Shuttle Atlantis® Up Close

In 2011, the space shuttle Atlantis completed its 33rd and final mission since 1985, the last of space shuttle era. The legendary orbiter, whose missions include the final servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009, traveled a total of 126 million miles and transported 146 astronauts. It is now on display at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex with payload bay doors open and robotic arm extended, the way it would have appeared after undocking from the International Space Station. Sixty state-of-the-art multimedia presentations surround the orbiter, bringing to life its systems and components. Adding to the effect are the building’s orange and gold hues, which emulate the colors of re-entry, and gray floor tiling, mimicking the tiles used to protect the orbiter from heat.

7) Relive the Daring Feats of Early Space Pioneers

High-tech special effects will bring the adventure and danger of America’s earliest space missions to life in the Heroes & Legends exhibit, opening November 11. Featuring 360-degree visual presentations, a 4D multisensory theater experience and interactive exhibits, Heroes & Legends will present the stories of pioneering astronauts while exploring how Americans define heroism. Interact with the nearly 100 astronaut heroes inducted to date in the new U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame® and watch a hologram reenact Gene Cernan’s hair-raising “spacewalk from hell," during which his goggles fogged up and he struggled to reenter the Gemini 9 capsule.

8) See Footage Shot by Astronauts in 3D IMAX®

The world’s only twin IMAX® screens, each a jaw-dropping five stories tall, bring footage shot by astronauts to life in two motion pictures. Journey to Space, narrated by Sir Patrick Stewart, explores groundbreaking plans to land astronauts on Mars and introduces the team selected for the task. Interviews with commander of the final shuttle mission Chris Ferguson and Serena Aunon, an astronaut selected for future flight, emphasize how these future plans would not be possible without the contributions made by the Space Shuttle program. A Beautiful Planet, narrated by Jennifer Lawrence, casts Earth in a new light from the perspective of the International Space Station. Using Canon 4K cameras, International Space Station astronauts captured all manner of breathtaking natural phenomena, from lightning storms to volcanoes, coral reefs and even the Northern Lights. At night, they documented city lights, a gripping visualization of how humans have shaped the planet.  

9) Remember Fallen Heroes of Space

Forever Remembered is a powerful tribute to the 14 astronauts who lost their lives in the STS-51L/Challenger and STS-107/Columbia space shuttle missions. As you enter the memorial, mission patches and personal items, such as Michael Anderson’s Star Trek lunch box and Rick Husband’s cowboy boots and Bible, highlight the astronauts’ passions and achievements. An adjacent gallery displays recovered sections of both orbiters: a large section of the Challenger’s left side body with the American flag intact and the framework of Columbia’s cockpit windows. Other galleries emphasize the importance of learning from the past. “The crews of Challenger and Columbia are forever a part of a story that is ongoing,” says NASA administrator Charles Bolden of the exhibit. “It is the story of humankind’s evolving journey into space, the unknown, and the outer-reaches of knowledge, discovery and possibility. It is a story of hope.”

10) Train Like an Astronaut

Astronauts spend years preparing for missions to space. The Astronaut Training Experience® is an exhilarating, hands-on, half-day program designed by veteran astronauts that walks you through how they prepare for the rigors of space flight in the months before launch. Following a mission briefing, space flight experts instruct you on how to execute a high-Earth orbit, dock and perform crucial repairs. Next, test your strength and stamina on the Micro-Gravity Wall and 1/6th Gravity Chair, or dare to enter the Multi-Axis Trainer, which rotates in multiple directions up to 360º. After receiving your mission role, enter a full-scale mock-up of a space shuttle orbiter or mission control room to conduct a mission simulation. A final graduation ceremony includes an inspiring debriefing on the future of the U.S. space program.

11) See the Farthest Reaches of the Universe in 4K Resolution

For over 25 years, the Hubble Space Telescope has orbited the Earth, affording us invaluable views of deep space, including stars, nebulas and black holes. Five grueling repair missions and dozens of hours of spacewalks have kept the telescope in service, allowing scientists to continue to answer fundamental questions of our existence: How do stars form? What are galaxies made of? What does our cosmic neighborhood look like? Now you can traverse 13.4 billion years through the eyes of the telescope in stunning 3D, 4K resolution during the “Eyes on the Universe: NASA’s Space Telescope 3D” live presentation at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The presentation also discusses what may be the next great observatory: NASA's James Webb Telescope, set to orbit the sun in 2018.

Potable quotables on the 40th anniversary of the Paris Tasting

National Museum of American History

American wine aficionados know the Judgment of Paris or Paris Tasting as the transformative tasting held in Paris on May 24, 1976, where 12 California wines—six Chardonnays and six Cabernet Sauvignons—were pitted against the best of France's Burgundy and Bordeaux. The Paris Tasting was organized by an English wine merchant, Steven Spurrier, who owned a small wine shop and school in Paris, along with his American business partner, Patricia Gallagher. Together they enlisted nine well-respected French judges for the blind tasting. Members of the French wine press declined to cover the event, but one American journalist, Time's George Taber, agreed to attend. After results were tallied, surprise turned to shock as two American wines, the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and the 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, scored first in their respective groups. These results crushed the then widely held belief that only the French could make premium wine and brought significant acclaim to the winning winemakers and wineries and the California, Napa Valley wine region.

May 24 marks the 40th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris and to celebrate, we've pulled some of our favorite quotes from the museum's wine oral histories, archives, and collections to help tell the story and history behind this tremendous moment.

Man in blue beret and brown shirt takes documents out of a wooden box.

"Wines that gave the most to American morale"
When Croatian native Miljenko "Mike" Grgich arrived in California in the late 1950s, he found a community of winemakers and a spirit of excitement and innovation. Having studied viticulture and enology at the University of Zagreb, he worked for Napa vintners Lee Stewart, André Tchelistcheff, and Robert Mondavi. He joined the Chateau Montelena winery in 1972 and made the 1973 Chardonnay that placed first at the Paris Tasting. When interviewed by museum researchers in 1997, he recalled, "In those days I didn't realize the importance of [the Paris Tasting] . . . I think the Cabernet that Stag's Leap produced and [the] Chardonnay that I produced . . . are wines that gave the most to American morale, American conviction that they can do it."

Black and white photo: Two men in wine field with mountains in background.

"The grapes spoke, and it was epiphanal…"
Like Grgich, Warren Winiarski worked at several Napa vineyards before starting his own vineyard and winery under the Stag's Leap Palisades in the Napa Valley. Having tasted wine made by his neighbor, grape grower Nathan Fay, Winiarski knew that the soil's particular mixture of volcanic and alluvial material would give his future wines unique characteristics. In a 1997 interview with museum researchers, Winiarski said, "The grapes spoke and it was epiphanal. The beam of light came down and settled in that glass and it was a revelation. It was beautiful, rendered, the texture, the spiciness . . . everything." Thinking back to the Paris Tasting, he seemed less surprised than Grgich at the triumph of the American wines. "We knew it was good fruit and, of course, we were thinking of the great French examples. We were also thinking of the great beautiful examples of California fruit. . . . It was like getting up on the mountain in order to be struck by lightning. We made the wines as good as we could, [and] we had in mind the great models from both California and France." Winiarski's 1973 Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon placed first among the red wines at the Paris Tasting.

Black and white photo of a man and woman sitting at a U-shaped bar with place settings that include two wine glasses and sheets of paper (wine tasting sheets, perhaps).

"100 percent in love with wine"
Spurrier first established his wine shop in Paris, Les Caves de la Madeleine, and together with Gallagher founded the L’Académie du Vin as a place for the shop's English-speaking clientele to experience classes and tastings focused on French wines. Both Spurrier and Gallagher saw the U.S. bicentennial as a chance to expose the world to the best of the new American market. Looking back on the tasting's transformative effect on the wine world in George Taber's book Judgment of Paris, Spurrier said, "I am still totally, 100 percent in love with wine, the wine trade, and the people in it. I have been very fortunate indeed, and wine has brought me more than I ever could have imagined."

Black and white photo of two people in a vineyard with leaves and grapes visible. Boxes or crates and farm-style buildings in the background.

"The most beautiful grapes I ever saw in my life."
The triumph at the Paris Tasting not only affected the individual wineries, but gave tremendous pride to those who had contributed grapes to the winning wines. Nearly 50% of the grapes used by Mike Grgich to make the winning Chardonnay for Chateau Montelena were grown by Helen Bacigalupi, the matriarch of Bacigalupi Vineyards, located in Sonoma's Russian River Valley. In a 2013 interview with Wine Business, Bacigalupi recounted the moment in summer 1973 when she first showed the vineyard's grapes to winemaker Mike Grgich. "He tasted a grape and then smiled and said, 'Boy, these are the most beautiful grapes I ever saw in my life.'"

Black and white photo of three people sitting at a table with foliage and courtyard in background. Each has two wine glasses and a piece of bread along with documents and a wine chilling container.

"The wine world suffered, screamed, raged…"
The results of the Paris Tasting shocked the wine world, even the judges whose blind reviews of the tasting's red and white wines gave top marks to American wines over the assumed superior French wines. One of the judges, Odette Kahn, an editor for the Revue du Vin de France, was so incensed at Spurrier once he revealed that the American wines had won that she asked to change the results on her ballot. "Never before have I received such an avalanche of letters and telephone calls," she later wrote in the Revue. "The wine world suffered, screamed, raged [at] such a scandalous affair." It should be noted that in her original ballot from the 1976 tasting, Kahn rated the Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Chateau Montelena wines as the best in their respective category.

Black and white photo of two men in a wine cellar with barrels in background. One man, with a mustache, pours red wine into the other's glass. They both smile.

"Not bad for kids from the sticks."
When asked for a comment on the results of the Paris Tasting, in which the wine made by Mike Grgich at Chateau Montelena took first place among the white wines, Chateau Montelena CEO Jim Barrett said, "Not bad for kids from the sticks." The Chateau Montelena family tradition continues today, with Jim's son Bo Barrett having taken on the job as Chateau Montelena's winemaker and now CEO after the passing of his father in 2013.

If you want to learn more about the Judgment of Paris, and the history of wine in America, visit the "Wine for the Table" portion of our exhibition FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950–2000 online or in person here at the museum. On May 16, 2016, the museum held a special American History (After Hours) program to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Paris Tasting. Explore photographs and moments from that evening here as well as video of the discussion that night. 

Jessica Carbone is a project associate in the Division of Work and Industry, Food History Project, and is the host of the monthly Cooking Up History program. Stay in touch with all things food, beer, and wine related at the museum by signing up for our food newsletter

Author(s): 
Jessica Carbone
Posted Date: 
Monday, May 23, 2016 - 10:00
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The Legends Behind the Dragon Boat Festival

Smithsonian Magazine

There are many competing explanations for Duanwu Jie, the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar—this year, May 28. All involve some combination of dragons, spirits, loyalty, honor and food—some of the most important traditions in Chinese culture. The festival’s main elements—now popular the world over—are racing long, narrow wooden boats decorated with dragons and eating sticky-rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves, called zongzi in Mandarin, and jung in Cantonese.

“Usually Chinese festivals are explained by the traumatic death of some great paragon of virtue,” says Andrew Chittick, a professor of East Asian Humanities at Eckerd College in Florida.

And so the story goes with Qu Yuan, an advisor in the court of Chu during the Warring States period of ancient China who was exiled by the emperor for perceived disloyalty. Qu Yuan had proposed a strategic alliance with the state of Qi in order to fend off the threatening state of Qin, but the emperor didn’t buy it and sent Qu Yuan off to the wilderness. Unfortunately, Qu Yuan was right about the threat presented by the Qin, which soon captured and imprisoned the Chu emperor. The next Chu king surrendered the state to their rivals. Upon hearing the tragic news, Qu Yuan in 278 B.C. drowned himself in the Miluo River in Hunan Province.

In the first origin story of zongzi, told during the early Han dynasty, Qu Yuan became a water spirit after his death. “You can think of it as a ghost, a spirit energy that has to be appeased. There are a variety of ways one might appease a ghost but the best and most enduring is to give it food,” explains Chittick.

For years after Qu Yuan’s death, his supporters threw rice in the water to feed his spirit, but the food, it was said, was always intercepted by a water dragon. (Master Chef Martin Yan, author and host of the pioneering Yan Can Cook TV show, suggests there may have been truth to this: “Some fresh water fish—like catfish—grow so huge that the Chinese considered them dragons.”) After a couple of centuries of this frustration, Qu Yuan came back to tell the people to wrap the rice in leaves, or stuff it into a bamboo stalk, so the dragon couldn’t eat it. It was only generations later that people began to retroactively credit Qu Yuan’s erstwhile lifesavers with starting the rice-ball-tossing tradition.

To make sense of how the water dragon gets into the story, or indeed of the boats carved with dragons on them, we need to go back further in time—more than 6,000 years ago, the earliest dated figure of a dragon found within the boundaries of modern China. “One of the most important mythical creatures in Chinese mythology, the dragon is the controller of the rain, the river, the sea, and all other kinds of water; symbol of divine power and energy…. In the imperial era it was identified as the symbol of imperial power,” writes Deming An, Ph.D., a professor of folklore at the Institute of Literature, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in Beijing, and co-author of Handbook of Chinese Mythology. “In people’s imaginations, dragons usually live in water and are the controllers of rain.”

