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“Strong Medicine” Speaks

Smithsonian Magazine

On a late spring afternoon, as the sun nears its highest point, fifty men and women form a large circle in the middle of a field, deep in the woodlands and marshes that border a great river. Each one stands quietly, focused on a small, smoky bonfire that smells of sage and tobacco. The chief speaks. He reminds everyone that the ceremony is sacred. Among those present is the chief's 85-year-old mother, "Strong Medicine," who is the matriarch of the tribe.

They are all members of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indian Tribe of New Jersey. More than 3,000 strong, they are the largest and most vibrant tribe of Lenni-Lenape Indians living within the "Land of the Ancestors." That they are still here, unlike the thousands who were forced onto reservations, is a little-known tale of survival and ingenuity.

Their history in the area dates back more than 10,000 years, when Lenni-Lenape territory stretched from Manhattan Island to the Delaware Bay. Their lands—arguably among the most magnificent in the world—included southeastern New York state (including Manhattan), all of New Jersey, portions of eastern Pennsylvania (including what is now Philadelphia) and parts of Maryland and Delaware. Their first confirmed encounter with white people occurred on a spring day in 1524, when the explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian sailing a French vessel, sailed into the waters between what is now called Brooklyn and Staten Island, New York. In his journal, Verrazzano wrote that the Lenape paddled out to greet him, making "great shouts of admiration."

Like the other "Nations of First Contact," as East Coast tribes are sometimes called, Lenni-Lenape leaders were thrust into a world they did not understand. It was the Lenni-Lenape who famously "sold" Manhattan Island for the equivalent of twenty-four dollars to the Dutchman Peter Minuit in 1626. Less well known is that they were the first Indian tribe in America to sign a treaty with the United States government. Their chiefs met with every major American figure from William Penn to George Washington.

Many Lenni-Lenape Indians—also sometimes called Delaware Indians—died of diseases to which they had no immunity, or were killed outright by white colonists. Thousands were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands and sent, over a period of decades, to reservations in the West and in Canada. Strong Medicine's tribe, located in rural Cumberland County in New Jersey, found a way to avoid that fate.

"When my husband and I were coming up, and for a long time before that, our tribe was in hiding," Strong Medicine explains. "We were a hidden people. If the government knew you were Indian, they would take your property and send you to a reservation. There is a story in our tribe that this happened as recently as 1924, two years before I was born. So we were in the habit of staying to ourselves and not saying who we really were."

Census workers, in fact, were intentionally misled. "We would say we were 'Colored,' which is a term they used in the old days for people who are not white," Strong Medicine recalls. "Well, the government workers were white and they didn't know what the heck we were. They thought we meant we were 'Black' when we said 'Colored,' and we just went on letting them think that."

Adding to the confusion is that some members of the tribe do indeed have a small amount of white or African ancestry. This is not uncommon among Indians on the East Coast.

Strong Medicine—whose full name is Marion Strong Medicine Gould—is true to her name, which was given to her in a religious ceremony more than thirty years ago by her son, Chief Mark Quiet Hawk Gould. He gave her the name because of her extensive knowledge of plants and herbs—and also because of her personality. Strong Medicine is unusually outspoken for a Native American Elder, many of whom refrain from speaking to the outside world. And she is known within the tribe for telling the unvarnished truth to anyone who is brave enough to seek her advice. "Half the tribe is afraid of Mom," jokes the Chief, who will turn 66 this month.

Born in 1922 in Bridgeton, New Jersey, near the Delaware Bay, Strong Medicine recalls being raised in a loving environment where families lived in clans, or clusters, near each other. (They still do.) "We did better than most people during the Great Depression," she recalls. "We already knew how to eat weeds and things like that—we just ate more of it.

"Some Indians are ashamed to admit they eat weeds," she adds. "But I'm not. Why should I be? It's part of our culture."

Married at 18 to her high school sweetheart, Wilbur "Wise Fox" Gould, the couple already had two small sons by the time he joined the Army during World War II. Trained as a forward scout, he was captured and listed as missing in action during the Battle of the Bulge.

