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Model, Static, Ryan NYP "Spirit of St. Louis"

National Air and Space Museum
Scale aluminum and wood model of the Ryan NYP "Spirit of St. Louis". Model has covering removed on right side to show interior of aircraft. 1/16 scale.

This is a 1/15 scale model of the Ryan NYP "Spirit of St. Louis," the plane in which Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly solo and nonstop from New York to Paris in 1927. The "Spirit" was designed by Donald Hall under Lindbergh's supervision. It is a highly modified version of a conventional Ryan M-2 strut-based monoplane, powered by a reliable Wright Whirlwind J-5C engine. The letters "NYP" stand for "New York-Paris."

Andrew F. Leach built this aluminum and wood model with precise detail and technical accuracy. He removed the covering on the left side of the model to show the interior of the aircraft. The cockpit seat can be seen behind the fuel tanks, which were installed ahead of the cockpit for safety in case of an accident. This meant that Lindbergh could not see directly ahead, except by using a periscope or by turning the airplane and looking out a side window.

Leach also included the nineteen national flags which were painted on the right side of the "Spirit's" engine cowling. There is one representing each country the airplane has visited. The "Spirit" visited most of these nineteen countries during Lindbergh's 1927 tour of Latin America.

"Our messenger of peace and goodwill has broken down another barrier of time and space." So spoke President Calvin Coolidge about Charles A. Lindbergh's extraordinary solo transatlantic flight in 1927. Not until the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 was the entire world again as enthusiastic about an aviation event as it was when Lindbergh landed his little Ryan monoplane in Paris.

In 1922, after a year and a half at the University of Wisconsin, Lindbergh left to study aeronautics with the Nebraska Aircraft Corporation. He was a 'barnstormer" until 1924, when he enrolled as a flying cadet in the Army Air Service. He won his reserve commission and began serving as a civilian airmail pilot, flying the route between St. Louis and Chicago.

Early in 1927 he obtained the backing of several St. Louis men to compete for the $25,000 prize offered by Raymond Orteig in 1919 for the first nonstop flight between New York City and Paris. In February of that year Lindbergh placed an order with Ryan Airlines in San Diego for an aircraft with specifications necessary to make the flight.

Development began based on a standard Ryan M-2, with Donald A. Hall as principal designer. Certain modifications to the basic high-wing, strut-braced monoplane design had to be made because of the nature of the flight. The wingspan was increased by 10 feet and the structural members of the fuselage and wing cellule were redesigned to accommodate the greater fuel load. Plywood was fitted along the leading edge of the wings. The fuselage design followed that of a standard M-2 except that it was lengthened 2 feet. The cockpit was moved further to the rear for safety and the engine was moved forward for balance, thus permitting the fuel tank to be installed at the center of gravity. The pilot could see forward only by means of a periscope or by turning the aircraft to look out of a side window. A Wright Whirlwind J-5C engine supplied the power.

Late in April 1927 the work on the aircraft was completed. It was painted silver and carried registration number N-X-21 1, which, with all other lettering on the plane, was painted in black. Lindbergh made several test flights, and then flew the aircraft from San Diego to New York on May 10-12, making only one stop, at St. Louis. His flight time of 21 hours, 40 minutes set a new transcontinental record.

After waiting several days in New York for favorable weather, Lindbergh took off for Paris alone, on the morning of May 20, 1927. Thirty-three hours, 30 minutes, and 3,610 miles later he landed safely at Le Bourget Field, near Paris, where he was greeted by a wildly enthusiastic crowd of 100,000.

Lindbergh and the Spirit of St Louis returned to the United States aboard the U.S.S. Memphis on June 11. He received tumultuous welcomes in Washington, D.C. and New York City. From July 20 until October 23 of that year he took the famous plane on a tour of the United States. Then, on December 13, he and the Spirit of St. Louis flew nonstop from Washington to Mexico City; through Central America, Colombia, Venezuela, Puerto Rico; and nonstop from Havana to St. Louis. Beginning in Mexico City, flags of the countries he visited were painted on both sides of the cowling.

On April 30, 1928, the Spirit of St. Louis made its final flight-from St. Louis to Washington, D.C where Lindbergh presented the aircraft to the Smithsonian Institution.

Snake Found in Grand Central Station!

Smithsonian Magazine

In January 2011, the Smithsonian Channel approached Kevin Hockley, an Ontario-based model maker, with a tall (and rather long) order: Build us a snake.

Several years ago, Carlos Jaramillo, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and scientists from the University of Florida, University of Toronto and Indiana University unearthed fossils of a prehistoric snake in northern Colombia. To tell the story of the discovery, the film producers wanted a full-scale replica of the creature.

The snake, however, was not your typical garter snake or rattlesnake, which Hockley had sculpted before, but Titanoboa, a 2,500-pound “titanic boa” as long as a school bus that lived 58 million years ago.

Hockley’s 48-foot long replica of Titanoboa slurping down a dyrosaur (an ancient relative of crocodiles), is being unveiled today at Grand Central Station in New York City. The sculpture will be on display through March 23, and then it will be transported to Washington, D.C., where it will be featured in the exhibition “Titanoboa: Monster Snake” at the National Museum of Natural History, opening March 30. Smithsonian Channel’s two-hour special of the same title will premiere on April 1.

“Kevin seemed like a natural choice,” says Charles Poe, an executive producer at the Smithsonian Channel. Poe was especially impressed by a narwhal and a 28-foot-long giant squid that the artist made for the Royal Ontario Museum. “He had experience making museum-quality replicas, and even more important, he’d created some that seem larger than life. When you’re recreating the largest snake in world history it helps to have a background in the fantastical,” Poe says.

A replica model of the 45-foot-long snake thought to be of Anaconda descent. (Courtesy of Robert Clark / INSTITUTE)

In fact, Hockley has been in the business of making taxidermy mounts and life-size sculptures for more than 30 years. He mounted his first ruffed grouse as a teen by following instructions from a library book. Hockley spent his high school years apprenticing as a taxidermist in Collingwood, Ontario, and he worked a dozen years at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, creating mounts as well as artistic reconstructions of animals and their habitats. Today, as owner of Hockley Studios, a three-person operation headquartered on the 15-acre property where he lives, near Bancroft, Ontario, he builds bronze sculptures of caribou, lynx and wolves and life-like replicas of mastodon and other Ice Age animals, such as extinct peccaries and jaguars, for museums, visitor centers and parks.