Dragon boat racing is ascribed to organized celebrations of Qu Yuan beginning in the 5th or 6th century A.D. But scholars say the boats were first used hundreds of years earlier, perhaps for varied reasons. On the lunar calendar, May is the summer solstice period, the crucial time when rice seedlings were transplanted. At the same time, says An, “according to Chinese traditional belief, the date figured with double ‘5’ is extremely unlucky.” To ensure a good harvest, southern Chinese would have asked the dragons to watch over their crops, says Jessica Anderson Turner, a Handbook of Chinese Mythology contributor who holds a Ph.D. in folklore from the Indiana University. They would have decorated their boats with ornate dragon carvings, “and the rowing was symbolic of the planting of the rice back in the water,” Anderson Turner explains. This jibes with Yan’s explanation of the symbolism behind the shape of zongzi: tetrahedral. “The points are intended to resemble the horn of a cow,” Yan says, “which was a sacred symbol in the ancient agrarian culture for blessings and abundant crops.”

In another interpretation, Chittick argues that the dragon boat races were “initially a military exercise” in the Hubei area, home of the state of Chu, which took place during the solstice because that’s when the river was highest. “Small boats were an important part of warfare. Then they turned it into a spectator sport.”

These disparate histories and stories blended over time into the encompassing myth of Qu Yuan, seemingly without issue to the celebrators. “The combining of stories is how people make sense of things,” says Anderson Turner. “Myths are always changing to fit the needs of the community. For a lot of people, you can have both history and culture; both can be authentic and true.”

Even the Qu Yuan story isn’t the only legend behind the celebration of Duanwu Jie. Some northern Chinese, Chittick explains, told the tale of a man who fled to the woods after being wronged by his lord. Trying to flush the man out, the lord burned down the forest and accidentally killed the loyal servant. Another competing myth, from what is now the southern province of Fujian, is that of Wu Zixu, who was also wronged by his king—and later by the king to whom he had defected. Wu Zixu’s story involves revenge, triumphant battles, the whipping of his old foe’s corpse, and suicide. As a final act, he asked that, once dead, his head be removed and placed on the city gate so he could watch the invaders take over his betrayers. The body of Wu Zixu was tossed in the river and his fury is said to create raging tides, and so he is worshipped as a river god in parts of China—which is why some connect him with the Dragon Boat Festival.

But Qu Yuan became the face of Duanwu Jie, because he was a prolific polemical poet whose work was studied and loved by generations of Chinese scholars who followed him. “One reason Qu Yuan wins the drowning war is that his story was written in historical texts—over and over,” says Anderson Turner. Having demonstrated both love for his country and contempt for the ungracious ruling class, he is known as the People’s Poet. For the Chinese, Qu Yuan has transcended the simple story of his self-sacrifice, coming to represent the very embodiment of patriotism.

Likewise, both the Dragon Boat races and zongzi have become much bigger than just the holiday. In many places, if you head to a waterway on the weekend of May 28, you’ll find the intricately decorated boats manned by two rows of paddlers egged on by loud drummers. But if you miss the festival, there are other chances: the International Dragon Boat Federation is the umbrella group for rowing clubs all over the world who compete year-round; they’ll hold this year’s world championships in August in Prague.

As part of the festival, zongzi has become just as ubiquitous as the dragon boats, thanks to the great Chinese diaspora. Today you can get the sticky rice balls anywhere there’s a Chinese population, Yan says: year-round in convenience stores in New York’s Chinatown, as bite-size delicacies in tea houses in Hong Kong, as an on-the-go snack for tourists in Cambodia, wrapped in a pandan leaf in Malaysia.

Does the omnipresence of these traditions dissipate the power of a myth that has been celebrated annually for 1500 years? As the evolution of Qu Yuan’s story proves, traditions change. The strongest ones endure despite alterations. Back in the day, Anderson Turner notes, rowers who fell out of the dragon boats were left to fend for themselves or drown because their fate was seen as the will of the dragon deities. “I haven’t talked to any contemporary dragon boat racers and asked why they do save people who fall out now,” she says. “But I’d bet they could reconcile doing so with keeping to the spirit of the story.”

Image by William M. Chu. New York Chinatown, 1989: Mott Street and Transfiguration Church in background. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. New York Chinatown, 1990: Confucius Statue at Bowery and Division Street. The statue was dedicated to the Bi-centennial celebration of American Independence in 1977 by the NY CCBA. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. New York Chinatown, 2004: The Jun Canal Temple on Canal Street near entrance to the Manhattan Bridge. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. New York Chinatown, 1963: Lion dance celebrating Chinese New Year on lower Mott Street. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. New York Chinatown, 2002: Cantonese Opera performed by local club in auditorium of CCBA building on Mott Street. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. New York Chinatown, 1960: Port Arthur Restaurant and Chinatown Fair at lower Mott Street. The restaurant closed in 1968. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. San Francisco Chinatown, 1970: Gate entrance to Chinatown at Grant Street. It was erected in 1970. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. San Francisco Chinatown, 1998: Portsmouth Square with underground parking. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. San Francisco Chinatown, 1998: Street with mostly restaurants and associations. The TransAmerica building is in the background. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. San Francisco Chinatown, 1998: Trolley car at California and Grant St. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. Honolulu Chinatown, 2000: Guan Yin Temple. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. Honolulu Chinatown, 2000: Statue of Sun Yet-sen who attended high school in Honolulu in the late 1800s. He later became the founding father of the Republic of China. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. Honolulu Chinatown, 2000: Sculpture with eight Chinese characters: All Men within the Four Sears are Brothers, a saying by the disciple of Confucius (only four seas were known in Old China). (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. Vancouver Chinatown, 1998: Gate to Vancouver Chinatown. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. Vancouver Chinatown, 1998: Dry seafood market. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. Vancouver Chinatown, 1998: Main Street cross-walk. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. Los Angeles Chinatown, 1984: The Los Angeles Chinatown Mall. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. Los Angeles Chinatown, 1984: The Sun Yet-sen statue. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. Los Angeles Chinatown, 1984: Bank and CCBA (Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association) building. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. Las Vegas Chinatown, 2005: Entrance gate. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. Las Vegas Chinatown, 2005: Gate to merchant parking area in back of stores. Large building in the background in the Wynn Casino. (original image)

Image by William M. Chu. Las Vegas Chinatown, 2005: Main mall entrance. (original image)

Hurricane Dorian Batters the Bahamas Before Barreling Along the U.S. Coast

Smithsonian Magazine

Hurricane Dorian is the strongest storm to ever hit the Bahamas. The storm holds the title for fastest winds this far north in the Atlantic Ocean east of Florida with sustained max speeds of 185 miles per hour. Dorian went from a Category 2 storm to a Category 5 storm in just two days, propelled by a process called rapid intensification, before dropping back to a Category 2 storm on Tuesday afternoon. Its low pressure of 911 millibars tops Hurricane Andrew’s pressure in 1992, and it’s been maintaining a shockingly uniform shape as satellite images have shown, report the Washington Post’s Jason Samenow and Ian Livingston.

In a press conference Tuesday night, Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Dorian is "the greatest national crisis in our country's history."

The hurricane remained a Category 5 storm after it made landfall in the Bahamas and maintained its strength as it slowly crept across the islands. The now-Category 2 storm scraped the Florida and Georgia coasts late Tuesday night, but landfall is still a distinct possibility in the Carolinas from Thursday through Friday morning.

Hurricane Dorian struck land in Elbow Cay, Abaco Islands, at 12:40 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon. It slunk across the Abaco Islands to Grand Bahama Island where the eye of the storm stayed parked for 48 hours into Tuesday afternoon, according to NOAA. The storm moved only 30 miles in 30 hours, report CNN’s Patrick Oppmann, Jason Hanna and Christina Maxouris.

The eye of Hurricane Dorian, photographed by NASA astronaut Nick Hague aboard the International Space Station on September 2, 2019. (NASA / Nick Hague)

It was a storm unlike anything the islands had ever experienced. Hurricane conditions remained in the Bahamas through Tuesday night. Winds ravaged the area, shredding buildings and snapping trees like twigs. Flooding caused by more than 30 inches of rainfall and storm surges as high as 23 feet left many stranded on top of whatever structures remained standing.

On the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, damage increases exponentially. According to a National Weather Service chart of damage potential from hurricanes, a Category 5 storm with 185 mph winds can be 1,371 times more damaging than a Category 1 storm with 75 mph winds.

Nearly 400,000 people live in the Bahamas, and areas of top concern include parts of the Abaco Islands where Haitian migrants live in shantytowns, as Kevin Harris, director general of the Bahamas Information Center, tells the New York Times’ Patricia Mazzei, Frances Robles and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs. The Red Cross reports that nearly half of the homes, or 13,000, in Abaco and Grand Bahama Island are damaged or destroyed, according to the Associated Press. An estimated 62,000 people are without clean water, and the Grand Bahama International Airport now resembles a lake.

“We are already hearing from residents that whole towns have been wiped out and devastated,” Harris tells the Times. “This is going to be a big search-and-rescue and rebuilding effort. I don’t think we have seen anything as bad as this. This one is for the history books.”

Volunteers and survivors of the storm are leading current search-and-rescue efforts. Seven are confirmed dead, but government officials expect that total to rise. When the Bahamian government is finally able to fully assess the situation, the U.S. Department of Defense has authorized 5,000 Coastguardsmen, 50 to 60 highwater vehicles, and 40 to 50 helicopter crews to assist with rescue and recovery efforts, reports Barbara Starr at CNN. Three different hospital ships are also within a few days sailing of the island, should they be needed.

A plane destroyed by Hurricane Dorian sits amid debris at the airport in Freeport, Bahamas, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019. (AP Photo / Ramon Espinosa)

By Tuesday afternoon, the storm was reduced to a Category 2 hurricane with 110 mph winds as it headed northwest toward Florida. It is, however, expected to gain speed and strength along its path.

The storm is so large that hurricane-strength winds stretch 60 miles out from the storm center, and tropical storm-strength winds stretch out 175 miles, according to CBS News. Because of this, Floridians and Georgians were spared the brunt of the storms power, but still experienced high winds and heavy rainfall on Tuesday evening. Thousands in Florida were left without power by Wednesday morning.

The storm’s effects are worsened by the fact that Florida’s King Tides—highest of high tides—are at their peak this week, reports CNN’s A.J. Willingham. This round of King Tides is intensified by two factors: The close proximity of the moon and warmer water temperatures that are common during autumnal King Tides.

"The sun has baked the ocean all summer in the tropics and the ocean literally expands," explains CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller. Because warm water feeds hurricanes, this could mean significantly more intense storm surges, or rapid flooding, on Florida’s coast.

By Wednesday morning, however, Dorian shifted further westward on its route north, bringing worsening tropical storm conditions to the Georgia and South Carolina coasts. As it continues on that path, it could make landfall in North Carolina or southeastern Virginia later this week, according to the Weather Channel.

Total rain accumulation over parts of Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands have exceeded 24 inches, according to NASA satellite-based estimates. The graphic also shows the distance that tropical-storm force (39 mph) winds extend from Hurricane Dorian’s low-pressure center, as reported by the National Hurricane Center. (NASA Goddard)

Last year, Hurricane Florence hit just north of Wilmington, North Carolina, as a Category 1 hurricane. Significant storm surges caused flooding in some cities as the storm slowed moving inland. Hurricane Dorian is currently headed for the same region. Historically, the Carolinas have dredged deeper in their ports to accommodate larger container ships, expanding their tidal range in certain areas and priming inland areas for devastating storm surges, Jim Morrison reported for Smithsonian.com last year. (Charleston, South Carolina, for example, has ports dredged up to 50 feet deeper than natural depths. Millions in the state have been under evacuation orders this week pending the arrival of Hurricane Dorian.)

In our warming world, sea level rise is one of the many factors contributing to a future with more devastating hurricanes. “By 2100, storm surges will happen on top of an additional 8 inches to 6.6 feet of global sea level rise,” according to NOAA’s Climate Toolkit. Because water weighs 1,700 pounds per cubic yard, bigger waves moving at 10 to 15 mph can steamroll structures that aren’t built to last.

Higher water temperatures mean wetter and slower moving storms, too, according to a 2018 study produced by the National Center for Atmospheric Research. 2017’s Hurricane Harvey produced four feet of rain alone in some areas. And Hurricane Dorian was particularly slow moving in the Bahamas, inching along at just at one mile per hour. Climate change won’t necessarily yield more storms, but rather, stronger storms.

Hurricane Dorian parked over the Bahamas for about two days, wreaking havoc on communities and infrastructure. (NOAA)

Does this mean we need to add Category 6 to the hurricane scale, or revise how we categorize hurricanes? It’s complicated. The Saffir-Simpson scale is based on wind speed, which isn’t exactly a holistic view of how hurricanes cause devastation. A sixth category would hypothetically start at 182 mph, explains meteorologist Ryan Moue on Twitter. And experts do expect storms to get more powerful, some forecasting 200 mph storms in the next few decades, report the Miami Herald’s Alex Harris, Douglas Hanks and Alex Daughtery. Hurricane Dorian’s sustained 185 mph wind speeds place it alongside several storms as the second-strongest in the Atlantic, just after the 1980’s Hurricane Allen, which hit 190.

Gabriel Vecchi, a geoscientist at Princeton University, tells the New York Times’ John Schwartz that there have “been strong storms in the past,” and it would be inaccurate to attribute every intense storm to climate change. That’s not what experts mean.

Rather, Vecchi says, “[Hurricane Dorian] looks like what we’re going to have more of in the future.”

5 big questions behind American sushi

National Museum of American History

Our upcoming American History After Hours event on Wednesday, May 13, 2015, is all about the history of sushi in America, a story as much about cultural heritage as it is about culinary trends, traditions, and adaptations for the American palate. While we'll have chef Kaz Okochi of Kaz Sushi Bistro, Foodstory founder Yoko Isassi, and Bonny Wolf of American Food Roots to tell the full sushi story, here is a look at some of the big questions we'll be chewing over as we sample soy sauce, sake, and more.