The tribe continued to live in secret until the 1970s, when Mark Gould, along with a core group of others in his age group, decided that the time had come for the tribe to stop hiding its identity. The tribe's modern-day revival, in fact, coincided with a national movement, the Indian Civil Rights Movement, and the cultural rebirth known as Native Pride.

Part of the plan was to re-organize the ancient tribe as a modern-day entity. Most of the elders, however, would not sign incorporation papers, or put their names on the ballot for a spot on the newly-structured Tribal Council. Strong Medicine, however, did both.

"It really made a huge difference to have Mom behind us," the Chief recalls. "All of the other elders were afraid of change." The tribe's incorporation took place in 1978, the same year that Congress passed a law protecting the right of Indians to freely practice their religions.

When one considers the fate of most tribes in America, the fact that 3000 Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indians can practice their religion on their ancestral homeland, seems nothing short of miraculous. During Strong Medicine's life, her tribe has come full-circle, from hiding their identity to embracing it. "I never thought I would live to see the day my grandchildren and great-grandchildren celebrate our heritage," Strong Medicine says with a smile.

Copyright © 2008 by Amy Hill Hearth. Printed by permission. Adapted from the forthcoming book "Strong Medicine" Speaks by Amy Hill Hearth to be published by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. (Available March 18, 2008 at your local bookstore and at ISBN: 0-7432-9779-2, $23.00).

“Star Wars” Roundup: From Science Fiction to Science Fact

Smithsonian Insider

Pulverized planet dust might lie around double stars » A planet like Star War’s Tatooine, which orbits twin suns, would have likely suffered from more […]

The post “Star Wars” Roundup: From Science Fiction to Science Fact appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

“So, what’s up with all those questions about treaties on columns throughout the museum?”

National Museum of the American Indian
The wampum-purple displays on columns throughout the museum are treaties interactives. The idea is to use inquiry-based learning to engage visitors in discovery and spark their interest in the new exhibition "Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and Native American Nations."

“Sherlock Holmes” Is Now Officially Off Copyright and Open for Business

Smithsonian Magazine

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died in 1930, but his most famous work—stories about the English detective Sherlock Holmes—has lived on. Thanks to copyright law, those stories have also continued to benefit Doyle's heirs for the past 84 years. Every time someone wanted to write a story or film a movie about Sharlock Holmes, the Doyle estate would collect a fee. A legal ruling announced this week, however, has set Holmes free: the character and all his companions (as penned by Doyle) are now in the public domain.

The legal case of Klinger v. Conan Doyle Estate that settled the claim actually rested on an interesting issue, whether a copyright claim can persist on a character even if the works depicting that character have fallen out of copyright. The defense of the Doyle estate went something like this: sure, Arthur Conan Doyle's stories are now at least 90 years old, but other stories about Sherlock Holmes are still under copyright, therefore Sherlock Holmes is still under copyright.

Judge Richard Posner didn't buy the argument, and he ruled that Sherlock Holmes, the character, is now in the public domain.

Part of the motivation for the Judge's decision, says Molly Van Houweling for the Authors Alliance, was a consideration of what the larger ramifications of extending the copyright on Holmes would have on art in general. Holmes' lasting popularity is a rarity among fictional characters—most fall out of favor within years, not decades. Creating a longer term on copyright for characters would reduce the number of works flowing into the public domain. This, in turn, would make it more difficult or more expensive for future artists to work, since a great deal of art draws on earlier works.