Creating Titanoboa wasn’t easy. Scientists piecing together what the prehistoric creature might have looked like provided Hockley with some basic parameters. “They linked it strongly to modern-day snakes, which was very helpful,” says Hockley. “It was sort of a blend of a boa constrictor and an anaconda.” He studied photographs and video of boas and anacondas and visited live specimens at the Indian River Reptile Zoo, near Peterborough, Ontario. “I could see the way the skeleton and the musculature moved as the animal moved,” says Hockley. “There are all these little bulges of muscle at the back of the head that convey the animal’s jaws are working.” He made sure that those bulges were on his model. Hockley also noted the background colors of anacondas and the markings of boa constrictors. Jason Head, a vertebrate paleontologist and herpetologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, surmised that the coloration of the prehistoric snake might have been similar. “Of course, this is speculation,” says Hockley. “It could have been pink with polka dots for all we know.”

The first step to building the replica was coming up with a pose. Hockley produced a scale model in clay, an inch of which represented a foot of the actual replica. The snake’s body forms two loops, where museum visitors can wander. “I tried to make it interactive, so you can actually get in and feel what it is like to be surrounded by a snake,” says Hockley. He stacked large sheets of 12-inch-thick Styrofoam high enough to make a snake with a 30-inch circumference. He drew the pose on to the Styrofoam and used a chainsaw, fish filet knives and a power grinder with coarse sand paper disks on it to carve the snake. Hockley applied paper mâché to the Styrofoam and then a layer of polyester resin to strengthen it. On top of that, he put epoxy putty and used rubber molds to texture it with scales. “The hardest part was trying to make the scales flow and continue as lines,” he says. When the putty dried, he primed and painted the snake. He started with the strongest markings and then layered shades over the top to achieve the depth of color he desired. “It makes the finished product that much more convincing,” he says. The snake was made in six sections to allow for easier transport, but devising a way to seamlessly connect the parts was also tricky. Hockley used a gear mechanism in a trailer jack, so that by racheting a tool, he can draw the pieces tightly together.

From start to finish, construction of the replica took about five months. As for materials, it required 12 four-foot-by-eight-foot sheets of Styrofoam, 20 gallons of polyester resin, 400 pounds of epoxy resin and numerous gallons of paint. Smithsonian Channel producers installed a camera in Hockley’s studio to create a timelapse video (above) of the process.

“It was an amazing opportunity,” says Hockley. The artist hopes that his model of Titanoboa gives people an appreciation for how big animals could be 60 million years ago. Since snakes are coldblooded, the size they can attain is dependent on the temperature in which they live, and temperatures during Titanoboa‘s time were warmer than today. As a result, the snake was much bigger than today’s super snakes. “Hopefully they will be awestruck by its realism,” he says. “A little bit of fear would be nice.”

Watch this video in the original article

Outrigger Canoe

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

Per Dr. Adrienne L. Kaeppler, this is the oldest documented existing Hawaiian canoe in the world. When Queen Kapiolani sent this canoe to the Smithsonian, it was already quite old. A hole at the bottom of the canoe suggests that it had hit a reef and would have been difficult to repair.

Canoe (without sail) was on display in National Museum of Natural History exhibit "Na Mea Makamae o Hawai'i - Hawaiian Treasures", 2004-2005.

Canoe is described (under number 76111) as a Hawaiian fishing canoe in U.S. National Museum Bulletin # 127, pp. 286-287. This publication is available online: .

This is probably the canoe shown in a photo in the Smithsonian Institution Archives, described as "Unidentified male staff member from United States National Museum [in the 1880s]... manning an outrigger sailing canoe on Museum grounds." SIA Acc. 11-007, Box 019 - United States National Museum. Division of Graphic Arts, Photographic Collection, 1860-1960 (url: Note that in 2018, the outrigger float/balance log and two booms that were previously stored as part of this canoe, were found to belong with E307212 instead, and have been so labelled.

The Wa'a Project, established by Joshua Bell, Curator of Globalization (NMNH), included a Recovering Voices Community Research Visit June 16-27, 2018. The visit brought master and apprentice Hawaiian and Māori canoe carvers and builders to study E164016-0, a historic Hawaiian wa'a (canoe). The group included: Raymond Bumatay, master Hawaiian canoe carver; Alexander 'Alika' Bumatay, master Hawaiian canoe carver; James Eruera, master Māori canoe carver; Bryce Motu, apprentice Māori canoe carver; Leslie 'Les' Matiu (O'Connor), apprentice Māori canoe carver; Kālewa Correa, Curator of Hawai'i and the Pacific at Smithsonian's APAC; Alexis Ching, apprentice Hawaiian canoe carver and documentary book maker; Dino Morrow, documentary photographer; Shannon Hennessey, APAC intern. About the hull, mast, sail: The canoe is made of koa and hibiscus. Ray noted that the gunnel is loose due to being replaced and not being lashed correctly. Ray noted that this is not a fishing canoe, it is a leisure/recreation canoe. He explained that fishing canoes have big bellies to carry the catch and Kālewa added that this canoe would have moved faster than a fishing canoe. Ray and Alika also noted that the sail and mast were added to the wa'a just before it was sent to the Smithsonian because the mast does not show any wear and because an extra pepeaio (projection inside the canoe to hold a seat) was an addition. The kumu kia (mast step) is made of hala wood. They believe the wa'a was not originally built to be used with a sail. Alika notes that having a canoe for leisure is unusual. Ray explained that you would need a log of about 24 feet to begin carving this canoe. The bottom part is shaped first, then the inner part. This canoe was carved with an adze, it is possible they used a metal adze for some of the carving. Ray and Kālewa spoke of the manu (curved endpieces covering the bow and stern parts of the hull) and moamoa (point at the stern end of the canoe) of the wa'a. Ray noted the manu is used as a guide for a canoe to break the waves while coming down a swell so it doesn't dive. Moamoa: When the people migrated to Hawai'i, a god wanted to come along, but the canoe was already overloaded. The traveler told the god he could come if he could find a place to sit. The god sat on the moamoa and ever since, Hawaiian built canoes have had the god seat, the moamoa. About the patch/repairs: The patching on the wa'a was a cause for discussion the entire visit. The repair on the keel was done with a butterfly patch using coconut fiber lashing. The repair work on the bottom of the canoe was a style that Ray had never seen before. Alexis believed that the patch was not done in Hawai'i prior to shipping the wa'a because she feels it was unlikely that Queen Kapi'olani would have sent a broken boat to represent Hawai'i. Discussion frequently returned to the patching being more of a Māori style of patching than a Hawaiian style. No firm conclusion was made. About the paddle: Ray explained that it is important to have a paddle in a koa canoe to keep the spirits out. If wandering spirits see a paddle in a canoe, they know it is being used, but if they find one without a paddle then they decide to stay and inhabit the canoe. The wa'a at NMNH is lonely without a paddle. Ray and Alika donated a paddle to NMNH to go with the wa'a. They had it shipped directly to MSC so it would arrive before they left Washington, DC. About rigging: When lashing the outrigging together with the wa'a, the rigging Ray and Alika first used to attach the 'iako (boom) to the ama (float) did not work correctly because the two replacement 'iako made in 2004 do not fit the ama properly and were not made correctly. Ray noted that they used an "everyday folks rigging" instead of the kind the Bumatay family usually uses, which is a chief's rigging. Ray Bumatay related the story behind the style of rigging they used to bind the 'iako to the wae. A Tahitian princess arrived in Kauai and her retainers attemped to hide her identity by hiding her colors, but the people of Kauai noticed that she was still being treated like royalty. The King of Kauai fell in love with her and took her for his wife. He was jealous of her beauty and ordered his head rigger to make a chastity belt for her. Over time, the chastity belt design was adapted as a canoe rigging. The design is very strong, even if a part is cut or broken it still holds. That is why the rigging design is called the Pa'u or Dress of Princess 'Ilukia. In addition to the 2 'iako, ama, hull, and kumu kia, the additional pieces labeled with this catalog number were identified as packing materials from when the wa'a was shipped to the Smithsonian. At some point in the past additional objects were also given the catalog number of the wa'a. This included the float of another canoe that the group identified as most likely belonging to the Samoan canoe, E307212-0, and which was subsequently changed to that number.