Where can you find the sushi capital of Japanese America?
Street scene in black and white with store fronts of buildings, cars, Japanese lettering on one building

In downtown Los Angeles, the five-block-wide neighborhood known as "Little Tokyo" is home to America's largest Japanese population. (The other two "Little Tokyos" can be found in San Francisco and San Jose.) In 1905, this small area was home to about half of the city's 10,000 Japanese, and remained a destination for newly arrived Japanese residents until the Oriental Exclusion Act of 1924. When the 30,000 Japanese residents of Little Tokyo were removed to imprisonment camps during World War II (1942-1946), their vacant apartments became home to other Angelenos of various backgrounds, increasing the area population to more than 100,000.

After the end of the war, many formerly imprisoned citizens of Little Tokyo relocated further into Los Angeles due to lack of housing, and over the following decades, Japanese-run businesses gained significant influence in the Los Angeles economy. It was in Little Tokyo that sushi made its first big splash, as the neighborhood's restaurants drew attention from Japanese businessmen and their American colleagues. Eating Japanese food in Little Tokyo has become a political statement for many of its residents, especially those who are fourth-or fifth-generation. While earlier generations may have grown up adapting their meals, traditional Japanese ingredients are now readily available to their grandchildren. Today, Little Tokyo is officially a historic district, and home to some of the most significant businesses and cultural centers in America.

Without rice and fish, how did Japanese food traditions survive?

Three children eating

Japanese immigrants to America have been adapting their cuisine ever since they first arrived in Hawaii in the late 1880s—and sometimes under duress. In 1942, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the round-up of 120,000 Japanese-Americans to be relocated to 10 imprisonment camps—so-called "relocation centers"—across the West Coast and Great Plains.

In these camps, meals were limited to commodity foods and surplus Army ingredients; typical meals would feature commercial foods like hot dogs, Spam, and unpopular cuts of meat such as kidneys and tongue. Potatoes, not rice, were served in the camp cafeteria, and only after prisoners rebelled was rice added to the menu. Some prisoners incorporated Japanese vegetables like burdock and daikon into the camp garden plots. Others hoarded their rice, a treasured Japanese staple, to be fermented into sake or shaped into sushi with hot dogs in lieu of fish. Spam musubi—a block of rice topped with Spam and sealed with a strip of nori—has endured as a signature dish of the Japanese-American experience.

How was sushi adapted to make it appealing to the American palate?

Employee behind sushi counter at grocery store

The heavy mid-20th century American diet didn't exactly pave the way for the delicacy of Japanese cooking—sushi for an American audience was going to require some adaptation. The creation of the California Roll by sushi chefs in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles in the mid-1960s ingeniously swapped expensive fatty tuna for a fat slice of ripe avocado. Other chefs hid the unfamiliar dried nori (seaweed) wrapping on the inside of the roll, covering the exterior of the "inside-out" roll with sugar-sweetened rice.

But soon, adventurous American diners declared sushi to be the height of sophistication, and soon sushi became synonymous with celebrities and California tastemakers, popping up in sketches on Saturday Night Live and in films such as The Breakfast Club (1985) and Wall Street (1987). While sushi restaurants were opening by the dozens, in 1996 chef Ryuji Ishii introduced the concept of pre-packaged sushi to American grocery stores, just as it had been available at supermarkets in Japan, and it was in supermarkets that the California roll became a fast favorite nationwide.

What does the government have to do with sushi?

A chef's hands, preparing sushi with ingredients in small bowls

The federal government has standards for verifying the quality of fresh seafood, yet sushi has posed some unique challenges for American lawmakers. In 2014, a proposed California law would have required sushi chefs to wear latex gloves at all times, a rule that would interfere with an expert chef's ability to make subtle texture and temperature adjustments. While that law was overturned after more than 11,000 citizens signed a petition to repeal it, efforts to regulate sushi preparation have not waned.

In January 2015, the New York City Health code received a proposed list of amendments that had, among its suggestions, an adjustment to the way kitchens would prepare fish for crudo, ceviche, and sushi—that kitchens would only use fish that had been frozen ahead of time to ensure that any parasites have been killed off. While many popular fish used for sushi are already frozen before preparation, delicate fish such as Spanish mackerel, sea trout, sea bream, and fluke might have their texture and flavor damaged under deep freezing.

Several health departments across the United States also require sushi rice to be served at 41 degrees or colder, due to concerns that rice kept at room temperature can develop bacteria. Even though most chefs cook rice in an acidic vinegar bath to lower the PH enough to keep it safe, traditional chefs serve rice at body temperature. With valid concerns for both safety and tradition, perhaps the only solution is for government regulators to sit down for an omakase sushi experience—a menu that means "to trust," a good guideline for both the safety and quality of your meal.

Where will our sushi be found in the future—will it be wild-caught or farmed… or will it even be fished at all?

Label for shipping crate with large fish and text inside

As the American appetite has grown, so too has the demand for Bluefin tuna, the most prized and endangered source of sushi fish. The current population of Bluefin tuna in the Pacific Ocean is less than 20% of what it was in 1970. Environmental groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and the National Fisheries Institute are strongly advocating for an outright ban on Bluefin fishing, but this challenge is not limited to Bluefin tuna alone. All-wild caught fish are facing dwindling populations due to a fishing industry that outpaces the ability to repopulate. Additionally, pollution and habitat degradation have affected the health of fish stocks around the world.

Questions of sustainability have challenged sushi chefs to think more broadly about their craft, and some are using tomato, sweet potato, and asparagus instead of fish. But for those that can’t kick the raw fish, programs like Seafood for the Future, NOAA Fish Watch, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium provide ample resources for determining what types of fish can be responsibly consumed.

Jessica Carbone is a project associate in the Division of Work and Industry, Food History Project. You can get tickets for our "Sushi for Sale" After Hours to learn more on Wednesday, May 13.

Author(s): 
Jessica Carbone
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Langley Aerodrome A

National Air and Space Museum
Piloted tandem-wing experimental aircraft built and unsuccessfully tested by Samuel P. Langley in 1903. Fifty-two-horsepower, five-cylinder radial gasoline engine turning two pusher propellers via geared transmission system. Percaline covering. Natural fabric finish; no sealant or paint of any kind.

Samuel Langley's successful flights of his model Aerodromes Number 5 and Number 6 in 1896 led to plans to build a full-sized, human-carrying airplane. Langley's simple approach was merely to scale up the unpiloted Aerodromes to human-carrying proportions. This would prove to be a grave error, as the aerodynamics, structural design, and control system of the smaller aircraft were not adaptable to a full-sized version. Langley's primary focus was the power plant. The completed engine, a water-cooled five-cylinder radial that generated a remarkable 52.4 horsepower, was a great achievement for the time.

Despite the excellent engine, the Aerodrome A, as it was called, met with disastrous results, crashing on takeoff on October 7, 1903, and again on December 8. Langley blamed the launch mechanism. While this was in some small measure true, there is no denying that the Aerodrome A was an overly complex, structurally weak, aerodynamically unsound aircraft. This second crash ended Langley's aeronautical work entirely.

Professor Samuel Pierpont Langley (1834-1906) was a leading scientific figure in the United States in the latter nineteenth century, well known especially for his astronomical research. He became the third Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 1887. Langley had begun serious investigation into heavier-than-air flight several years earlier while at the then Western University of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh (now the University of Pittsburgh). He had erected a huge, 18.3 m (60 ft) diameter whirling arm at the university's Allegheny Observatory to perform aerodynamic research. At full speed, the tips of the whirling arm approached seventy miles per hour. Langley mostly ran tests with flat plates, but he also mounted small model airplanes he called aerostats, and even stuffed birds, on the arm. He also conducted an extensive series of experiments with rubber band-powered models.

Langley described these investigations and provided a summary of his results in Experiments in Aerodynamics, published in 1891. He then moved away from purely theoretical aerodynamic research, and began work aimed at engineering an actual flying machine. In 1891, he started to experiment with large, tandem-winged models, approximately 4 m (13 ft) in wingspan, powered by small steam and gasoline engines. Another large whirling arm, 9 m (29.5 ft) in diameter, was set up at the Smithsonian to test curved wing shapes and propellers, probably in connection with the design of these large powered models that Langley called aerodromes.

After several failures with designs that were too fragile and under-powered to sustain themselves, Langley had his first genuine success. On May 6, 1896, Langley's Aerodrome No. 5 made the first successful flight of an unpiloted, engine-driven, heavier-than-air craft of substantial size. It was launched from a spring-actuated catapult mounted on top of a houseboat on the Potomac River near Quantico, Virginia. Two flights were made that afternoon, one of 1,005 m (3,300 ft) and a second of 700 m (2,300 ft), at a speed of approximately 25 miles per hour. On November 28, another successful flight was made with a similar model, the Aerodrome No.6. It flew a distance of approximately 1,460 m (4,790 ft).

Langley's aeronautical experiments appeared to have concluded with the successful flights of Aerodromes No. 5 and 6, but privately he intended to raise funds to begin work on a full-scale, human-carrying aircraft. He believed his only real hope of securing the kind of funding necessary was from the federal government. The breakthrough came when Langley's friend and colleague, Charles D. Walcott, of the U.S. Geological Survey, offered to present the proposal to President McKinley. A panel was created to review Langley's work up to that time. The panel, which included Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt, met at the Smithsonian in April 1898. After a week of deliberations, they approved a grant of $50,000 from the Board of Ordnance and Fortification for Langley to construct a full-sized aircraft. The outbreak of the Spanish-American War only five days earlier contributed to the panel's favorable and speedy decision.

Serious work on the airplane, referred to as the Great Aerodrome, or Aerodrome A, began in October 1898. Langley's simple approach was merely to scale up the unpiloted Aerodromes of 1896 to human-carrying proportions. This would prove to be a grave error, as the aerodynamics, structural design, and control system of the smaller aircraft were not adaptable to a full-sized version. The construction details and distribution of stresses on the Aerodrome A were based on the successful performance of a gasoline-powered model, one-fourth the size. This exact scale miniature, known as the Quarter-scale Aerodrome, flew satis-factorily twice on June 18, 1901, and again with an improved engine on August 8, 1903. But these successes masked its flaws as a design prototype for the full-sized, piloted airplane.

Langley was far more concerned with producing a suitable engine for the large craft. He contracted a New York inventor named Stephen M. Balzer to design and build the powerplant. A native of Hungary, Balzer had constructed the first automobile in New York City in 1894. He designed a five-cylinder, air-cooled rotary engine for the Aerodrome A, but it produced only about 8 horsepower rather than the 12 horsepower specified by Langley. Charles M. Manly, Langley's assistant, extensively reworked the Balzer engine, turning it into a water-cooled radial that generated a remarkable 52.4 horsepower at 950 rpm with a power-to-weight ratio of 1.8 kg (4 lb) per horsepower (including the weight of the radiator and water), an amazing achievement for the time.

The airframe was an entirely different matter. It was structurally weak and unsound. Like the smaller aerodromes, it was a tandem-winged design with a cruciform tail. The control system was minimal and was also poorly conceived. The tail moved only in the vertical plane, and acted more like a modern trim tab to stabilize the flight path, rather than as an elevator for positive pitch control inputs. There was a separate rudder, but it was mounted centrally on the airplane, the position where it would be least effective. Even Langley and Manly recognized the limitations of this control arrangement, and they planned to revised it after simple straight-line flight was achieved. For propulsion, two pusher propellers, mounted between the tandem wings, were driven by shafts and gears connected to the centrally-mounted engine, again after the pattern of the smaller aerodromes. The huge aircraft spanned nearly 15 m (50 ft) and was more than 16 m (52 ft) long. It weighed 340 kg (750 lb) including the pilot, Manly.

The first test flight of the Aerodrome A was on October 7, 1903. The airplane was assembled on the rear of a catapult track mounted on a large house-boat moored near Widewater, Va., close to the site where the small aerodromes were successfully flown. Immediately after launching, the Aerodrome plunged into the river at a forty-five-degree angle. A Washington reporter on the scene remarked that it entered the water "like a handful of mortar." Langley was bitterly disappointed and rationalized the failure as a problem with the launch mechanism, not the aircraft.

After repairs, a second attempt was made on December 8, 1903. This time the houseboat launching platform was located on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. The results were equally disastrous. Just after takeoff, the Aerodrome A reared up, collapsed upon itself, and smashed into the water, momentarily trapping Manly underneath the wreckage in the freezing Potomac before he was rescued, unhurt. Langley again blamed the launching device. While the catapult likely contributed some small part to the failure, there is no denying that the Aerodrome A was an overly complex, structurally weak, aerodynamically unsound aircraft. This second crash of the Aerodrome A ended the aeronautical work of Samuel Langley. His request to the Board of Ordnance and Fortification for further funding was refused and he suffered much public ridicule. He died in 1906.

The remains of the Aerodrome A were left with the Smithsonian Institution by the War Department. In 1914, the Smithsonian contracted Glenn Curtiss, a prominent American aviation pioneer and aircraft manufacturer, to rebuild the Langley Aerodrome A and conduct further flight tests. With significant modifications and improvements, Curtiss was able to coax the Aerodrome A into the air for a number of brief, straight-line flights at Hammondsport, N.Y. After the tests, the airplane was returned to the Smithsonian, restored to its original unsuccessful 1903 configuration, and put on public display in 1918. Smithsonian officials misleadingly identified the Aerodrome A in its label text as the world's first airplane "capable of sustained free flight." The Aerodrome A had, indeed, existed before the Wright brothers' successful 1903 Flyer, but it only flew much later and even then in heavily modified form, making the Smithsonian claim inappropriate at best. This action was, partly, what prompted Orville Wright in 1928 to lend the 1903 Flyer to the Science Museum in London as a gesture of protest regarding the Smithsonian's seeming unwillingness to give him and his brother, Wilbur, full credit for having invented the airplane. The Smithsonian finally clarified the history of the Aerodrome A and its later flight testing in its 1942 annual report, satisfying Orville, and thereby clearing the way for the return of the Wright Flyer to the United States and its donation to the Smithsonian in 1948. The Aerodrome A continued to be displayed in the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries building with a revised label until 1971, when it was removed from public exhibition and restored again by the NASM restoration staff.