There's another interesting facet to the case, too. The Doyle estate's argument hinged on the idea that Sherlock Holmes was a complex and defined character, one whose characteristics were set down by Doyle. But that argument, say Parker Higgins and Sarah Jeong in their 5 Useful Articles newsletter, really just isn't the case:

Posner's opinion has much to commend, but one area it does not delve into is how the character of Sherlock Holmes—as we know him—is the construct of many authors, artists, and even film-makers. As Authors Alliance co-founder Molly Van Houweling points out, the phrase "elementary, my dear Watson," never appears in any of Doyle's works. And Doyle himself never described Holmes wearing his signature funny hat, this pop culture impression of the detective came about through a series of others' interpretations—first, in a few original illustrations by Sidney Paget, which probably influenced the stage actor William Gilette's depiction of Holmes, whose photo inspired American illustrator Frederic Dorr Steele to consistently draw the character in a deerstalker cap, an artistic choice that made its way into a number of cinematic versions.

So what adventures should Sherlock and Watson get up to next? It's time to get your fan fiction juices flowing.

“Sell By” And “Best By” Dates on Food Are Basically Made Up—But Hard to Get Rid Of

Smithsonian Magazine

Most of the food you buy comes with a little “sell by” or “best by” date stamped on it. But these dates are—essentially—made up. Nobody regulates how long milk or cheese or bread stays good, so companies can essentially print whatever date they want on their products. 

In the past few years, a bunch of food writers have explained to grocery shoppers that they should probably ignore those little numbers and just check to see if the food looks or smells bad. But, if sell-by dates are so useless, why do we even have them?

In Europe, sell-by dates are mandatory by law. But, according to Mic Wright at the Guardian:

The humble sell-by date actually has a surprisingly short history. It was introduced in Marks & Spencer's storerooms in the 1950s before making its way on to the shelves in 1970. It wasn't even actually called a "sell-by-date" until 1973. Marks is so proud of its innovation that Twiggy trumpets it in their latest ad campaign.

In the United States, federal law requires only that infant formula be dated, but many states have similar regulations for products like milk, eggs and meat. But most food manufacturers date pretty much everything anyway.

There's a fun bit of speculation, which one reporter attributed to a park ranger at Alcatraz, that Al Capone popularized expiration dates on milk back in the 1930s. The story goes that one of Capone’s family members got sick after drinking some expired milk, and Capone got interested in the milk industry. He bought up a milk processor, called Meadowmoor Dairies, and he lobbied the Chicago City Council to pass a law requiring visible date stamps on milk containers. But food labeling on all kinds of food doesn’t really happen until the 1970s, according to a recent Natural Resources Defense Council report.

The NRDC report details how consumers in the 1960s started to buy more processed foods, and as they got further away from the direct production of the ingredients in their meals, they got more worried about just how safe and fresh those ingredients were:

Open dating uses a date label that includes a month, day, and year in a format clearly evident to the consumer. Out of a nationwide survey of 250,000 shoppers published in 1975, 89 percent of respondents favored this kind of dating system. According to another survey, 95 percent of respondents listed open dating as the “most useful” consumer service for addressing product freshness concerns. “Open” dating differed from the long-established industry practice of “closed” dating, in which manufacturers and retailers used symbols or numerical codes that were undecipherable to consumers to manage their inventory and stock rotation, without any intention of relaying that information directly to consumers. Throughout the 1970s, many supermarkets voluntarily adopted open dating systems in response to mounting consumer interest.

In response, states started mandating labeling laws, many of which we still live with today. Some have tried to get rid of the unscientific labels, but when the U.K. suggested changing the sell by labels, manufacturers weren’t pleased. There's also speculation out there that manufacturers want you to use the dates because it means you wind up throwing out and buying more of their product. But it’s probably safe to say that you can ignore whatever date's printed on your food and go for a simple sniff test.

“Science Ninjas” Capture Bugs at Camp Discovery

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
by Chris Patrick “Camp Discovery!” shouts Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) education intern Josie Whelan. “SCIENCE NINJAS!” a dozen 6- to 8-year-old campers respond as they strike ninja-esque poses. This is a callback, used by the three education interns—Henry Lawson, Addie Schlussel, and Whelan—to grab the attention of talkative future first- and second-graders at Camp […]

“Santa Claus Express” Goodyear Airship

Smithsonian Insider

“Santa Claus Express” Goodyear Airship, 1925 Smithsonian Snapshot celebrates the Christmas season with this 1925 photo of Goodyear’s “Santa Claus Express” airship from the National […]

The post “Santa Claus Express” Goodyear Airship appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

“Quihubo, Raza” by Agustín Lira and Alma from Songs of Struggle & Hope

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Smithsonian Folkways presents Songs of Struggle & Hope, featuring songs from the farmworker and Chicano Power Movement of the 1960s as well as new creations that speak to social justice.