Come Play House

National Museum of American History
Come Play House written by Edith Osswald with illustrations by Eloise Wilkin (1904-1987).

A Graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology, Eloise Wilkin (1904-1987) studied illustration. In her early years she worked as a freelance artist in New York City, illustrating schoolbooks for children learning to read, paper dolls and puzzles. She was married and raising a family in upstate New York when she started working from home creating illustrations for Little Golden Books (LGB) in 1946. A prolific illustrator, Wilkin's work is easily identifiable for her adorable images of children with round faces and rosy pink cheeks. It is reported that she modeled her characters on her own family members and friends. Her beautifully detailed settings and backgrounds demonstrate her meticulous research and attention to detail. Her depiction of the idyllic home and family life reflected the post war optimism of the 1950s. She worked for LGB until 1984 and continued to design dolls for Vogue and Madame Alexander.

A stalwart Catholic, Wilkins was much attuned to the awakening social conscious of the 1960s. In 1964, the National Urban League, headed up by Whitney Young, brought attention to what he considered a fundamental omission on the part of the juvenile publishing world who he accused of racial stereotyping. Indeed, there were no children of color depicted in this vast category of books, but Eleanor Wilkin was one of the first illustrators to include an integrated classroom in We Like Kindergarten.


National Museum of African American History and Culture
A 1974 issue of Delegate magazine published by MelPat Associates. The cover of the magazine shows a collage of black and white photographic portraits cropped and tinted in bright pink, green, yellow, orange and blue. There are two (2) ribbon badges at the top right, one pink and one blue. Each ribbon reads [1974 / DELEGATE]. Black text in the bottom left corner reads [Price $1.50]. White text in a black box at the bottom right reads [PLEASE TURN TO PAGES DEVOTED TO YOUR CONVENTION].

The magazine’s content opens on the first page with an editorial note titled “It Was Not A Good Year,” which recounted events of the past year, including Watergate and the reduction of federal programs. There is also a masthead reading [DELEGATE, 1974] and a table of contents.

The content continues with articles and profiles of African American business organizations, business leaders, community organizations, sororities, fraternities, doctors, dentists, politicians, actors, and journalists. This includes the National Pan-Hellenic Council,National Association of Black Social Workers, Girl Friends, Inc., the National Medical Association, Prince Hall Masons, National Market Developers, Chi Delta Mu Fraternity, National Newspaper Publishers, NAACP, Lambda Kappa Mu, National Insurance Association, National Urban League, National Church Ushers Association, National Medical Association, National Council of Negro Women, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Eta Phi Beta Sorority, National Funeral Directors Association, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, National College Women Association, National Dental Association, The National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Clubs, Coleman Young, Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, Daughters of Isis, Elks of the World, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Dr. Gloria Toote, United Mortgage Bankers of America, American Bridge Association, 369 Veterans Association, Media Women, The Association for the Study of Afro American Life in History, Black Caucus, National Business League, Morehouse College, and Alvin Ailey. There are also features on Detroit, Kenya, Barbados and Oak Bluffs.

There are 254 pages with black and white photographs and advertisements throughout, as well as a few advertisements in color. The back cover of the magazine features a full page advertisement for Kool cigarettes.

Photographic History Collection: Eugène Atget

National Museum of American History
The Eugène Atget collection consists of fourteen silver albumen prints made between 1907 and 1908. On the back of each print the title and dates are handwritten by the artist. On a few, a number is etched in the negative. All of the photographs present different scenes in Paris, France. Most are architectural in subject matter, but some do include individuals as well. Each print is approximately 7 x 8.5 inches and is not mounted.

Le Pére Atget, as Man Ray fondly called him, was born in Libourne, France in 1857. As a young man, he was drawn not to photography, but to the stage. Although he was drafted into the army in 1878 and remained on active duty for several years, Atget began studying at the National Conservatory of Music and Drama in 1879. By 1881, however, his teachers decided he could not handle the joint responsibilities of acting and military duty, and did not ask him to return the following year. Despite his dismissal, Atget went on to perform in small productions for the next ten years. However, by the time he was forty, he had realized that he was not going to succeed as an actor. After an initial attempt at painting and a few years of photographic experimentation, Atget finally settled into a Parisian apartment on Rue Campagne Premiere between 1890 and 1891 and hung a small painted shingle above his door that would define his work for later generations: “Documents pour artistes.”

While Atget is considered to be one of the great early photographers, his work was by no means considered groundbreaking at the time. The first push to document historical architecture in France, and especially Paris, began in the 1850s when the Commission des Monuments Historique was formed to photograph the city. Among the photographers appointed by the commission were Henri Le Secq, who photographed Chartes Cathedral and Reims, Edouard Baldus, and Charles Nègre (COLL.PHOTOS.000054). Atget began his work during a second push around the turn of the century, and was greatly facilitated by technological advances in the mid 1890s that made it easier to photograph for professionals and amateurs alike. What distinguished Atget from his contemporaries was his decision not to work for an institution, where his photographs would be on public record, but to instead carve his own niche in the market as a freelance photographer.

As a result, in addition to any commissions he received from clients, Atget had the opportunity to seek out subjects that were of personal and professional interest, such as the trees that figure so frequently in collections of his work. Between 1898 and 1927 Atget systematically photographed streets, monuments, historic buildings and dwellings both in Paris and in the outlying areas. His meticulously categorized work was arranged in albums, and he recorded in detail his client’s preferences for different subjects so that he would be prepared when he met with them. To his credit, Atget’s body of work remains perhaps the best pictorial record available of Paris in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

By 1920, when most photographers had switched to smaller and technically superior cameras, Atget continued to use the same 18x24 view camera he had been using since 1888. Professionally, he was isolated as he did not enjoy the company of a group of peers with whom he could discuss his work. The first publication of his photographs was in “La Revolution Surrealiste” in 1925. Though Atget had been well-known in his business since 1901, this was the first time his work had been identified as artistic rather than merely documentary. Atget himself refused to have his name included in the magazine, and by implication in the movement, explaining that he was simply a purveyor of documents that could be used by other artists. While his work belies this statement, he continued to disassociate himself from Surrealism until his death in 1927.