The Royal Archives Reveals the Hidden Genius Behind George III’s “Madness”

Smithsonian Magazine

Windsor Castle is a hybrid of medieval treasure and modern marvel. Moving past guards and a fierce-looking cannon, I ascend 104 steps to reach the iconic Round Tower, where the Royal Archives are housed. There, a small army of researchers is orchestrating a revolution in archival access—one focused on George III, the monarch whose supposed tyranny sparked a revolution in the American colonies, shaping the course of world history.

Reading the royals’ mail in person at their castle calls for a bit of time travel. A few steps from William the Conqueror’s 11th-century footprint, technicians painstakingly stitch together digital images of manuscripts. Across the way, in the Royal Library, bibliographers bustle along the same walking gallery where Elizabeth I strode daily. Down in the bookbindery, a new fleet of apprentices learns to bind books, apply royal seals with gold finishing, and conserve volumes. Nearby, Windsor archivists ponder the metadata needed to make George’s life word-searchable and wrestle with imposing order on such a massive archive.

Blame the bustle on a horde of historians curious about George. They are now welcome in Windsor thanks to the Georgian Papers Programme, launched by Elizabeth II in April 2015 to open 350,000 private manuscripts to the public. In a milestone installment, roughly 33,000 documents of George III, Charlotte, and their royal household are now available to read online for free. By 2020, the entire archive will be online.

The newly accessible trove reveals a methodical monarch, the royal system he ran, and the dilemmas he met in doing so. For scholars, the archive offers a clearer window onto life at court from 1714 to 1837—and if scholars enter the archives with one snapshot of the king, they often leave with another.

 “There is an extraordinary range of material, much of it unexplored, and always the chance of the serendipitous discovery,” says Arthur Burns, professor of British history at King’s College London, where he serves as the Programme’s academic director. “It’s a cliché, but it is also the case that all human life is there, from the kitchens to the closet, from war to farm management.”

Opening that vast window on the past hasn't been easy. “The Georgian Papers is a fascinating puzzle, because the papers are not yet catalogued,” says Oliver Walton, the curator of the Historical Papers Project. “The big challenge for us is to make the papers discoverable for users while retaining the integrity of the historic arrangement, however complex that may have been.” To organize and transcribe the Georgian Papers, Windsor archivists have joined with the Royal Collection Trust and King’s College London. The collaboration has gone global. The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the College of William & Mary serve as the primary U.S. partners for the project, and have sponsored research fellows to study the archive. (You can apply here.) Mount Vernon, the Sons of the American Revolution, and the Library of Congress have also announced their participation.

Conservators in Windsor’s high-tech laboratory have made many documents, despite a century or so of storage in a damp city cellar, research-ready. Some manuscripts are now mounted, windowpane style, with the intent of being bound. Ledgers, pamphlets, letterbooks and a few very personal tokens (like a lock of one child’s hair coiled up and sent by Charlotte to the royal governess) have weathered the centuries for scholars’ use.

“You feel an immediate connection to both the place and the materials,” says historian Andrew Beaumont. “When a letter comes out of the box marked Windsor, I certainly experienced that thrill of knowing that the letter had come from here, and eventually found its way back again.”

The archive painstakingly preserves a George who is more than a despot or a madman. “I got to know George III as a tyrant, as an awkward youth, and as a locus of patriotic celebration,” recalls historian Rachel Banke. What she found in the Georgian Papers led her to recast him as a careful political thinker and thwarted reformer, too. “He had high intentions to reform the political system and bring a virtue and success unknown to the nation since the Elizabethan era. His failures came not out of malice but resulted from mistakes, circumstances beyond his control, and the harsh consequences of a complex political system.”

George was America’s final king, and Australia’s first. He was the chief executive of a global empire who flooded ministers with instructions, hour to hour. And at least once, when politics drained his patience, King George III considered abdication. Duty reined him in.

Deep in his family papers, lie the instructions that George’s mother read aloud to him as a boy: reduce national debt, lower the interest rate (“for God’s Sake, do it”), avoid foreign war, and, above all, “never give up Your Honour nor that of the Nation.” So George stayed put at Britain’s helm, dating his memoranda down to the minute, and trusting spies like “Aristarchus” for covert intelligence on assassination plots.

He never traveled far from London, but George’s empire of ideas was vast. Around him, people fought wars, tried out parliamentary reforms, abolished the slave trade, and dove into industrialization. George interpreted the changing world in multiple tenses. Keenly, he eyed cultural shifts through the prisms of past history, present duty, and the nation’s future. He weighed out his words. From his Richmond observatory in June 1769, for example, George recorded the Transit of Venus, careful to note that it would not be enjoyed again until the far-off years of 1874 and 2004.

Familiar concerns, royal and domestic, frequently broke into the king’s stargazing. Along with German-born wife Queen Charlotte, George mulled over their daughters’ lessons and kept height charts of 15 children. Like any parent, he agonized over his son’s hard-partying ways. While crises like the American Revolution blossomed into all-out war, George tallied how many blankets British soldiers would need, and copied out long French naval lists. In quieter moments, “Farmer George” holed up in Windsor Castle and neatly drafted wide-ranging historical essays.

Troubled by mental illness (possibly hypomania) from the late 1780s until his death in 1820, George withdrew from political life by 1811. Contemporary caricaturists and modern scholars alike chose to depict him as a mad tyrant who lost the American colonies. Hailed in history books as Britain’s longest-reigning king, George III was often looked at but rarely seen.

Until now.

A first round of researchers has started to reframe George’s royal portrait—and review traditional takes on his personality and politics. On the page, Beaumont says, George rarely asked questions. He trusted advisers “until his trust was shown to have been misplaced, whereupon he showed a clear, ruthless edge.”

Yet the king was also kind, explains historian Cynthia A. Kierner, who has studied the culture of disaster relief. When a great fire ripped through Montreal in 1765, George sent £500 in aid to foster goodwill. His mother Augusta, the Princess of Wales, contributed to philanthropic causes, too. “Access to the collections in the Royal Archives led me to think about their humanitarian works in the larger context of the history of British philanthropy,” Kierner says.

George and Charlotte emerge anew as monarchs engaged with the issues of the day: revolution, slavery, religion, and reform. “The volume and detail of his papers emphasizes his role as chief executive of a global empire, heavily involved in many of the big decisions on policy and strategy,” says naval historian Andrew Lambert. “He was not a ceremonial figurehead.”

According to Andrew J. O’Shaughnessy, currently serving as the first Sons of the American Revolution visiting professor at King’s College, George’s use of political power merits extra scrutiny. After the Boston Tea Party of December 1773, O’Shaughnessy explains, George “became the most hawkish” of politicians. “He articulated better than most the reason for remaining in the war,” O’Shaughnessy says, “which he increasing argued was to maintain the importance of Britain as a power in Europe. He threatened to abdicate rather than accept the loss of America. He even wrote out his abdication.”

That March 1783 manuscript has proven rich for other scholars, too. “Where, for example, did George get the idea that he might want to abdicate in the first place? There were no relevant precedents in recent British history, and even in the European context few that matched the specific circumstance,” Burns says. “Thinking about this sends us back to other parts of the archive which chart the education through which he came to this understanding of what it was to be king, and the nature of the role.”

Unveiling the monarch and the man, the Georgian Papers are open for you to explore. Teams of transcribers are digging into the manuscripts, says historian Karin Wulf, director of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, and more are welcome. You can try your hand at the same historian’s craft here.

There’s always the chance to uncover the unexpected, and make a new people’s history of the Georgian era. Historian Suzanne Schwarz, busy researching George III’s role in the development of the African colony of Sierra Leone, came across a moving petition in her reading room pile. The letter was from Sarah McCoy, a pregnant mother who sought the king’s pardon. She hoped to “prevent her being transported,” a punishment she faced for a first offense of theft of “3 Childs caps valu[e]d 3d” and a handkerchief.

Did George extend his mercy? What was Sarah McCoy’s fate? The answer may lie inside Windsor—but now, it is no longer under lock and key.

3 hot spots of innovation and an invitation to share YOUR place of invention

National Museum of American History

Having worked at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation for seven years, I see invention and innovation all around me. Before, my ears might not have perked up when a local brewmaster mentions that they've patented part of their beer-making process and it would have never occurred to me that my favorite office supply didn't just emerge out of a vacuum—someone had to invent Post-its!

One reason why I see invention and innovation everywhere is that it IS everywhere. Innovation can happen almost anywhere if the right mix of inventive people, untapped resources, and inspiring surroundings come together. That's what we hope our new exhibition, Places of Invention, will help visitors to realize as well. The exhibition uses six case studies representing various time periods, industries, and places around the U.S. to demonstrate the breadth and diversity of invention.

Places of Invention sigh

Here is a sneak peek at the exhibition through three of my favorite objects:

Hartford, Connecticut, late 1800s: Factory town puts the pieces together in explosive new ways

You may be familiar with the story of Samuel Colt and his namesake revolver. You may be less familiar with what is arguably his greatest innovation—introducing mass production to the firearms industry. Prior to Colt, arms were produced by hand. If they broke down in the field, you needed a gunsmith on hand to repair. Mass production allowed for spare, interchangeable parts to be carried into battle, an important innovation.

Milling machine with cranks and gears and four feet, table sized

What I find interesting about this story is that it goes beyond the Colt Armory, even teaching this native Connecticutian a few things. After learning precision manufacturing at the Colt Armory, many Hartford mechanics would spin off and start their own companies, often in completely different industries. Whether producing arms, bicycles, sewing machines, or even automobiles, the skills and the machinery stayed the same. This Lincoln Milling Machine (1861) was manufactured by tool builder George S. Lincoln of Hartford's Phoenix Iron Works and was used in nearly every Hartford factory. Its high-speed rotary cutting blade shaved excess material from a metal workpiece.

Hollywood, California, 1930s: Young town gives birth to the movies' Golden Age

Somehow, I missed out on seeing The Wizard of Oz until I was in college. Even though I was well-accustomed to high-tech special effects and color films, I was still dazzled by Technicolor.

Initially the work of Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduates Herbert Kalmus and Daniel Comstock, along with W. Burton Wescott, Technicolor joined the rest of the burgeoning American film industry in leaving the east coast for the cheap land, varied scenery, mild climate, and reliable sunlight of Hollywood in the 1930s.

Technicolor camera with lens on front, wheels, blue casing

This Technicolor camera (1937) was used to film The Wizard of Oz and is based on the patent received by Joseph A. Ball and Gerald F. Rackett in 1937 for the three-strip process, which provided a full range of color. Previous versions only rendered shades of blue-green and red-orange. The three-strip process is what allowed Dorothy to leave behind the grays and browns of Kansas for the new world of rainbow hues in Oz.

Medical Alley, Minnesota, 1950s: Tight-knit community of tinkerers keeps hearts ticking

When you boil it down, invention is really about problem-solving. In 1957, Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, "the father of open-heart surgery," had a problem: How could he keep a patient's heartbeat steady and regular in the weeks immediately after surgery? Fortunately, engineer Earl Bakken was a fixture at the University of Minnesota hospital and qualified to help solve this problem in a few ways. First, he was a risk-taking electrical engineer and co-founder of a (then) small company called Medtronic, Inc. that often repaired hospital machines. Second, he didn't mind the sight of blood.

Inspired by a Popular Electronics article about a metronome circuit that used the newly-invented transistor, Earl got to tinkering in his garage. After four weeks, he emerged with a prototype external cardiac pacemaker, which was put into use just days later by Lillehei on a young patient.

Pace maker with handle on left side and two knobs on front, rectangle shaped

This Medtronic 5800 Model External Pacemaker might be from 1972, but it debuted in 1958 and was the first commercial version of Earl Bakken's external transistorized cardiac pacemaker. It connected to the patient's heart through the skin and was worn in a sling.

Your turn: Places of Invention Interactive Map

At the heart of the Places of Invention exhibition—both in the gallery here at the National Museum of American History and on our website —is a very cool object, one that was created by the Lemelson Center (and some very amazing designers and coders). The interactive map features text, images, and video highlighting innovative communities across the country and around the globe and the factors that made them so.

Screenshot of website featuring a map of US and other parts of the globe with hot spot pins on it

We are sharing the stories we've researched—the ones I've previewed for you here, as well as some other great stories that didn't make it into the final exhibition—but we need your help to fill it up! We know that there is an invention story in almost every community out there. The idea of the map is that it will grow exponentially over time as visitors, both on-site and online, contribute their own stories. Is your friend or community known for an innovation or invention?

How can you add a story to the map? Think about the following three questions:

  • Invention: How was it invented?
  • People: Whose idea was it?
  • Place: Why here, why now? What was special about the place?

Then visit the map. After you browse around and see what other people have shared (you can comment on stories too!), click the "Add A Place of Invention Story." This will take you to a short form. Fill it out, then check back in a couple of days to see your story on the map.

We hope you'll join us in our exploration of the relationship between place and invention. Visit Places of Invention when it opens at the Museum in the Lemelson Hall of Invention and Innovation on July 1, and make sure your community is represented on the exhibition’s map!

Kate Wiley is the communications manager for the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation.

