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“The Curious Mr. Catesby” Receives 2016 Annual Literature Award

Smithsonian Libraries

Congratulations to Leslie Overstreet! The Catesby Commemorative Trust’s The Curious Mr. Catesby: A “Truly Ingenious” Naturalist Explores New Worlds book has been awarded the 2016 Annual Literature Award by the Council of Botanical and Horticultural Libraries. Leslie, Curator of Natural-History Rare Books in the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History, authored the chapter more »

The post “The Curious Mr. Catesby” Receives 2016 Annual Literature Award appeared first on Smithsonian Libraries Unbound.

“Teaching” in the 21st Century

National Postal Museum
By Jeff Meade, Mobile Learning Program LeadLet’s put some quotes around the word “teaching” and really start thinking about education in the 21st century. We’ve just launched the fall program series for educators to investigate what being a teacher means in this busy and complex world of digital media and rapidly changing technology. We’re also changing the dynamic of learning in museums, prompting educators to create the connections between museums and their classrooms.Local pre-k teacher, Cassidy Martinez, gathers digital resources in the museum for a creative story using Glogster.

“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."

“Shout Out to RAIN…”

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Rain falls on the National Mall on June 28, 2013, day 3 of the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Photo by Sojin Kim
Rain falls on the National Mall on June 28, 2013, day 3 of the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
Photo by Sojin Kim

On a small but growing shout out wall inside a staff trailer on the National Mall, someone has written on a hot pink heart: Shout out to RAIN…for bringing people together. The heart went up after a rousing concert by the Seldom Scene at Danubia Stage where, while sheets of rain blanketed the Festival grounds, crowds braved a fierce but fickle storm. There is something surreal about seeing just about one thousand folks, huddled together under a vinyl tent, rendered frankly unaware of the weather by the soulful twang of a bluegrass band. Backstage during the show, members of our tech crew sloshed through three inches of muddy water to lay flooring over the flooded grass, young Hungarian boys snuck tissues from the band’s stash to wipe their muddied costumes, and staffers waded while waiting to greet the band with their increasingly earthy green room requests.

Earlier the same day, having been chased off the site by the storm’s earlier incarnation, visitors and participants alike found themselves convened in the National Museum of American History, dancing and singing while Hungarian violinists urged the sun back with a spirited set. Staffers sprouted mud-made polka-dotted legs while puddle-jumping to reopen the Festival after a brief afternoon hiatus. A brown rain spot expanded exponentially as dedicated dancers partied—barefoot—through the evening in our Tokaj Tavern. And with each new downpour, mud-puddle, and pair of abandoned shoes, fresh opportunities to bond abounded.

Returning to a staff trailer at sundown while the dance party continued to rage on the National Mall, a summer intern posted the hot-pink homage to our afternoon. Shout out to RAIN. Somehow it sums up our Friday impeccably. The Folklife Festival has always been a little scrappy, in the best of ways. It’s fun to be around when scraps take root.

Chloe Ahmann serves as our Festival’s Special Events Coordinator. During the academic year, she teaches at George Washington University, where she is earning her Ph.D. in Anthropology.

“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.

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