Both a businessman and artist, Atget sold his work to artists, historians, and even institutions such as the Bibliotheque Nationale during his lifetime. In 1920 the Service Photographique des Monuments Historiques purchased just over 2600 of Atget’s negatives. The remainder of the negatives, as well as any prints that remained following his death, went to his good friend Andre Calmette. Shortly thereafter, Berenice Abbott (COLL.PHOTOS.000017), a young American photographer, persuaded Calmette to sell her the collection so that she could properly introduce it to the world. She and American photographer Walker Evans (COLL.PHOTOS.000024) are testaments to the style and rigor that characterized Atget’s work, and both followed his tradition of documenting the urban landscape and its details.

Nier Mass Spectrograph

National Museum of American History
Background on Nier Mass Spectrograph; object id no. 1990.0446.01; catalog no. N-09567

This object consists of the following three components: ion source with oven and acceleration electrode; semicircular glass vacuum chamber; ion collector with two plates. The original device included an electromagnet, which is not part of this accession.

In 1939, as political tensions in Europe increased, American physicists learned of an astonishing discovery: the nucleus of the uranium atom can be split, causing the release of an immense amount of energy. Given the prospects of war, the discovery was just as worrying as it was intellectually exciting. Could the Germans use it to develop an atomic bomb?

The Americans realized that they had to determine whether a bomb was physically possible. Uranium consists mostly of the isotope U-238, with less than 1% of U-235. Theoreticians predicted that it was the nuclei of the rare U-235 isotope that undergo fission, the U-238 being inactive. To test this prediction, it was necessary to separate the two isotopes, but it would be difficult to do this since they are chemically identical.

Alfred Nier, a young physicist at the University of Minnesota, was one of the few people in the world with the expertise to carry out the separation. He used a physical technique that took advantage of the small difference in mass of the two isotopes. To separate and collect small quantities of them, he employed a mass spectrometer technique that he first developed starting in about 1937 for measurement of relative abundance of isotopes throughout the periodic table. (The basic principles of the mass spectrometer are described below.)

As a measure of the great importance of his work, in October 1939, Nier received a letter from eminent physicist Enrico Fermi, then at Columbia University, expressing great interest in whether, and how, the separation was progressing. Motivated by such urging, by late February 1940, Nier was able to produce two tiny samples of separated U-235 and U-238, which he provided to his collaborators at Columbia University, a team headed by John R. Dunning of Columbia. The Dunning team was using the cyclotron at the University in numerous studies to follow up on the news from Europe the year before on the fission of the uranium atom. In March 1940, with the samples provided by Nier, the team used neutrons produced by a proton beam from the cyclotron to show that it was the comparatively rare uranium-235 isotope that was the most readily fissile component, and not the abundant uranium-238.

The fission prediction was verified. The Nier-Dunning group remarked, "These experiments emphasize the importance of uranium isotope separation on a larger scale for the investigation of chain reaction possibilities in uranium" (reference: A.O. Nier et. al., Phys. Rev. 57, 546 (1940)). This proof that U-235 was the fissile uranium isotope opened the way to the intense U.S. efforts under the Manhattan Project to develop an atomic bomb. (For details, see Nier’s reminiscences of mass spectrometry and The Manhattan Project at:

The Dunning cyclotron is also in the Modern Physics Collection (object id no. 1978.1074.01; catalog no. N-09130), and it will be presented on the SI collections website in 2015. (Search for “Dunning Cyclotron” at

The Nier mass spectrometer used to collect samples of U-235 and U-238 (object id no. 1990.0446.01)

Nier designed an apparatus based on the principle of the mass spectrometer, an instrument that he had been using to measure isotopic abundance ratios throughout the entire periodic table. As in most mass spectrometers of the time, his apparatus produced positive ions by the controlled bombardment of a gas (UBr˅4, generated in a tiny oven) by an electron beam. The ions were drawn from the ionizing region and moved into an analyzer, which used an electromagnet for the separation of the various masses. Usually, the ion currents of the separated masses were measured by means of an electrometer tube amplifier, but in this case the ions simply accumulated on two small metal plates set at the appropriate positions. Nier’s mass spectrometer required that the ions move in a semicircular path in a uniform magnetic field. The mass analyzer tube was accordingly mounted between the poles of an electromagnet that weighed two tons, and required a 5 kW generator with a stabilized output voltage to power it. (The magnet and generator were not collected by the Smithsonian.) The ion source oven, 180-degree analyzer tube, and isotope collection plates are seen in the photos of the Nier apparatus (see accompanying media file images for this object).

Basic principles of the mass spectrometer

When a charged particle, such as an ion, moves in a plane perpendicular to a magnetic field, it follows a circular path. The radius of the particle’s path is proportional to the product of its mass and velocity, and is inversely proportional to the product of its electrical charge and the magnetic field strength. A mass spectrometer consists of three components: an ion source, a mass analyzer, and a detector. The ion source converts a portion of the sample into ions. There is a wide variety of ionization techniques, depending on the phase (solid, liquid, gas) of the sample and the efficiency of various ionization mechanisms for the unknown species. An extraction system removes ions from the sample and gives them a selected velocity. They then pass through the magnetic field (created by an electromagnet) of the mass analyzer. For a given magnetic field strength, the differences in mass-to-charge ratio of the ions result in corresponding differences in the curvature of their circular paths through the mass analyzer. This results in a spatial sorting of the ions exiting the analyzer. The detector records either the charge induced or the current produced when an ion passes by or hits a surface, thus providing data for calculating the abundance and mass of each isotope present in the sample. For a full description with a schematic diagram of a typical mass spectrometer, go to:

The Nier sector magnet mass spectrometer (not in Smithsonian Modern Physics Collection)

In 1940, during the time that Nier separated the uranium isotopes, he developed a mass spectrometer for routine isotope and gas analysis. An instrument was needed that did not use a 2-ton magnet, or required a 5 kW voltage-stabilized generator for providing the current in the magnet coils. Nier therefore developed the sector magnet spectrometer, in which a 60-degree sector magnet took the place of the much larger one needed to give a 180-degree deflection. The result was that a magnet weighing a few hundred pounds, and powered by several automobile storage batteries, took the place of the significantly larger and heavier magnet which required a multi-kW generator. Quoting Nier, “The analyzer makes use of the well-known theorem that if ions are sent into a homogeneous magnetic field between two V-shaped poles there is a focusing action, provided the source, apex of the V, and the collector lie along a straight line” (reference: A.O. Nier, Rev. Sci. Instr., 11, 212, (1940)). This design was to become the prototype for all subsequent magnetic deflection instruments, including hundreds used in the Manhattan Project.