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"Chocolate is a Fighting Food!" – Chocolate bars in the Second World War

National Museum of American History

"Do you like chocolate?" That's one of the first questions I ask museum visitors during a chocolate program I lead in the museum's Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza. Nearly every time, the response is unanimous: "Of course!" Most of us don't see chocolate as more than a delicious (and often addictive) candy we love to eat, especially around Halloween and Valentine’s Day. Many people are surprised, then, when I show them how chocolate has had many other uses besides being a confection.

Our interactive program on chocolate history, The Business of Chocolate: From Bean to Drink, helps visitors understand how people made chocolate in the 18th century as well as chocolate's historical roles in American business and society. In particular, I love talking with visitors about chocolate's use in military rations, both because it's a story I first heard from my grandfather and because it's a topic I was able to research during my internship.

My grandfather, Harlan Thomas Kennedy, a veteran of World War II, used to share memories of eating chocolate on the battlefront. Growing up in a poor mining family in western Kentucky during the Great Depression, my grandfather hardly had much chocolate until his time in the army. While in the 82nd Airborne Division fighting in Belgium and the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden, he received field rations, a most spartan variant being the K-ration. These rations each included a chocolate bar!

K-ration; original outer green color cardboard box contains: waxed cardboard box shell with “CHESTERFIELD” cigarette pack, toilet paper packet, one stick of gum, and eight biscuits, confectionery chocolate D bar, bouillon powder packet, can of pork loaf; manufactured by the Kellogg Company; World War II era.

Black-and-white pocket-sized portrait photo of Harlan Thomas Kennedy (1924-2013), of Ohio County, Kentucky, in army uniform, around 1943.

My grandfather's fondness for the rationed chocolate bars was so great that he would even trade cigarettes for more chocolate. These chocolate bars certainly served as a morale boost when on the front, where resources had to be limited.

Of all foods, why chocolate? Because of its caffeine and high calorie content, it was a reliable source of energy for soldiers on the front. Chocolate consumption among Americans dates back to colonial times—George Washington and the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War would have consumed chocolate as a hot beverage, for example. By World War II chocolate had become a staple of military rations.

In fact, the U.S. War Department collaborated with chocolate manufacturers to produce Ration D bars, especially suitable for extreme temperatures sometimes encountered on the front. A mixture of chocolate, sugar, powdered milk, oat flour, and vitamins provided 600 calories per serving and made a very effective survival food.

Box for U.S. Army Field Ration D ("with Thiamine Hydrochloride, Twelve 4 Ounce Cakes, Prepared by Hershey Chocolate Corporation, Hershey, PA, January 1942").

Brown, yellow, and blue wrapped “Hershey’s Tropical Chocolate” bar. Small print on the top reads, “REG. U.S. PAT. OFF”. Small print on the side of bar reads, “MANUFACTURED BY HERSHEY CHOCOLATE CORPORATION, HERSHEY, PA.” The top left corner of the wrapper is torn, revealing the inner foil wrapping.

It surprises me that my grandpa enjoyed the bars so much, as they were designed more for sustenance than for taste. They were to be eaten slowly to supply maximum energy. The Ration D bars were intended to "taste a little better than a boiled potato," according to U.S. Army Quartermaster Paul Logan in a 1937 correspondence with Hershey's, and many other soldiers apparently disliked the bar since it was mostly bitter and extremely dense. I suppose if the bars were too tasty, they would've been eaten too quickly!

Due to the amount of chocolate the War Department and the Red Cross sent to soldiers abroad, chocolate on the home front was very limited. Many magazine advertisements asked civilians for wartime cooperation and understanding, as chocolate became an integral part in the war effort. Could you imagine if chocolate were rationed today?

This October 9, 1944, advertisement for Whitman’s chocolate boxes shows a woman embracing a soldier in uniform kissing her cheek. On the bottom right is a box of Whitman’s Chocolate Sampler. The bold font reads, “A WOMAN NEVER FORGETS THE MAN WHO REMEMBERS,” and, “BUY MORE WAR BONDS.” In fine print below the box of chocolates reads, “If you can’t always get your favorite Sampler, remember it’s because millions of pounds of Whitman’s Chocolates are going to all our fighting fronts.”

As with many other products, chocolate's wartime production helped it develop into a mass consumer food in the decades after the war. If you are interested in learning more about chocolate's military legacy, you should check out the M&M's story, currently on display in the American Enterprise exhibition. M&M's were first introduced to World War II soldiers as a sugar-coated chocolate candy that didn't melt in your hands.

1940s cellophane wrapper for M&M’s candy. The wrapper is shaped in a cylinder and flattened. White font on a red circular background says “Greetings from the American Red Cross,” flanked by two candles. The wrapper also says “Candy Coated Chocolate, mmm Delicious mmm.”

Listening to my grandfather's wartime memories of chocolate helped me realize how small things in our lives connect to bigger movements, ideas, and events. Have you talked with your family members or friends about the role of special foods like chocolate in their lives?

Sean Jacobson completed an internship in the Department of Visitor Services. He is a recent graduate of Western Kentucky University, where he majored in History and Broadcasting. The Business of Chocolate: From Bean to Drink is a free daytime program. Check our calendar for upcoming dates.

Author(s): 
intern Sean Jacobson
Posted Date: 
Monday, October 24, 2016 - 08:00
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Capoeira: From Occult Martial Art to International Dance

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Two young men dressed in white kneel on the ground, ready to begin their duel. Eyes lock onto those of his opponent. Hearts beat faster. Ancestral sounds echo forth from the berimbau, a single-stringed bow-shaped instrument. Only then do the two shake hands, and the match may commence. With a dynamic, animal-like force, the two exchange movements of attack and defense in a constant flow of exploring and exploiting each other’s strengths and weaknesses, fears and fatigues. They wait and watch patiently for that careless moment in which to drive home a decisive blow.

Capoeira developed in Brazil, derived from traditions brought across the Atlantic Ocean by enslaved Africans and fueled by the burning desire for freedom. It soon became widely practiced on the plantations as a means of breaking the bonds of slavery, both physically and mentally. During this time, the art was considered a social infirmity and officially prohibited by the Brazilian Penal Code. The identification of “the outlaw” with capoeira was so widespread that the word became a synonym for “bum,” “bandit,” and “thief.” However, that did not stop the capoeiristas from practicing. They moved to marginal places and camouflaged the martial art as a form of dance.  

Today, we find people all over the world practicing capoeira, not only in parks and studios but also universities and professional institutions. It took a central role at this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival, where the On the Move program explored the journeys people take to and within the United States and the cultures, stories, and experiences they carry with them. Capoeira is a result of the phenomenon of people migrating to new lands. As Mestre Jelon Vieira explained during the Festival, “Capoeira was conceived in Africa and born in Brazil.”

Capoeira game or war dance
Capoeira game or war dance.
Lithography by Johann M Rugendas, 1835

The Tradition: Resistance and Resilience

Between 1500 and 1815, Brazil was a colony of the Portuguese Crown—an empire sustained by slave labor. The business of capturing and selling humans brought enormous wealth to the Portuguese Crown, but it brought huge numbers of enslaved Africans to the New World. Hundreds of people were packed into overcrowd, infected holds of slave ships in order to maximize profit. As a result of the perilous and unhealthy conditions during the three-month journey, more than half of the enslaved lost their lives, their limp bodies tossed overboard.

Upon arrival, they were sold at the Sunday market and sent to work in the hot, humid, and harsh conditions of the plantations, where many would be worked to death. The high mortality rates among the enslaved populations in Brazil, along with an increased demand for Brazilian raw materials like sugar, gold, and diamonds, spurred the importation of growing numbers of Africans. An estimated four million enslaved people were shipped to Brazil until the mid-nineteenth century.

The enslaved resisted in various forms: armed revolt, poisoning their owners, abortion, and escape. The vastness of the Brazilian inlands made it possible for individuals on the run to hide. Some escaped and formed clandestine communities in the backlands of the rainforest, independent villages known as quilombos. Here, the Africans and their descendants developed an autonomous socio-cultural system in which they could sustain various expressions of African culture. Historians surmise that capoeira emerged from these communities as a means for defense under the oppressive Portuguese regime. 

By the mid-1800s, the towns and cities of Brazil experienced an unprecedented urbanization. Cities grew in population but lacked adequate economic planning and infrastructure, resulting in a growing population of vagrants. The Paraguayan War between 1864 and 1870 brought a flood of veterans and refugees from destroyed quilombos into the cities. These people were attracted to capoeira not only for its sport and play but also for its powerful means of attack and defense for their survival.

Capoeira became a widespread practice at the beginning of the twentieth century—outlaws, bodyguards, and mercenaries used it. Even some politicians practiced as a way to sway constituents. In this time, strong social pressure throughout the country slowly transformed capoeira into a less aggressive weekend pastime. Eventually capoeiristas were meeting in front of bars, playing an apparently inoffensive kind of dance accompanied by berimbaus.

Ruth Landes capoeira field work
Ruth Landes captured photos of a capoeira gathering in Bahia, Brazil, during a field research trip between 1938 and 1939. 
Photo by Ruth Landes, courtesy of National Anthropological Archives

The oppression of capoeira diminished significantly during the 1930s. During this time, a particular mestre—or master—had been working toward restoring the dignity and historical perspective of the capoeira of his time. Mestre Bimba was born in 1899 in Bahia, in northwestern Brazil. In 1932 he became the first master to open a formal capoeira school called Luta Regional. By 1937, the school received official recognition by the government. The course of capoeira had changed.

Mestre Bimba established a disciplined method of teaching and legitimized capoeira as a form of self-defense and athletics. He developed a style called capoeira regional, which emphasized the technicality of movements and a dance-like nature. When he was summoned by the government to perform in front of distinguished guests, Mestre Bimba became the first to publicly present capoeira as an official cultural practice.

Capoeira on the Move

Mestre Bimba’s success sparked the growth of new schools in Bahia. As capoeira received more and more public affirmation, the younger mestres found better environments for new expression. Many of them left Bahia to teach in places like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, taking the opportunity to develop their own styles. Contemporary capoeira was distinguished by its emphasis on cleanliness and articulation, a paramount fighting technique but also an innovative, spectacular visual show.

The 1960s marked a major turning point for the tradition. In 1964, Mestre Acordeon created the Grupo Folclórico da Bahia to share capoeira in a more organized and formal way. He and his group toured the country, reached into local schools, and won recognition in international competitions. Soon after, he founded the World Capoeira Association with the goals of promoting exchange through workshops, educational trips, and publications, and codifying a body of rules for the understanding and respect for the history, rituals, traditions, and philosophy.

Capoeira mestres
On the road to the Worldwide Festival of Black Arts in Dakar, Senegal, 1966. L–R: Mestre Camafeu de Oxossi, Mestre Gato Preto, Mestre Roberto Satanas, Mestre João Grande, Mestre Gildo Alifnete, and Mestre Pastinha.
Photo courtesy of velhosmestres.com

In 1972, the Brazilian government recognized capoeira as on official sport. The regulations laid down rules, definitions, bylaws, a code of ethics, recognized movements, and a graded classification chart for students. It also established rhythms for the music and guidelines for the role of the berimbaus during competition.

This institutionalization and systemization of capoeira did not sit well with many mestres. They were opposed to such formalizing efforts, which they saw as an attempt to remove the art from its more organic, grassroots environment. Despite their opposition, capoeira was already engaged in a tremendous process of adapting to a changing society.

Capoeira was growing, spreading to different parts of Brazil and soon around the world. It took root in the United States in the mid-1970s when Mestre Jelon Vieira and Mestre João Grande introduced their art to new audiences. Since then, these two influential masters have dedicated their lives to growing a community of capoeiristas.

Mestre Jelon Vieira was born in 1953 in Bahia, Brazil. He moved to New York City in 1975 and planted the first seeds of capoeira in the United States. Aside from touring the country, the Caribbean, and Europe with his company, DanceBrazil, Vieira has been teaching in under-resourced communities and at institutions of higher learning such as Columbia University, Yale, Harvard, and New York University. He is sure to immerse his students not only in the techniques of capoeira but also in the philosophy. Many people suggest that Mestre Jelon may be responsible for the incorporation of capoeira movements into modern-day breakdancing.

Encouraged by Mestre Jelon, Mestre João Grande, also from Bahia, founded his own academy in New York City in 1990, where he has trained thousands of students in the tradition of capoeiraAngola. Both men have been recognized for their mastery and commitment to passing on their traditions of capoeira with the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, our nation’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts.  

Mestre João Grande
Mestre João Grande waits for the roda group competition to begin inside the Arts and Industries Building at the 2017 Folklife Festival.
Photo by Daniel Martinez, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Mestre Jelon and Mestre João Grande were featured in the Folklife Festival, where they discussed and demonstrated their art for visitors on the National Mall. They brought students in their academies from around the United States to Washington, D.C., and led interactive lessons with the public. The Festival provided a platform to share the voices and experiences of an ancient and unique tradition of Afro-Brazilian descendants. In a discussion session, Mestre João Grande explained his inspiration and how he first learned capoeira.

“I looked everywhere to learn capoeira,” he said. “When I couldn’t find capoeira, I started to observe nature—how the animals survive, how they fly, how they hunt, how the animals behave, how the fish swim, how they fight in the water, how the birds fly and never touch each other, how the wind hits the trees, how the trees move then become still again, how the snake moves on the ground, how the dogs play with humans and each other, how the hurricane turns.

“That is what inspired me—nature. Capoeira is nature.”