“Proud of who I am”: Venda Children’s Musical Cultures

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access
Spring 2014: South Africa

“Priority!” awarded Thackray Medal

Smithsonian Libraries
A recent book to which Leslie Overstreet, the Smithsonian Libraries curator of natural-history rare books, contributed has been awarded the John Thackray Medal by the Society for the History of Natural History for “significant achievements in the history and bibliography of natural history.” The product of years of research by lead author Edward C. Dickinson, more »

“Pink Noise” May Improve Sleep and Memory in Older Adults

Smithsonian Magazine

Research has shown that deep sleep plays a crucial role in memory formation. As humans age, sleep becomes lighter and more fragmentary, however, which in turn means that older adults get less deep sleep than younger ones. So it isn’t entirely surprising that deprivation has been linked to memory loss among the elderly.

Fortunately, there might be a rather easy fix to this problem. As Amanda MacMillan reports in TIME, a new study suggests that “pink noise” can lull adults into deeper slumbers and help them form stronger memories.

Pink noise is similar to white noise, but while white noise is one continuous sound, pink noise includes high and low frequencies. “[I]t kind of resembles a rush of water,” Phyllis Zee, professor of neurology at Northwestern University and lead author of the study, tells MacMillan. “It’s just noticeable enough that the brain realizes it’s there, but not enough to disturb sleep.”

Zee and a team of researchers at the Northwestern gathered 13 adults who were 60 or older and monitored their sleep in a lab for two nights. On both nights, the participants took a memory test, went to bed while wearing headphones and an electrode cap, and took another memory test in the morning. But unbeknownst to the sleepy subjects, researchers only played pink noise into the headphones on one night.

More specifically, they timed the sounds to match the participants’ slow-wave oscillations. During deep sleep, brain waves slow to about one oscillation per second, compared to about ten oscillations per second during wakefulness, the researchers write in a press release. The algorithm they employed in the study allowed the team to deliver a low burst of pink noise at the “precise moment” that the participants’ slow waves rose—a pattern that is unique to each person. 

The results of the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that participants’ slow waves increased after the night of sound stimulation, suggesting that they were getting more deep sleep. And on the morning after hearing pink noise, they performed three times better on memory tests than they did after sleeping without any sound stimulation.

The study was a relatively small one, so further research is needed to confirm its findings, and study how longer-term use of pink noise effects sleep. But as MacMillan reports in TIME, Northwestern has taken steps to patent the researchers’ technology, which seems to have hit upon a way to stimulate slow waves at the right moment. The team hopes to develop an affordable device that people can use at home, from the comfort of their beds.

“Paleo” Isn’t Extinct Yet

Smithsonian Magazine


Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum has announced that a special exhibition, “Partnering with Nature,” will be on view at the World Economic Forum’s 50th Annual Meeting, Jan. 21 through Jan. 24 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. Drawing from the “Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial” exhibition originally organized by Cooper Hewitt and Cube design museum, this adaptation is a collaboration...

“Orchids In Classrooms” Turns Sixth-Graders Into Citizen Scientists

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

By Hannah-Marie Garcia, science writing intern Think back to your early childhood science classes. Was there ever a time you had to watch a plant grow? Your first natural sciences teacher may have used plant growth to explain basic concepts of plant biology. The process is a rewarding learning experience for students to observe their […]

The post “Orchids In Classrooms” Turns Sixth-Graders Into Citizen Scientists appeared first on Shorelines.