The Evolution of Pregnancy Portraits, From Tudor England to Beyoncé

Smithsonian Magazine

In 1770, the famed English artist Joshua Reynolds began painting a full-length portrait of his good friend Theresa Parker. By the time the work was completed two years later, the sitter was heavily pregnant; as Parker noted in a letter, she posed for the painting despite being “very fat.” The final product shows the family’s matriarch leaning on a plinth in front of a wooded backdrop, her body draped in an elaborate cascade of fabrics. Her growing belly, however, is not visible.

A mezzotint of this artwork is now on display at the Foundling Museum in London, where it features in a new exhibition exploring artistic depictions of pregnant bodies over the past 500 years. Though fashions fluctuated, pregnancies rarely appeared in portraits prior to the 20th century—this despite the fact that “[h]istorically, from puberty to menopause women would have been pretty much pregnant all the time,” curator Karen Hearn, a historian at University College London who specializes in 16th- to 18th-century British art and culture, tells Rachel Campbell-Johnston of the Times.

The idea for the exhibition, titled “Portraying Pregnancy: From Holbein to Social Media,” was conceived around 20 years ago, when Hearn helped Tate Britain acquire an Elizabethan portrait of a pregnant woman. That work, though not featured in the show, set Hearn down a new path of inquiry.

“I realized such portraits had not previously been studied,” she says to the Art Newspaper’s Margaret Carrigan.

Theresa Parker by Thomas Watson, after Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1773 (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

Hearn, who spent the next two decades researching the subject, has curated a diverse and evocative selection of works, the oldest of which dates back to 1526 or 1527. This delicate drawing by Hans Holbein the Younger shows Cicely Heron, daughter of philosopher and statesman Sir Thomas More, gazing off into the distance, her loosened bodice indicating that she is pregnant. A more conspicuous early example comes in the form of a 1620 portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, who painted an unknown woman resplendent in an elaborate red dress, her arm resting across her patently pregnant stomach.

From the 1560s to approximately 1630, pregnancy portraits were in fact quite common in England, explains Carrigan to the Times—but for centuries afterwards, they were quite rare. Part of the reluctance over depicting pregnant bodies may have stemmed from conservative social mores.

Pregnancy, as Hearn tells Lucy Davies of the Telegraph, offered “visible evidence that a woman was sexually active. Even in marriage, when pregnancy was desirable, it remained problematic. That was the default position for centuries.”

Historical images that do exist were infused with additional tension due to the high rates of maternal death during childbirth. Per a statement, portraits like the one by Gheeraerts the Younger appeared at a time when women would write “mother’s legacy” letters to their unborn children in case they did not survive the delivery. Theresa Parker, the subject of Reynolds’ painting, died soon after giving birth to a daughter in 1775, according to Davies.

An 1817 portrait by George Dawe shows yet another woman who died in childbirth: Princess Charlotte of Wales, daughter of George IV and heir to the British throne. In Dawe’s painting, the princess wears a loose, Russian-style dress that conceals her pregnancy. She died in November of 1817 after giving birth to a stillborn boy.

Attitudes towards pregnancy portraits began to soften in the late 20th century, as artists grew bolder in depicting both the wonders and tribulations of pregnancy. In 1984, for instance, Ghislaine Howard produced a powerful self-portrait showing the later stages of her pregnancy; the figurative artist can be seen slumped in a chair, highlighting the physical strains of her condition.

Ghislaine Howard, Pregnant Self Portrait, 1984 (© Ghislaine Howard)

But the true shift, says the Foundling Museum, came in 1991, when Annie Leibovitz’s photographic portrait of Demi Moore, naked and seven months pregnant, appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair. Shocked by the image, some retailers refused to stock the magazine.

“Nevertheless,” writes the museum, “it marked a culture shift and initiated the trend for more visible celebrations of pregnant bodies—especially nude ones.”

The final portrait to appear in the exhibition is Awol Erizku’s now-iconic photograph of Beyoncé, who enlisted the artist to help announce her pregnancy. Draped in a veil, the singer kneels on an ornate flower arrangement and gazes proudly at the viewer, cradling her stomach. The image threw the internet into a tizzy and became the most-liked Instagram photo of 2017.

As Beyoncé’s portrait suggests, modern women are taking unprecedented agency over their pregnant bodies, celebrating this phase as a time of beauty and empowerment. But the new exhibition shows that even in the past, when women’s pregnancies were often concealed, expectant mothers didn’t shrink from public view.

“[M]any of our current ideas about the lives and activities of women in past centuries need to be revised,” Hearn tells the Art Newspaper, “as we come to understand how frequently many of them were conducting active public roles while pregnant.”

Portraying Pregnancy: From Holbein to Social Media” is on view at the Foundling Museum in London from January 25 to April 26.

BLK Vol. 1 No. 10

National Museum of African American History and Culture
This is the 10th issue of BLK magazine published September 1989. On the front cover, there is an image of Keith C. St. John. St. John wears a jacket, button-up shirt, necktie and a pair of glasses. At top left, [BLK] is printed in large, bold, white uppercase letters within a red rectangular textbox with [Number 10] along the bottom. The letters are partially obscured by the image of St. John. There are 30 pages in total, with articles, advertisements, classifieds, black and white photographs, and cartoon illustrations throughout.

Under the heading [Word Up] there are four short articles: [Enlightened Self Interest / The Eddie Doth Protest / Dis This Jam] and the fourth reads [Florida Black Man Lives 30 Years as Woman, Fools 2 Husbands and Adopted Son]. This is followed by the calendar section [BLK BOARD] and letters to the editor [BLK MAIL].

The cover story, which begins on page 6 and ends on page 7, is entitled [Working Inside / Openly gay black attorney runs for city post in Albany, New York]. Two quotes from the interview are printed in a larger font. The first reads [Being black and gay ‘gives me another tool to illustrate injustices.”] and the second [“I don’t let those things that I don’t think are relevant get in my way.”]