Juan Goncalves-Borrega is a curatorial intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage working with the 2017 On the Move program. He is pursuing a bachelor of arts in history and a bachelor of science in anthropology at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Kids pitched in to defeat disease and advance medical research

National Museum of American History

Giving blood, getting a flu shotraising money for a cure—plenty of Americans participate every day to help secure the health and wellness of their fellow citizens. Children have been an important part of these communal efforts and they in return have received small tokens in recognition of their participation (and sometimes to help lure them into participating). Here are a few of these historic tokens and the stories of the American kids whose participation contributed to all of our well-being.

Polio Pioneers
In 1954, 1.8 million American school children participated in a national trial of the new polio vaccine. The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now the March of Dimes) supported both the development of the vaccine and the subsequent trial. More than 300,000 people—mostly volunteers, including physicians, nurses, schoolteachers, public health officials, and community members—carried out the work. School children served as the test population.

Because half of all reported poliomyelitis cases occurred in children under 10, the trial's study population targeted children in the first three grades of elementary school.

Metal pin picturing illustration of two children, a girl and a boy. The little girl has the boy by the elbow, helping him. She has a brace on her leg. The boy uses crutches. They are dressed in nice clothes. Text on red background says "Fight Infantile Paralysis." The girl is smiling. The boy has a partial smile.

The children became known as "Polio Pioneers." After obtaining the consent of their parents, about 650,000 children received either the vaccine or a placebo (a solution made to look like vaccine, but with no active materials). Over a million more children served as "observed" controls. The success of this trial led to widespread use of the polio vaccine and near eradication of the virus in the United States by the early 1960s.

Front and back of wallet-sized card. Text: "The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis Certifies That Helena Wright has been enrolled as a Polio Pioneer." On reverse: "Attested" followed by child's school, city, county, state, date, and chairman's signature.

Metal pin in circle shape. Red silhouette of a doctor leaning over to look into a microscope with other medical instruments nearby. Text: "Polio Pioneer in 1954"

The Smallpox 12
Nearly 150 years earlier, in October 1809, 12 children from the town of Milton, Massachusetts participated in an unusual demonstration of a new medical technique. In July of that year, the town leaders of Milton had offered free vaccination to all inhabitants and over 300 persons were inoculated. Vaccination was a relatively new idea at this time and many individuals (including medical professionals) were unconvinced of its value. The technique involved inoculating patients with cowpox in order to provide protection from the more serious disease smallpox.

Following the vaccination campaign, the town leaders took an unusual step—they decided to hold a public demonstration to prove without a doubt that the cowpox vaccine worked. On October 9, 1809, 12 children, selected from those vaccinated in July, were inoculated with fresh, virulent smallpox matter. The men on the vaccination committee were confident of good results and apparently chose their own children (or other young relatives) to participate. After 15 days of confinement, all the children were discharged with no sign of smallpox infection.

Each child participant received a personalized certificate pronouncing them a living testament to the "never failing power of the mild preventative the Cow Pox," "a blessing great as it is singular in its kind." A detailed account of the experiment was sent to the officers of every town in the state, as well as to Governor Christopher Gore, a proponent of vaccination. In 1810 the State of Massachusetts passed the Cow Pox Act directing every town, district, or plantation, within the Commonwealth, to provide for the vaccination of their inhabitants.

The world is now free of smallpox—a remarkable global achievement that owes a small debt to the children in a little town in New England in the early years of our republic.

Front and back of document, handwritten

Cheating the Tooth Fairy, for science

In the late 1950s, children in St. Louis, Missouri, began spurning the tooth fairy and sending their baby teeth to scientists at Washington University. Researchers were investigating possible links between cancer rates and the fallout produced by the detonation of the first atomic bomb at the White Sands Proving Ground in 1945 as well as the hundreds of nuclear tests conducted by the United States and the USSR in the following years.

Pin and wallet-sized card. Pin is white with cartoon of a smiling child missing front tooth in all green. "I gave my tooth to science." Card is blue with same graphic and "Operation Tooth Club."

By collecting a large number of baby teeth, scientists could assess and compare cancer rates with levels of strontium-90 in an individual's bones. A radioactive isotope produced by nuclear fission, strontium-90 had an "affinity for bone" and scientists in the 1950s and 1960s feared that it could cause cancer. Although teeth are not bone, similarities between the formation of bone and teeth mean that studying one can lead to insights into the other.

Borne by high winds, strontium-90 had contaminated vegetable crops, meat, and the milk supply across the country, and the levels of contamination in St. Louis were particularly high. Tooth collection areas were quickly set up around the city—in libraries, schools, dentists' offices, and drugstores. By 1962 the children of St. Louis were donating nearly 750 teeth a week for a grand total of 70,000 teeth.

Early results, indicating that children born after 1945 had high levels of strontium-90, influenced President John F. Kennedy as a Partial Test Ban Treaty was being negotiated between the United States, the Soviet Union, and Britain. The children who gave their teeth "to science" may be grandparents themselves today, but their baby teeth are still being studied by scientists in the belief that they will shed even greater light on the impact of atomic testing.

Graphic with text "America Participates"

Alexandra M. Lord, Ph.D., is chair of the History of Medicine and Science Division. Diane Wendt is associate curator in the History of Medicine and Science Division.

Posted Date: 
Wednesday, February 24, 2016 - 08:00
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Women on money

National Museum of American History

In June 2015 Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew announced that the 10 dollar note will be redesigned to feature a historic woman, marking the first major change in the appearance of U.S. paper money in nearly a century. This landmark announcement not only stimulated an unprecedented national discussion around the design of U.S. paper money, but it also provoked an extraordinary national conversation about the significant roles that women have played in the making of the nation.

To mark this historic moment, the museum will open a new display titled "Women on Money" on March 18, 2016, within the Stories on Money exhibition. This vibrant display will place the redesign of U.S. paper money into a global context and demonstrate that women have appeared on money from ancient times to the present day. These depictions commemorate women's contributions to national and world history and convey national ideals and ideas. Thus the display is organized around three themes: women on international money, women on American money, and female figures on money.

Women on international money
One of the first historic women to appear on money was Arsinoe II, a Ptolemaic queen of Egypt, in the 3rd century BCE. Since then, many national currencies have depicted women either during their lifetimes or posthumously. Female political leaders have appeared on money with the greatest frequency. Powerful women, like Pharaoh Cleopatra VII, Queen Elizabeth I, and Empress Maria Theresa, each issued coins with their portraits, helping them assert their influence over nations and empires. Modern female politicians, such as First Lady of Argentina Eva Perón and Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi, have appeared on national currencies posthumously, commemorating their political leadership and helping to cement their places in their national histories.

Photo of coin featuring woman's face. She wears a veil or scarf around her head. Profile.

Photo of coin featuring portrait of woman. Her face, in profile, is hard to make out. Hair appears to be in a bun.

Photo of gold coin on black background. Woman's face in profile, facing left. On her head, a crown. High collar around her neck. Prominent forehead.

Paper bill featuring portrait of Eva Peron. Her hair is in a low, braided bun. Illustrated flowers surround her. "100 cien pesos."

Photo of coin with woman's portrait. She faces right. Short hair. Firm lips and thick eyebrows. "Indira Gandhi 1917-1984" says text.

In recent years, some governments have begun to reflect on the contributions women have made outside the political sphere and have chosen to honor women's achievements in the arts and sciences. For example, Poland has depicted the Nobel-prize winning chemist Marie Curie on the 20 zloty note; Italy has honored Maria Montessori, innovator in early childhood education, on the 1,000 lira note; and Fatma Aliye Topuz, a novelist and women's rights activist, has been honored on Turkey's 50 Lira note. Moreover, national communities are increasingly recognizing the role of female social activists as catalysts for change. Images of suffragettes, such as New Zealand's Kate Sheppard, have appeared on money as reminders of the importance of equality in a democratic society.

Bill with portrait of woman, a necklace with a circle-shaped charm around her neck. Pattern in background shows child's portrait. "Banca D'Italia." "1000 Lire Mille."

Bill in shades of blue with portrait of a woman. She wears high-necked garment with a charm at the neck. Her hair is pulled back. Calm expression. Flowers and designs in background. "Reserve Bank of New Zealand."

Women on American money
Although women have regularly appeared on money around the world, historic women have rarely been included on money issued by the U.S. government. Since the federal government began issuing paper money in 1861, male historic figures have almost exclusively enjoyed this honor. Pocahontas and Martha Washington are the exceptions, with both appearing on U.S. paper money for a relatively short period in the 19th century. Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea made similar appearances on the one dollar coin in the late 20th century, but their coins are not as widely-used as the one dollar note depicting President George Washington.

Bill in black (and a little red) ink featuring portrait of woman with ruffled hat and veil on her head, tied at neck.

Picture of coin featuring young woman looking over her right shoulder, an infant in a fabric sling on her back. She wears a round earring.

In 2015 a social movement called Women on 20s brought the limited appearance of women on American money to the attention of the public. This grassroots organization helped to initiate a national conversation about the role of women in American history, helping to galvanize public support for the Treasury's redesign of U.S. paper money.

Female figures on money
More often than historic women, idealized, allegorical, and mythological female figures have appeared on money as symbols of ideals, values, and beliefs. They are effective tools of communication for governments because they can convey meaningful, and sometimes complicated, concepts on small and familiar objects. As an alternative to depicting potentially divisive political leaders, allegorical figures can promote a sense of national unity around a shared idea, such as freedom. Thus many nations depict the idea of freedom as the female figure Lady Liberty. She has appeared on American coinage, in a variety of poses and styles, since the U.S. Mint produced its first coins in 1792. Justice, victory, and peace are also conveyed through the female form on notes and coins. Many nations also include images of idealized women on their money, communicating national ideals and conveying the essential roles that women play in the marketplace, home, and community. Some countries even personify the nation itself as a woman. For example, Great Britain uses the figure Britannia as the allegorical representation of the British nation. She is typically depicted as a protective figure with a trident and shield and appears on both British coins and notes. In addition, some nations, both in ancient history and the present, depict female mythological and religious figures in an effort to encourage a particular set of religious beliefs or to promote a feeling of shared cultural heritage.

Photo of gold coin with figure of a woman in flowing gown/toga, long hair flying off her shoulder, holding a staff.

Image of bill in color with a market scene. In front of image, a woman with a colorful headscarf and beaded necklace walks with a bowl on her head. In background of image, other women walk with objects in bowls on their heads. Baskets with contents (white substance) in center of image. Border is colorful geometric design. Men in white shirts at the market. "Banque Centrale."

Bill in black, green, and red ink. Two portraits, man on left and woman representing peace on right. Peace holds wheat or bundle of other agricultural product. Eagle in center.

When America's new notes enter circulation, the woman or women they depict will take their place alongside the many women that have appeared on money over the last two millennia. The new notes will not only commemorate their contributions to the nation, but also serve as evidence of the historic national conversation in 2015 and 2016 about the role of American women in U.S. and world history—and a reminder of the many women that are still deserving of such an honor.

Ellen Feingold is the curator of the National Numismatic Collection. She has also blogged about curating "The Value of Money" exhibition and collecting contemporary monetary objects.

Posted Date: 
Monday, March 14, 2016 - 17:30
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Pilot flight suit and gear owned by Charles F. Bolden

National Museum of African American History and Culture
2014.243.30: USMC Flight Suit

A green synthetic fiber flight suit worn by Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr. The suit is single piece with a zipper extending from the crotch to the neck. There are two diagonal zippered pockets across the chest of the jump suit, with an additional pocket on the PL upper arm. There are multiple zippered pockets on each leg, which have zippered leg cuffs. There are velcro fixtures with adjustment tabs at the waist, wrists. On the PR breast is a red diamond shaped patch with the insignia of the 3rd Marine Aircraft wing in yellow and black. On the PL breast is a black leather name patch. The Marine aviator wings emblem is embossed in gold on the top half of the badge with the lower half reading [CHARLES F. BOLDEN, JR./MAJ GEN USMC (RET)]. At the nape of the neck is a manufacturer tag with care instructions.

2014.243.31: Flight Jacket

Pilot's flight jacket in camo green, size medium. Jacket has elastic, knit cuffs and waist. Jacket has two (2) cargo pockets at front that fasten closed with Velcro. On the front upper PL torso is a rectangular patch of Velcro. On the front upper PR torso is a diamond patch of Velcro. On the upper PL sleeve is a pocket with a zipper closure. On the top of the pocket are four (4) smaller pockets for holding pens or pencils. Pen and pencil (TR2013-340.31.2 and TR2013-340.31.3) found in pencil pockets. Coin (TR2013-340.31.4) found in PL front cargo pocket. On the inside of the jacket at the nape of the neck is a white clothing tag with manufacturer information and size.

2014.243.32: Anti-G pants

Green pilot's CSU-13B/P anti-gravitational garment worn by Marj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr. The garment is designed to cover the body from the ankles up to the abdomen. The garment does not cover the whole lower body, with gaps at the crotch and rear as well as in front of and behind the knees. There is one main zipper on the PR side of the abdominal section and each leg has a zipper on its interior. On the PL side of the abdominal section is a hose with a metal tube coated in black and orange plastic which feeds the interior air bladders. When hanging it falls to just above the knee. On the back of the abdominal section of the garment is a vertical yellow rectangle of fabric with [BOLDEN] written in black ink. On the interior back of the abdominal section are three white manufacturer tags detailing care and specifications of the garment. The middle tag has [MGen Bolden] handwritten on it as well. The legs of the garment have several zippered and buttoned pockets on the exterior, as well as a rectangle of velcro on the PR thigh.