“No More Long Faces”

Smithsonian Magazine

Gawking at the love lives of public figures–from Brangelina to Eliot Spitzer–is something of a national pastime these days, and things weren't much different during the lifetime of celebrated American artist Winslow Homer (1836-1910).

While prolific in depicting the outside world, Homer adamantly refused to reveal his inner landscape to an increasingly curious public throughout his career. Perhaps that is why, nearly a century after his death, we're still interested: Secrecy often suggests something worth concealing.

Homer himself hinted at this sentiment in a 1908 note to a would-be biographer: "I think that it would probably kill me to have such a thing appear–and as the most interesting part of my life is of no concern to the public I must decline to give you any particulars in regard to it."

Although Homer remained a bachelor for all of his 74 years, after his death, one of his close friends told biographer Lloyd Goodrich that the artist "had the usual number of love affairs." No conclusive evidence is available about any of these, but a thin trail of emotional clues exists amid Homer's correspondence with friends and family, as well as in his work.

The first such clue comes in a March 1862 letter to his father, Charles Savage Homer. The young Homer is planning to travel to Washington to illustrate Civil War action for Harper's Weekly, and mentions a comment made by his editor: "He thinks (I am) smart and will do well if (I) meet no pretty girls down there, which he thinks I have a weakness for."

Homer spent ten months in France in 1866-7, and had an active social life there, if his vivacious engravings of Parisian dance halls are any indication (see above sketch). For the next five or six years, back in America, he continued to paint generally cheerful, lively scenes, often featuring pretty young women.

"The numerous portrayals of fetching women suggest a longing for feminine company…these scenes may have been this shy man's way of safely bringing women closer," Randall Griffin wrote in his 2006 book Winslow Homer: An American Vision.

Specifically, it seems the painter yearned to be closer to Helena De Kay, an art student and the sister of Homer's friend Charles De Kay. She was the apparent model for several of Homer's works in the early 1870s, until she married the poet and editor Richard Watson Gilder in 1874.

As fine arts scholar Sarah Burns explained in a 2002 article for The Magazine ANTIQUES, Helena De Kay's correspondence shows how Homer may have tried to court her. Homer often asked her to visit his studio, an invitation he rarely extended to anyone, and she is the only painter he ever offered to instruct (though there is no evidence she accepted). In one note, he even compared a photo of her to a Beethoven symphony, "as any remembrance of you will always be."

Perhaps Homer's circa 1872 oil "Portrait of Helena De Kay" reflects his realization that he would likely lose his beloved to Gilder, who began courting her that year. It was an unusual work for Homer's style up to then – a somber, formal portrait, and an uncommissioned one at that.

In the painting, DeKay is seated on a couch in profile, dressed in black and looking down at a closed book in her hands. The indoor setting, presumably Homer's studio, is dark and empty but for a small spot of color on the floor–a discarded and dying rose; a few of its petals scattered nearby.

It is "a very suggestive picture, and unlike any other he painted," says Nicolai Cikovsky Jr., a Homer biographer and retired National Gallery of Art curator. "I'd say she is the most nameable candidate (for a love interest), certainly."

A letter from Homer to De Kay in December 1872 indicates that something had come between them. He asks her to pick up a sketch he had made of her, adding a few cryptic words of reassurance: "I am very jolly, no more long faces. It is not all wrong."

The next year, another of Homer's notes alludes to his feelings by what it omits: "My dear Miss Helena, I have just found your picture. I think it very fine. As a picture I mean, not because, etc."

It is unclear whether Homer ever actually proposed to De Kay, but he painted a picture of a proposal scene in 1872, with the telling title, "Waiting For an Answer," and in 1874 he painted an almost identical scene minus the young suitor ("Girl in an Orchard"), suggesting that the girl's answer had been to send the boy away. Around the same time, he painted several other pictures of "thwarted love," as Burns describes it.

Some scholars think he fell in love again a few years later, when he was around 40 years old. He visited friends in rural Orange County, New York, and painted several pictures of women there. One of them, titled "Shall I Tell Your Fortune?" shows a saucy-looking lass seated barefoot on the grass, holding playing cards in one hand. Her other hand rests palm-up on her hip, and her direct gaze seems to be asking the painter much more than the title suggests.