Several shorter articles appear under the [BLK Community News] section. These include: [Three Black Men Place in Super-Men Contest], [Shanti Gets $80K Grant], [MECLA Selects Board], [Board Calls for Dismissal of Gay Coast Guardsman], [Noted Black Lesbians to Marry in L.A. Ceremony] about Jewel Williams and Rue Thais, [Team LA Holds 1st Meet], [Black Lesbians, Gays to Organize in San Diego] about the Lesbians and Gays of African Descent, [Fund $100K AIDS Show], [David Lemming to Write Authorized Baldwin Bio], [Pros Discuss 3rd World AIDS at Montreal Meet], [Seattle: Needles Okay], [Gwenn Craig Tapped for S.F. Police Commission], [Black Lesbian Group Plans Major Conference], [Black Clerics Talk AIDS], [Anti-Abortion Leaders Alienate Most Blacks], [APLA Hires Bicultural Health Ed Coordinator], Gentlemen Concerned Sponsors Garden Party], [County Funds Hospice in South Central L.A.], [Slate Videos for Loan], [Zambian Leader: Study for Solution Not Origin], [African Women Urged to Join Fight Against AIDS], Nurse Sues Over Jab], [MAP, APLA to Sponsor Public Benefits Seminar], [Cleo Manago New Head of East Bay AIDS Project], [San Diego Gets 2 Black Gay HIV Support Groups], [Rue’s House Gets $4K], [CDC Errs on AIDS Cases], [See Possible AIDS, TB Links; CDC Wants Tests], [Black Mayor Apologizes for ‘Monkey Blood’ Slur], [Panel Scolds Defense Dept. on Lesbian Issue], [WHO Says African AIDS Statistics Not Accurate], [Brown Campus Sprouts Anti-Black, Gay Graffiti] and [AmFAR Gives $70K to Minority AIDS Project]

There are advertisements throughout the issue, including: [Minority AIDS Project], [LAPIS WOMEN OF COLOR DROP-IN SUPPORT GROUP], [Black Gay & Lesbian Leadership Forum / Third Annual NATIONAL BLACK GAY AND LESBIAN CONFERENCE and Health Institute], [WE CARE ABOUT THE GAY & LESBIAN COMMUNITY / VISITING NURSE HOME SERVICES], [A Pirate’s Tale / THE BUCCANEER / a novel by M.S. Hunter], [THE Black Gay Men’s Exchange / Friendship, Companionship and Support], [FADED SHADES], [RITES / A magazine for lesbian & gay liberation with a feminist bent], [Unity Fellowship Church], [Hot, Horny & Healthy! / a Fun, Safer Sex Playshop], [BEING ALIVE / PEOPLE WITH AIDS ACTION COALITION], [976 WOLF], [976 CAMP], [MIDTOWNE SPA], [Chocolate Hair / SALON], [A DIFFERENT LIGHT / Gay and Lesbian Literature], and [976 HUGE].

The back cover is a full page advertisement for [THE NEW CAPER LOUNGE] in Inglewood, California.

Could Wood Scraps Fuel Planes?

Smithsonian Magazine

In a game-changing move, Alaska Airlines Flight 4 took to the sky last week in the first-ever commercial flight powered by a brand new wood-based biofuel, flying from Seattle to Washington, D.C. Through a clever innovation that turns wood waste, sourced from tribal lands and private forestry operations in Washington, Oregon and Montana, into a clean burning biofuel, the aviation industry is one step closer to lower carbon emissions.

The project, spearheaded by the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) and funded by a $39.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, is part of the aviation industry’s efforts to reach a carbon neutral zone by 2020. While advanced engine and airplane design and operational and routing issues can help airlines in that regard, at the end of the day, it’s really about the fuel.

“The majority of [the change] needs to come from alternative fuels,” says Patrick Gruber, CEO of Gevo, Inc. Gevo, a Colorado-based biofuels company, is the mastermind behind turning the wood cellulose fiber into jet fuel through its patented Alcohol-to-Jet (ATJ) methodology. “Otherwise you just can’t get there from here. The growth of the fuel demand is something in itself—basically 1 to 3 billion gallons per year growth. That’s the kind of volumes that would have to be offset for the future.”

The process isn’t simple, but the results are groundbreaking.

Wood waste, in the form of slash piles, trimmings and biomass, is subjected to a chemical process that uses enzymes to speed up the natural fermentation of wood sugars with the help of Gevo’s patented yeast. The resulting alcohol is then converted into jet fuel.

“This is the only time in the history of mankind that wood sugar’s been turned into jet fuel that I’m aware of,” says Gruber. “It’s a paradigm-breaker.”

Image by Alaska Airlines. Last week, Alaska Airlines Flight 4, traveling from Seattle to Washington, D.C., became the first-ever flight powered by the new wood-based biofuel. (original image)

Image by NARA. The Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) sources its wood waste from tribal lands and private forestry operations in Washington, Oregon and Montana. (original image)

Image by NARA. A horizontal grinder chops up wood from slash piles. (original image)

Image by NARA. A chip truck is loaded with logging scraps and bits of dead trees. (original image)

Jet engines are incredibly tuned and refined pieces of machinery and can only burn on one type of fuel: kerosene. Any type of biofuel used within the airline industry must be certified. Obtaining that certification requirement involves extensive testing, not only by the biofuel scientists, but also by all of the different engine manufacturers. Military planes must complete numerous successful test flights.

“I believe it [the wood-based biofuel] has been in progress for about six years,” says Mike Wolcott, project co-director for NARA. “What we’re making is molecularly identical to petroleum-based fuels except out of bio-based materials.”

While the wood-based biofuel is new, the use of renewable biofuels within the aviation industry is not. In fact, Gevo fueled two commercial flights for Alaska Airlines in June using a 20 percent blend of renewable biojet fuel derived from U.S. corn. Gruber says that the company’s ATJ process can break down any sugars—whether they are in wood, sugar beets or corn—into isobutanol, and then turn it into jet fuel.

“It proves that we can use multiple sources of sugar,” says Gruber, noting that being able to use wood sugars, which are full of impurities and much more fibrous than food-based renewable carbons, is significant. “We can do wood or corn starch or beet sugar. Essentially, [ATJ] means that I could do this with whatever carbohydrate source from anywhere in the world, which makes it worthwhile on a global scale.”

Wood plays an interesting role in renewable fuel technology because it is plentiful and sustainable. Excess wood pulp from the lumber or carpentry industries, for example, or wood debris leftover from sustainable forestry is easy to obtain. It is also more environmentally friendly—not just as a straight switch from a fossil carbon to a renewable carbon, but in the resulting greenhouse gas emissions, because the carbon source burns differently.

“From our calculations,” says Wolcott. “This has a 70 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in comparison to our conventional petroleum fuel.”

Gruber echoes Wolcott, but adds that the energy source to create the fuel—in this case it’s a mix of hydro and coal fire electricityalso needs to be considered in a full cradle-to-grave analysis. “A lot of the technology that people are looking at gets blurred because they think it’s [biofuels] anything that’s an alternative to oil, but that doesn’t work. You have to have a renewable carbon source plus do something about the energy as well.”

Gruber notes that’s why Gevo is looking to utilize a green energy source, like a wood burning furnace, for their plant in Minnesota.

Then, the next step is to scale up.

“We’re still working in small facilities,” says Wolcott, though Gevo is raising funds to build a larger plant. “We’re not getting the optimum scale yet.”