2014.243.33: Parachute Harness

A green MA-2 style integrated torso harness worn by Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr. The harness extends from the shoulders to the crotch and has a large zipper in the middle of the chest. The harness has two main quick release buckles, one at each shoulder. The harness also several other attachment and adjustment buckles and straps at the waist, thigh, and chest. The strap across the abdomen has [11/DOM/7-00/00] handwritten in black ink. At the top of the harness at the back of the neck is a rectangular yellow label with [BOLDEN] handwritten in black ink. There is a manufacturer's tag at the nape of the neck on the interior of the harness.

2014.243.34.1-.10: Survival Vest & Components

An SV-2B pilot survival vest (2014.243.34.1) owned by Charles F. Bolden. The vest includes several inner pockets, clips, velcro sections, and compartments for holding gear. Two flashlights (2014.243.34.3 & 2014.243.34.5), an emergency beacon (2014.243.34.2), hook blade (2014.243.34.4), pocket knife (2014.243.34.7), compass watch (2014.243.34.8), signal mirror (2014.243.34.9), whistle (2014.243.34.10), and plastic bottle (2014.243.34.6) are currently attached. The vest is zippered together in the front and has shoulder straps that criss-cross the back. There are also straps with metal hooks meant to clip the vest to other clothing or equipment hanging from the waist and chest. There is a large metal fastner on the PL front of the vest which is printed with manufacturer specifications. The back of the harness has four elastic straps and the waist has adjustable strapped bands. The manufacturer specifications are printed on the interior of the vest.

2014.243.35.1: Equipment Bag

Flight bag in camo green that zippers closed at the top. In the center of top on the front and bag is a handle. Below the handle on the front is a black metal carabineer-like clasp. On the front are two (2) large pockets that take up the whole front of the bag. Bag padded and lined inside. On the interior PR and PL sides are smaller pockets. On the back, inside, is a white tag with the number [35] stamped on it, left of the text [BAG, FLYER'S HELMET/SP0100-98-F-EC43/8415-00-782-2989/UNICOR]. Bag hold a pilot's helmet (TR2013-340.35.2ab), pair of flight gloves (TR2013-340.35.3ab) in the interior PR pocket, and notepad (TR2013-340.35.4ab) in the exterior PR pocket.

2014.243.35.2ab: Flight Helmet & O2 Mask

A pilot's HGU-68/P TACAIR flight helmet (2014.243.35.2a) and MBU-12/P oxygen mask (2014.243.35.2b) owned by Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr. The helmet is a graphite and nylon composite shell with foam interior and a camo patterned canvas cover. At the back of the helmet just above the neck is a white label with printed black text reading [MAJ. GEN. BOLDEN]. The helmet has a tinted visor that is covered with a detachable gray visor, which has [BOLDEN] written in black ink along its lower edge. The oxygen mask locks into the front of the helmet with several buckles. The oxygen mask is a hard gray polysulfone shell with a flexible gray silicone rubber air hose. The mask comes with several communications wires and acessories attached. On either side of the mask [Bolden / CB5603] is handwritten in black ink.

2014.243.35.3ab: Flight Gloves

Pair of pilot flight gloves in olive green, size 8. Top of the gloves made of a stretchy knit material. Gloves have leather undersides. Strip of knit fabric on side of the gloves running up the side of the thumb to the top of the thumb. Gloves cinched with elastic at the inside wrists. Gloves have a wide cuff that extends beyond the wrist. Inside the gloves is printed, white text listing the size, materials, care instructions, and manufacturer information [8/GLOVES, FLYERS, SUMMER/TYPE SS/FRP-D SAGE GREEN/MIL-G-81188B/AMERICAN GLOVE CORP./SP0100-00-0-4005/8415-01-029-0111/THE CLOTH PORTION OF HTE GLOVE IS/FABRICATED FROM AN INHERENTLY FIRE/RESISTANT MATERIAL (NOMEX) THAT/DOES NOT MELT OR DRIP. CAN BE/LAUNDERED WITHOUT LOSING ITS FIRE/RESISTANT PROPERTIES AND NO/RETREATMENT IS NECESSARY.].

2014.243.35.4: Knee Board

Pilot kneeboard of black plastic and metal. Kneeboard has large clips at the top and bottom to accommodate notepad. Top clip has a plastic light attached. Two (2) wires come out of the bottom of the clip and go into the interior body of the board. Attached to the top of the clip is a metal spring. On the PR side of the board near the top is a white sticker with text [PILOT IDENTIFICATION/ALL BATTERIES MUST BE LOADED IN THE SAME DIRECTION]. On the PL side of the board near the bottom is a long plastic tube for storing a pencil (TR2013-340.35.2b). Above the pencil holder is a plastic knob that turns on the light. On the knob in the center is raised text [PPSP]. At the top of the PL side is a pencil sharpener inserted into the body of the board. The bottom clip is metal with engraved text [U.S. PROPERTY/TYPE MXU-163/P CLIPBOARD PILOTS/CONTRACT NO. DLA-100-92-C-4263/MFR'S. MODEL ACB-1000/P/PRECISION POLYMER MFG. INC.]. In the middle of the body is an adjustable elastic strap that clips closed. The back is curved with two (2) strips of vertically oriented camo green colored foam. Notepad attached to board has white sheets. Top sheet is a flight navigation sheet with calculations in pen and pencil. Included is a pencil in yellow. Imprinted text on the side [BONDED U.S.A. SKILCRAFT MED/2]. Pencil has pink eraser.

2014.243.36ab: Flight boots

Black leather boots that lace up to the top with black shoelaces. Boots come to mid-calf. Boot soles are black with heavy tread. Inside the tongue of the shoes is a white clothing tag with black text [ANSI/Z41-1983/75]. On the inside of the boot shaft on the outer leg is black text [ADDISON SHOE COMP./DLA100-90-0-4178/30. MARCH 1990 DPSC/9 1/2R 75083].

The Broadway Revival of "Fiddler" Offers a Profound Reaction to Today's Refugee Crisis

Smithsonian Magazine

The play and film Fiddler on the Roof is tradition. Indeed when Tevye, the Jewish dairyman and protagonist of this much-beloved musical begins his eight-minute jubilant tribute to tradition in song and dance, there are few among us who don’t unconsciously mouth the words alongside him: “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.”

So it is most noteworthy when the new hit revival of Fiddler on the Roof—which opened December 20, 2015, at New York City’s Broadway Theatre—deliberately breaks with tradition in its opening and closing scenes.

Instead of portraying Tevye wearing his familiar turn-of-the-20th-century cap, work clothes and prayer shawl in his Russian village, the new version introduces him bareheaded, wearing a modern red parka, standing in front of a ghostly, weathered sign reading Anatevka. As Tevye begins reciting the familiar words about keeping one’s balance with tradition, the villagers gradually gather on stage.

Similarly, when Anatevka’s Jews are forced to leave their homes by order of Russian authorities, ca. 1906, Tevye reappears once again wearing his red parka and silently joins the group of migrants being displaced.

“You see him enter the line of refugees, making sure we place ourselves in the line of refugees, as it reflects our past and affects our present,” Bartlett Sher, the show’s director, told the New York Times. “I’m not trying to make a statement about it, but art can help us imagine it, and I would love it if families left the theater debating it.”

A 1964 pen and ink drawing by Al Hirschfeld of Zero Mostel in his role as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof (© Al Hirschfeld, National Portrait Gallery)

Popular musicals on Broadway are often regarded as escapist, but the worldwide issue of migration and displacement is inescapable. “Wars, conflict and persecution have forced more people than at any other time since records began to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere,” according to a June 2015 report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

With worldwide displacement at the highest level ever recorded, the UNHCR reported “a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.” It was the highest increase in a single year and the report cautioned that the “situation was likely to worsen still further.”

Migration and displacement were central to Fiddler on the Roof’s story long before the musical made its Broadway debut on September 22, 1964, and then ran for 3,242 performances until July 2, 1972—a record that was not eclipsed until 1980, when Grease ended its run of 3,388 performances.

The stories of Tevye and Jewish life in the Pale of Settlement within the Russian Empire were created by humorist Shalom Rabinovitz (1859–1916), whose Yiddish pen name Sholem Aleichem literally translates as “Peace be unto you,” but which may also mean more colloquially “How do you do?”

Although successful as a writer, Rabinovitz continually had difficulty managing his earnings. When he went bankrupt in 1890, he and his family were forced to move from a fancy apartment in Kiev to more modest accommodations in Odessa. Following the 1905 pogroms—the same anti-Semitic activities that displaced the fictional Jews of Anatevka from their homes—Rabinovitz left the Russian Empire for Geneva, London, New York, and then back to Geneva. He knew firsthand the travails of migration and dislocation.

Rabinovitz’s personal travails shape his best-known book, Tevye the Dairyman, a collection of nine stories that were published over a period of 21 years: the first story, “Tevye Strikes It Rich,” appeared in 1895, though Rabinovitz wrote it in 1894, not imagining that it would be the first of a series; the final story, “Slippery,” was published in 1916.

Numerous adaptations appeared, including several stage plays and a 1939 Yiddish-language film, Tevye, before the team of Jerry Bock (music), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics), Jerome Robbins (choreography and direction), and Joseph Stein (book) adapted several of the Tevye stories to create Fiddler on the Roof for Broadway, taking their title not from Rabinovitz, but from one of Marc Chagall’s paintings.

Going back to the original stories reveals a Tevye who suffers much more than the joyful, singing character seen on Broadway in 1964 and also as played by the Israeli actor Topol in the 1971 film version.

The riches that Tevye strikes in the first of the published stories are lost completely in the second. The hopes that Tevye holds in finding rich husbands for five of his daughters are dashed again and again. Tsaytl marries a poor tailor; Hodel marries a poor revolutionary, who is exiled to Siberia; Chava marries a non-Jew, causing Tevye to disown her; Shprintze drowns herself when rejected by a wealthy man; and Beylke’s husband deserts her when his business bankrupts. Tevye’s wife Golde dies, and he laments, “I have become a wanderer, one day here, another there. . . . I have been on the move and know no place of rest.”

41SizR12VhL._SL160_.jpg

Tevye the Dairyman and Motl the Cantor's Son (Penguin Classics)

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A Broadway musical like Fiddler on the Roof needed an ending not so bleak for Tevye, but still managed to convey some of the pain of forced migration and dislocation. In “Anatevka,” for instance, members of the chorus solemnly sing, “Soon I'll be a stranger in a strange new place, searching for an old familiar face.” The song concludes with one character lamenting, “Our forefathers have been forced out of many, many places at a moment’s notice”—to which another character adds in jest, “Maybe that’s why we always wear our hats.”

When Fiddler first appeared on stage in 1964, several critics noted how the musical was able to raise serious issues alongside both the jesting and the schmaltz. Howard Taubman’s review in the New York Times observed, “It touches honestly on the customs of the Jewish community in such a Russian village [at the turn of the century]. Indeed, it goes beyond local color and lays bare in quick, moving strokes the sorrow of a people subject to sudden tempests of vandalism and, in the end, to eviction and exile from a place that had been home.”

Fiddler on the Roof has been revived on Broadway four times previously—in 1976, 1981, 1990, and 2004—and it is relevant to note that when Broadway shows like Fiddler or Death of a Salesman (1949) or A Raisin in the Sun (1959) return to stage, we call them revivals.

On the other hand, when films like The Mechanic (1972), Arthur (1981), and Footloose (1984) all reemerged in 2011, we referred to the new versions as remakes. It’s an important difference.

A revival brings something back to life, but a remake suggests something much more mechanical, as if we’re simply giving an old film like Psycho (1960) a new look in color. The current revival of Fiddler not only brings the old show back to life; it also invests it with something more meaningful and enduring—and not at all shaky, like a fiddler on the roof.

Bronze Sculptures of Five Extinct Birds Land in Smithsonian Gardens

Smithsonian Magazine

It has been almost 15 years since artist Todd McGrain embarked on his Lost Bird Project. It all began with a bronze sculpture of a Labrador duck, a sea bird found along the Atlantic coast until the 1870s. Then, he created likenesses of a Carolina parakeet, the great auk, a heath hen and the passenger pigeon. All five species once lived in North America, but are now extinct, as a result of human impact on their populations and habitats. 

McGrain's idea was simple. He would memorialize these birds in bronze and place each sculpture in the location where the species was last spotted. The sculptor consulted with biologists, ornithologists and curators at natural history museums to determine where the birds were last seen. The journal of an early explorer and egg collector pointed him toward parts of Central Florida as the last-known whereabouts of the Carolina parakeet. He followed the tags from Labrador duck specimens at the American Museum of Natural History to the Jersey shore, Chesapeake Bay, Long Island and ultimately to the town of Elmira, New York. And, solid records of the last flock of heath hens directed him to Martha's Vineyard.

McGrain and his brother-in-law, in 2010, took to the road to scout out these locations—a rollicking roadtrip captured in a documentary called The Lost Bird Project—and negotiated with town officials, as well as state and national parks, to install the sculptures. His great auk is now on Joe Batt's Point on Fogo Island in Newfoundland; the Labrador duck is in Brand Park in Elmira; the heath hen is in Manuel F. Correllus State Forest in Martha's Vineyard; the passenger pigeon is at the Grange Audubon Center in Columbus, Ohio; and the Carolina parakeet is at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in Okeechobee, Florida. 

McGrain is no stranger to the intersection of art and science. Before focusing on sculpture at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he studied geology. "I've always thought that my early education in geology was actually my first education in what it means to be a sculptor. You look at the Grand Canyon and what you see there is time and process and material. Time and process and material have remained the three most important components in my creative life," he says. The Guggenheim fellow is currently an artist-in-residence at Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology. He says that while he has always had an interest in natural history and the physical sciences, these passions have never coalesced into a single effort the way they have with the Lost Bird Project.  