A similar woman appears in other Homer paintings from the mid to late 1870s, and this may have been the schoolteacher referred to by Homer's grandniece, Lois Homer Graham, in a piece she wrote for the book Prout's Neck Observed decades later: "The year 1874 found all of the Homer sons well established in their careers…Winslow had courted a pretty school teacher, but lost her to his career."

It does seem clear that Homer wanted a major change of scenery and lifestyle rather suddenly at the end of the 1870s. As Cikovsky puts it, "something was stirring in Homer's life, and I think some sort of intimacy gone wrong was part of that."

The artist withdrew from society, moving first to an island off Gloucester, Mass., then the remote fishing village of Cullercoats, England, and finally in 1883 to Prout's Neck, Maine, where he stayed the rest of his life. He developed a reputation as a grumpy recluse, discouraging visitors and turning down most social invitations, although he remained close to his family. His personal life may have suffered, but his professional life flourished in these years, as the seacoast inspired some of his best works.

Interestingly, Homer never attempted to sell the painting of the fortune-telling girl. It was still on an easel in his Prout's Neck studio when he died in 1910.

But before you get too wrapped up in the romance of that idea, keep in mind that alternate theories abound. Homer scholar Philip Beam thinks the mystery woman was no woman at all, but rather a boy modeling as a woman for the "girl-shy" painter.

At least one reviewer has argued that Homer was homosexual, though most art historians now reject the theory. Others, including Beam, think he was simply married to his work.

"To an artist of Homer's caliber much is given, but if he is to put his great gift to its fullest use, much is also demanded. So much that there is little time left to share with a wife," Beam wrote in Winslow Homer at Prout's Neck (1966).

The truth, it seems, remains as stubbornly elusive as the artist himself.

“New” 2,000-Year-Old Geoglyph Spotted in Peru

Smithsonian Magazine

Easter Island has its iconic statues. England has Stonehenge. And Peru has its own mysterious modification to the landscape—the Nazca lines. The enormous geoglyphs were made in the desert ground around 2,000 years ago and have long been the subject of speculation. Now, Japanese researchers have discovered an entirely new geoglyph in Nazca, showing how much more there is to learn about the puzzling designs.

Masato Sakai and Jorge Olano of Yamagata University in Japan recently announced the discovery of the 98-foot-long geoglyph, which is thought to represent a mythical animal sticking out its tongue. Its makers seem to have forged it by removing stones with darker colors from the plateau surface to expose whitish ground below. They then piled up the stones to shape the image. It’s in the vicinity of another geoglyph the team discovered in 2011 that shows what they characterize as “a scene of decapitation.”

Imaginary animals and gory scenes may seem like strange things to encounter in the vast pampas of Peru, but they’re all part of the enigma of Nazca. Archaeologists now think that the lines were part of astronomical religious rituals enacted by the pre-Columbian Nazca culture, a group of ancient indigenous Peruvians who lived as farmers and warriors on the desert plains of Peru’s Rio Grande de Nasca. Since the pampas are so untouched by wind and rain, the lines they contain have remained relatively unscathed over thousands of years.

An outline reconstruction of the figure. (Yamagata University)

In a time before planes or satellites, the creation of thousands of geoglyphs that could only be fully appreciated from above was a leap of faith. But in the 1940s, archaeologists began to study the lines from the sky. The lines are now considered one of the world’s most impressive—and baffling—ancient feats.

Their symbolism continues into the 21st century, too: In 2014, they were irreparably damaged by Greenpeace activists looking to make a point about renewable energy. They may be co-opted by modern voices, but the Unesco-protected lines are a mute testament to a religion and culture that is largely lost.

But archaeologists are determined to find out as much as they can about the lines. As the Japan Times reports, Sakai’s team has already discovered over 100 “new” geoglyphs. The lines may be old, but there’s always more to learn.

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