Regardless, the future of biofuels within the airline industry seems to be clear: they aren’t going anywhere. In fact, several biofuel plants using other standards, like ethanol or biodiesel, are already in production in the U.S. and Europe. In addition, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac), Alaska Airlines and Boeing have recently joined forces to fund a study to understand the development and feasibility of infrastructure to bring biofuels into Sea-Tac to serve all of the airlines that utilize that airport.

“The aviation industry has been very supportive of moving to biofuels,” says Wolcott. “That’s because they see this as an absolutely necessary component for them to continue to grow in a global manner.”

Did Francis Drake Bring Enslaved Africans to North America Decades Before Jamestown?

Smithsonian Magazine

The disappearance of 115 Elizabethans on the coast of North Carolina in the 1580s is a well-known mystery. Even more enigmatic, however, is the fate of another group that may have vanished on Roanoke Island a year before the Lost Colonists attempted to found England’s first outpost in the Americas.

These unwitting settlers—a mix of enslaved North Africans, West Africans, and South Americans—may have arrived more than three decades before the first enslaved Africans are recorded appearing at Jamestown 399 years ago this month. Their strange story, as traced by renowned University of Liverpool historian David Beers Quinn over the course of his esteemed career, suggests that enslaved Africans were expected from the very start to play a key role in the English colonization of the Americas.

The tale begins with pirates in the Caribbean. In 1585, the English privateer Francis Drake assembled a fleet called the Great Expedition to loot and pillage Spanish colonial towns. Drake, the first captain to circumnavigate the globe, attacked the wealthy port of Cartagena on what is now the coast of Colombia. Wheat, silver and enslaved laborers were among the commodities that made the city a rich prize.

English warships confronted a forbidding stone fort bristling with cannons and fronted by war galleys rowed by enslaved Ottoman Turks and North African Muslims, or Moors. Stakes dipped in poison by indigenous allies of the Spanish protected the landward side.

Drake’s overwhelming force of veteran soldiers quickly routed the untested defenders. The invaders looted mansions and gold-bedecked churches before methodically burning portions of the city until the Spanish citizens agreed to pay a ransom to make them stop.

When the English finally departed in the spring of 1586, they took with them the cathedral’s massive bronze church along with “most of the slaves and many of the convicts from the galleys” and “some of the negroes belonging to private owners,” according to a Spanish report studied by Quinn. A Spaniard taken captive by the English and later released on Cuba told authorities there that Drake also took “300 Indians from Cartagena, mostly women” as well as “200 negroes, Turks and Moors, who do menial service.”

Sailing east, Drake’s convoy inexplicably missed Havana, the most important Spanish port in the Caribbean. But a persistent legend maintains that the ships crowded with people from three continents were struck by scurvy and dysentery until South American indigenous women went ashore on Cuba to obtain rum, limes, and mint to make a soothing remedy, today known as the mojito.

Drake then set sail for Roanoke Island, on the North Carolina coast, where some one hundred men had landed the previous year in an effort organized by his friend Sir Walter Raleigh. On the way, the fleet stopped at Florida’s St. Augustine, a city founded two decades prior by the Spanish to provide a refuge for shipwreck victims and to discourage other Europeans from settling the Southeast coast.

The outpost threatened the English colonization effort, so Drake set the place ablaze—but not before stripping the 250 houses of their locks and other valuable hardware that could be useful on Roanoke.

A Spanish dispatch from Havana based on intelligence provided by three Africans left behind in St. Augustine’s smoldering ruins said Drake “meant to leave all the negroes he had in a fort and settlement established [at Roanoke] by the English who went there a year ago. He intended to leave the 250 blacks and all his small craft there, and cross to England with only the larger vessels.”

According to New York University historian Karen Kupperman, “Drake thought he was going to find a flourishing colony, so he brought along some slave labor to help.” But when the fleet anchored off the Outer Banks of North Carolina, he found the Roanoke settlers in dire straits. They were short on food, and had incurred the wrath of the Carolina Algonquian-speaking people by assassinating their leader, Wingina. Drake agreed to provide desperately needed supplies and reinforcements—and, presumably, slave labor.

But a sudden and ferocious storm of “thunder and rain, with hailstones as big as hens’ eggs,” according to one eyewitness, scattered his fleet. Once reassembled, the colonists begged instead to be taken home to England. Drake agreed, and the settlers boarded the ships and returned to England.

What happened to the scores or hundreds of Africans and South Americans, however, is a puzzle. Historians know that Elizabeth I repatriated about 100 Turks in an effort to curry favor with the Ottoman sultan, an enemy of her enemy, Spain, but only three West Africans are recorded to have arrived in England on the fleet—one then fled to Paris to find refuge with the Spanish ambassador.

Quinn, the dean of Roanoke scholars, wrote in his 1974 book England and the Discovery of America that “the only reasonable explanation is that a considerable number of Indians and Negroes were put ashore on the Carolina Outer Banks and equipped with the pots and pans, locks and bolts, boats and launches of Saint Augustine.”

Other historians, however, contend that the Africans and South Americans likely drowned in the storm or were sold on the route to England. “Why would Drake leave the equivalent of gold bullion on the Carolina coast?” Larry Tise, an East Carolina University historian, told Enslaved laborers were valuable trade items at the time, but there was no market for them in Tudor England, and no record exists of deaths in the Outer Banks storm. The facts, Quinn conceded in a 1982 article on the mystery, “may now never be known.”

Scholars agree, however, that what is most striking about the incident is its obscurity. “The saddest part of the story and perhaps the most revealing is that no one bothered to say” what happened to these enslaved people, noted historian Edmund Morgan in his 1975 American Slavery, American Freedom.

Nor has their much subsequent interest in this other potential lost colony. A year after Drake’s fleet departed from Roanoke, 115 men, women, and children arrived in the second attempt to establish an English base in the New World. War with Spain severed their links to Europe, and their fate remains the stuff of legend. “People have been fixated on the 1587 colonists” rather than the vanished slaves, said Kupperman. “It’s obscure because, until the last 30 years, nobody cared about lost Africans and Indians.”

Quinn died in 2002, but Kupperman and Tise hope that future archival or archaeological finds could provide new insight into Drake’s passengers. The results could rewrite our understanding of the role of enslaved Africans in early English settlements, long presumed to have first arrived first at Jamestown in 1619 to cultivate tobacco.

Engineering a Smithsonian for the 21st Century

Smithsonian Institution Archives

Secretary G. Wayne Clough at Smithsonian Staff Picnic Meeting Archives Staff, 2008.

As the saying goes, "Time flies when you're having a good time," and indeed it seems like yesterday that we met the new Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough at the Staff Picnic in July of 2008.  In some ways, he appeared to fit the mold of the typical Smithsonian Secretary: a very tall man with a Ph.D. But in other ways, he broke the mold – a Southerner? – an engineer? How would someone like that lead the quirky Smithsonian?  Hints of what the future had in store for us could be seen that first day, as he walked around the music and research tents, engaging staff in discussions about what they did at the Institution.  His positive energy and smile were infectious, and I remember thinking, well, maybe he can liven this place up again . . . 