Since deploying his original sculptures throughout the country, McGrain has cast identical ones that travel for various exhibitions. These versions are now on display in Smithsonian gardens. Four are located in the Enid A. Haupt Garden, near the Smithsonian Castle, and the fifth, of the passenger pigeon, is in the Urban Habitat Garden on the grounds of the National Museum of Natural History, where they will stay until March 15, 2015.

The sculpture series comes to the National Mall just ahead of "Once There Were Billions: Vanished Birds of North America," a Smithsonian Libraries exhibition opening at the Natural History Museum on June 24, 2014. The show, commerating the 100th anniversary of the death of Martha the passenger pigeon, the last individual of the species, will feature Martha and other specimens and illustrations of these extinct birds. The Smithsonian Libraries plans to screen McGrain's film, The Lost Bird Project, and host him for a lecture and signing of his forthcoming book at the Natural History Museum on November 20, 2014. 

Image by Courtesy of The Lost Bird Project. McGrain used natural history specimens, drawings and, in some cases, photographs, as reference when sculpting his birds. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Jonathan Kavalier. Farmers frustrated with the birds' eating of their crops, feather hunters and dealers who sold them as pets contributed to the decline of North America's once-booming population of Carolina parakeets. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Jonathan Kavalier. The great auk, a penguin-like bird, was hunted for its meat and feathers. It has been extinct since the 1840s. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Jonathan Kavalier. In the 19th century, heath hens were hunted and consumed regularly. A last flock lived on Martha's Vineyard until the 1920s. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Jonathan Kavalier. The last Labrador duck was shot in Elmira, New York, on December 12, 1878. Diminishing numbers of mollusks, the bird's prey, likely led to the population's demise. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of James Gagliardi. Martha, the very last passenger pigeon, died at the Cincinnati Zoo a century ago. (original image)

What were your motivations? What inspired you to take on the Lost Bird Project?

As a sculptor, most everything I do starts with materials and an urge to make something. I was working on the form of a duck, which I intended to develop into a kind of an abstraction, when Chris Cokinos’ book entitled, Hope is the Thing With Feathers, sort of landed in my hands. That book is a chronicle of his efforts to come to grips with modern extinction, particularly birds. I was really moved. The thing in there that really struck me was that the Labrador duck had been driven to extinction and was last seen in Elmira, New York, in a place called Brand Park. Elmira is a place I had visited often as a child, and I had been to that park. I had no idea that that bird was last seen there. I had actually never even heard of the bird. I thought, well, as a sculptor that is something that I can address. That clay study in my studio that had started as an inspiration for an abstraction soon became the Labrador duck, with the intention of placing it in Elmira to act as a memorial to that last sighting. 

How did you decide on the four other species you’d sculpt?

They are species that have all been driven to extinction by us, by human impact on environmental habitat. I picked birds that were driven to extinction long enough ago that no one alive really has experienced these birds, but not so far back that their extinction is caused by other factors. I didn’t want the project to become about whose fault it is that these are extinct. It is, of course, all of our faults. Driving other species to extinction is a societal problem.

I picked the five because they had dramatically different habitats. There is the prairie hen; the swampy Carolina parakeet; the Labrador duck from someplace like the Chesapeake Bay; the Great Auk, a sort of North American penguin; and the passenger pigeon, which was such a phenomenon. They are very different in where they lived, very different in their behaviors, and they also touch on the primary ways in which human impact has caused extinction. 

How did you go about making each one?

I start with clay. I model them close to life-size in clay, based on specimens from natural history museums, drawings and, in some cases, photographs. There are photographs of a few Carolina parakeets and a few heath hens. I then progressively enlarge a model until I get to a full-size clay. For me, full-size means a size that we can relate to physically. The scale of these sculptures has nothing to do with the size of the bird; it has to do with coming up with a form that we meet as equals. It is too big of a form to possess, but it’s not so big as to dominate, the way that some large-scale sculptures can. From that full-scale clay, basically, I cast a wax, and through the process of lost wax bronze casting, I transform that original wax into bronze.

In lost wax casting, you make your original in wax, that wax gets covered in a ceramic material and put into an oven, the wax burns away, and in that void where the wax once was you pour the molten metal. These sculptures are actually hollow, but the bronze is about a half an inch thick.

Why did you choose bronze?

It is a medium I have worked in for a long time. The reason I chose it for these is that no matter how hard we work on material engineering bronze is still just this remarkable material. It doesn’t rust. It is affected by the environment in its surface color, but that doesn’t affect its structural integrity at all. So, in a place like Newfoundland, where the air is very salty, the sculpture is green and blue, like a copper roof of an old church. But, in Washington, those sculptures will stay black forever. I like that it is a living material.

What impact did placing the original sculptures in the locations where the species were last spotted have on viewers, do you think?

I think what would draw someone to these sculptures is their contour and soft appealing shape. Then, once that initial appreciation of their sculptural form captures their imagination, I would hope that people would reflect on what memorials are supposed to do, which is [to] bring the past to the present in some meaningful way. In this way, I would think the sculpture's first step is to help you recognize that where you are standing with this memorial is a place that has a significance in the natural history of this country and then ultimately ask the viewer to give some thought to the preciousness of the resources that we still have.

Has ornithology always been an interest of yours?

I am around too many ornithologists to apply that label to myself. I would say I’m a bird lover. Yeah, I think birds are absolutely fantastic. It is the combination that really captures my imagination; it is the beautiful form of the animals; and then it is the narrative of these lost species that is really captivating. 

Great Books—and the Best Places to Read Them

Smithsonian Magazine

About 10 years ago, while passing a hot afternoon on the deck of a tourist lodge in Belize, a friend on his way out to go bird-watching asked why on earth I had my nose buried in a book. “Here we are in the jungle of Belize,” he said. “There are jaguars in the woods, and crocodiles in the swamp, and grackles in the trees—and you’re reading a book?” I explained that reading while traveling—if done right—can serve as a sensory supplement to one’s surrounding environment, not necessarily a distraction, as he believed. I explained that many years from now, any mention of Dovea sailing memoir by Robin Graham—would sweep me right back to these Belizean tropical forests where I read the book, and the coral reefs off the coast, and the croc-filled lagoons, and the villages, sulking in the boggy Caribbean heat and odors of fermenting cashew apples and mangoes. And I was right. When I think of Dove, I go right back to Belize. Because reading a book charges up the mind with information and memories. These become entangled with the scents and flavors of reality, and rather than detract from an experience, a good book can enrich it. Never in the past 15 years have I left home for a week or more without a piece or two of literature, and below I list some of my favorite reads—and where best to read them.

Top Picks:

Night of the Grizzlies

Montana, Night of the Grizzlies. On August 13, 1967, two different grizzly bears in two different parts of Glacier National Park attacked and killed two unrelated young women in one of the most bizarre stories of modern wilderness tragedy. Night of the Grizzlies, by Jack Olsen, recounts the events that led to the attacks. He describes the tourist lodges and the bear-viewing balconies above the garbage dumps, where grizzlies regularly gather—growing accustomed all the while to humans. When the victims—both 19, for another coincidence—go on their respective overnight trips into the backcountry, butterflies begin fluttering in the reader’s stomach. Night falls, the campers go to sleep and their fates are sealed; the worst nightmare of the human psyche is about to become reality. The deadly maulings were the first bear attacks in Glacier National Park, and Olsen’s book acknowledges the inexplicable nature of the coincidences of that night, then delves into the uncertain future of bears, people and wilderness. NOTE: You might lose sleep in the backcountry after reading this one—but that snapping tree branch outside was probably just the wind. Probably.

Paris, Down and Out in Paris and London. Ernest Hemingway may have spent his days in Paris thoughtfully fingering his beard at sidewalk cafes and drinking the house wine, but George Orwell voluntarily dived into a life of grim poverty as he made a journalistic effort to understand the plight of Europe’s working classes. In Down and Out in Paris and London, Orwell describes short-term jobs in the Parisian restaurant circuit, weeks of unemployment, living in a pay-by-the-week hotel and selling his clothes to scrape up the rent. He lives franc to franc, describing the logistics of saving coins and managing free meals and dodging the landlady. In one especially dismal spell, Orwell and a friend named Boris, living together at the time, go three days without food. Following false rumors of job openings, they drag their feet throughout the city, growing weaker every hour. Orwell even goes fishing in the Seine in the hopes of landing something to fry in a pan. When the pair finally acquires a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine, they devour what must be among the most satisfying dinners ever eaten in Paris. Orwell eventually lands steady work, but not before learning how strangely liberating it is to hit rock-bottom, to own nothing in the world but the clothes you’re wearing and have no worries but finding a bite to eat. T. S. Eliot, an editor at Faber & Faber at the time, would later decline the manuscript offered by the young writer: “We did find of very great interest,” Eliot wrote, “but I regret to say that it does not appear to me possible as a publishing venture.”

Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell.

Texas, Lonesome Dove. Author Larry McMurtry creates a lovable cast of characters in the cowboy era of Texas in this Pulitzer Prize winner of 1985. The year is 1876, and Gus and Call, a pair of retired Texas Rangers, now operate a cattle ranch by the Rio Grande and spend their days tracking rustlers and warring with bands of Comanche Indians. Just as the reader grows cozy with life on the farm, the prospect of joining a cross-continental cattle drive pulls Gus and Call from their idyllic home and on an adventure to Montana. Through dangerous encounters one after another, the men convince readers they’re invincible, but a tragedy ends the party, only one of the pair returns alive to Texas, and we remember that the American frontier is as brutal as it may be alluring.

Mediterranean Europe and the Middle East, The Innocents Abroad. In 1867, Mark Twain joined a group of wealthy Americans on a cruise ship bound for the Mediterranean—-and in one of his best-selling books he boldly makes a mockery of the most cherished sites and attractions of the Old World. No museum, ruin, impoverished village or biblical site is off-limits to Twain’s criticism. He ridicules, especially, the patriotic Italian guides who lead the group to famed statues and artifacts—such as a particularly dazzling sculpture of Christopher Columbus. “Well, what did he do?” they ask the tour guide (I’m paraphrasing), who had thought the Americans would be flabbergasted. “The great Christopher Colombo!” the guide stammers, incredulous. “He discover America!” “What? We’ve just come from there and we haven’t heard anything about him.” The Italian almost faints. And another hired guide shows them an Egyptian mummy, 3,000 years old. Twain and the boys stare in silence, stifling giggles for ten minutes, before one of them finally asks, “Is he, uh, dead?” Onward, in Greece, Twain sneaks into the Acropolis at night; in Turkey, he describes the “illustrious” stray dogs of Constantinople; in the Bible country, Twain mocks almost every artifact and scrap of cloth advertised as once belonging to Jesus—and only in the presence of the Egyptian sphinx is his teasing manner at last humbled. As he stares at one of the oldest creations of humankind, he likens the sight to how it must feel to finally encounter “the awful presence of God.” 

Somewhere on the tropical ocean, Men Against the Sea. The sequel to Mutiny on the Bounty, this novella describes the voyage of the 19 men set adrift by the Bounty’s mutineers. The sailors locate themselves via celestial tracking, set themselves on a course for East Timor, and row more than 3,000 miles across the open ocean with only one man lost—killed by the hostile natives of Tofua. Hunger weakens the men nearly to starvation, but a few mahi mahi, flying fish and fruits harvested from island trees barely keep the men alive. The reader feels their hunger pains and likewise grows queasy each time they must make a landing to find water, surfing their boat over tremendous breakers onto unfriendly shores, often astir with threatening people. The men observe strange hopping animals as big as a man in the vicinity of Australia, and beneath their boat the shapes of monsters appear as fleeting shadows—probably the fearsome estuarine crocodiles so infamous in Australian swamps today. NOTE: If you’re reading aboard a boat at sea or under a palm on a tropical atoll, the aforementioned Dove can stand in ably.

Dove, by Robin Lee Graham with Derek L.T. Gill

Other Recommendations:

Central America, The Mosquito Coast. In Paul Theroux’s novel about a brilliant but wayward man who transplants his family to the upstream wilderness of Nicaragua, protagonist Allie Fox builds a self-sufficient paradise—but in the metaphor of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the protagonist loses his mind, and the dream goes up in flames.

California, My Name Is Aram. From William Saroyan, this 1940 novel hashes out the comedy and drama of life in the farm country of the San Joaquin Valley, where the Saroyan family, from Armenia and still embracing customs of the home country, have set new roots.

Baja California, Log from the Sea of Cortez. John Steinbeck’s travelogue from the scientific collecting voyage he joined in 1940, aboard the Western Flyer, describes the rich Sea of Cortez and the shoreline of the Baja Peninsula. In 2004, several Stanford marine biologists re-enacted the voyage on a vessel almost identical to the original. En route, the scientists compared Steinbeck’s descriptions of a bountiful sea with the dwindling fish and invertebrate populations of the present.

Southeast Asia, Catfish and Mandala. In this travel memoir, Andrew Pham tells of his pilgrimage by bicycle from his home in the San Francisco Bay Area to the land of his roots, Vietnam. Here, Pham seeks out old friends and familiar places, but haven’t we all been warned never to go home again? Indeed, much of the world that Pham hopes to see again has vanished or transformed.

Finally, the brand-new guidebook Oregon Cycling Sojourner, by Ellee Thalheimer, provides local insight and tips helpful for anyone considering riding a bicycle through Oregon—and camping, dining out, drinking beer and even doing yoga along the way. The glossy paperback details eight routes through all regions of the state, covering 1,826 miles of highway, 12 breweries and 14 mountain passes. Those not wishing to have a tour route described down to the turns in the very road might read the book for pointers, take a few notes, then leave it behind and wend their own way.

Have any more book suggestions? Add any ideas to the comment box below, as this list continues next week.

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