Secretary G. Wayne Clough digging for fossils in Wyoming.

Dr. Clough turned out to be a quick study as he surveyed the Institution and the people who make it tick – our strengths and weaknesses – and he formulated a plan that moved forward simultaneously on several tracks. The first task was daunting – to turn around a negative attitude that had crept across the Smithsonian in the last decade.  He visited units, demonstrated to staff that he genuinely valued the work being done here, and publicly rewarded those with creativity and dedication.  He dug up fossils, learned to work a snow blower, snorkeled in the Caribbean and hiked around the South Pole.  He got to know the Smithsonian in-depth.  And he challenged all of the staff to think positively about the future of the Smithsonian, rather than dwell upon the past.

Secretary G. Wayne Clough Operating Snow Blower during 2010 Snowmaggedon.

For someone who was a graduate student at Berkeley in the 1970s when the computer revolution was taking off and Silicon Valley was coming into existence, the Smithsonian seemed behind the curve in the information technology Dr. Clough was immersed in for his engineering work.  So, his second front was to encourage the expansion of the digitization of our collections, use of digital communications to reach new audiences, and support projects that used information technology in new and creative ways for Smithsonian web 2.0.  Before long, Dr. Clough had the staff digitizing everything in 3D – even mini-Wayne himself!  Today we reach millions of people across the globe and thousands of online volunteers have become part of the Smithsonian family.

Earthquake Damage at the Museum Support Center in 2010.

So what does an engineer do at the Smithsonian?  We quickly took solace in his expertise in earthquake engineering when a quake hit the mid-Atlantic region in 2011, damaging Smithsonian buildings.  A lot of environmental research is conducted across the Smithsonian, but putting that research into practice in our own facilities had not been a priority.  Dr. Clough challenged the facilities staff and they substantially reduced the amount of fossil fuels used and increased the amount of renewable fuel sources.

The Smithsonian is a large and complex organization – so Dr. Clough looked for ways to increase interactions across diverse units.  He brought together a group who distilled Smithsonian interests into the four "Grand Challenges" of Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe, Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet, Valuing World Cultures, and Understanding the American Experience.  And then he actually found funding for collaborative grants! "The Anthropocene" challenged astrophysicists, anthropologists, art historians, cultural historians, botanists, and paleontologists to actually work together on a coherent project. Could they do it? Yes, they did and got us all thinking in new ways, at the same time we got to know coworkers whose work was very different than our own.

Smithsonian Staff Logo at Annual Picnic on Mall in 2010, by Dane Penland.

So it is now time to bid farewell to Dr. Clough, as he returns to his beloved Georgia. I'll be busy for the next couple of years ensuring all his positive accomplishments are properly documented in our historical record.  We'll miss the smile, enthusiasm, and challenges to reach higher every day, but we can build on his legacy to create a truly 21st century Smithsonian!

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When Women Weren't Allowed to Go to Harvard, Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Brought Harvard to Them

Smithsonian Magazine

The story of Harvard University starts with its establishment in 1636. The story of women students at Harvard starts two hundred years later. Women weren't allowed to get degrees there until Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, born on this day in 1822, helped change that.

“Agassiz carried the energy and vision needed to grapple with Harvard’s administration,” writes Natalie duP. C. Panno for The Harvard Crimson.

Agassiz was an important part of the push to have women educated at Harvard, which, like most universities at the time, was open only to men. She was the founding president of the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women, colloquially known as the Harvard Annex, and remained president when it became Radcliffe College, one of only two of the Seven Sisters to grant degrees that were also signed by the president of an Ivy League school.

The former wife of deceased Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz, she had been educating women since opening a school to supplement their household income in 1855, according to Encyclopedia Britannica . She was there when the Harvard Annex opened in the fall of 1879, writes Madeleine Schwartz for Harvard Magazine.

At the Annex, Harvard professors taught Annex women the same classes they taught the men.

“Harvard Annex girls have nothing in common with their Harvard University brethren except the most important of all—the Harvard professors and the Harvard examinations,” wrote student Amy Robsart circa 1893. But not all was equal: students earned certificates, not the coveted Harvard degrees, and they weren’t a part of regular scholastic life, writes Schwartz.

Radcliffe College was the last of the pioneering women’s colleges to gain degree-granting status. The founders of Radcliffe College didn’t just want to give women an education. They wanted to give women access to a Harvard education, writes Nancy Weiss Malkiel in her book on co-education, and they were willing to wait until that could be achieved.

As early as 1883, Agassiz was trying to explain why the Annex could be different from other women’s schools: “We readily admit that such a college would be both undesirable and superfluous, unless we can connect it directly with Harvard College. Failing this, we should miss the distinctive thing for which we have aimed.”

Other schools like Vassar, Smith and Wellesley offered degrees for women. Agassiz wanted access to Harvard’s long-standing prominence and “its relation to the intellectual world outside, its maturity of thought and method; its claim on cultivated minds everywhere,” she wrote in 1892.  

But Harvard was reticent to bring women into the educational fold. In 1883, university president Charles Eliot said educating young men and women together was out of the question at Harvard: “generations of civil freedom and social equality” would be required before women’s capacities could even begin to be assessed. Ten years later, Panno writes, Harvard’s treasurer referred to it as a “risky experiment.”

In December 1893, it was announced that the Annex might join Harvard. That would mean that students would receive Harvard degrees. Newspapers of the time, preserved in founder Arthur Gilman’s scrapbook, document lengthy wrangling about its exact status, its ability to grant postgraduate degrees, and numerous other issues.

It took some time and an act from the Massachusetts legislature, but by June 1894 when the academic year’s courses for the new Radcliffe College (named after the first woman to donate to Harvard) were announced, the Boston Herald wrote “It is the Harvard course over again, with practically all the advantages of university training.” In a victory for Agassiz and her fellows, Radcliffe students studied on Harvard standards and received degrees with the Harvard seal and the signature of its president, as well as that of Radcliffe’s president.

In her address to the graduating class of 1896, reported the Cambridge Tribune, Agassiz said that the privileges of a Harvard education came with the responsibility of doing something with it.

“We have to show that the wider scope of knowledge and the severer training of the intellect may strengthen and enrich a woman’s life,” she said, “and help her in her appointed or chosen work, whatever that may prove to be, as much as it helps a man in his career.”

Agassiz resigned in 1899, at the age of 77, believing that Radcliffe College was only a temporary step on the way to full Harvard admission for women. In a sense, she was right, as by 1971 Radcliffe was no longer a degree-granting institution and had joined Harvard in what was called a “non-merger merger.” “Most Radcliffe alumni and even the Radcliffe trustees were not willing to relinquish Radcliffe’s corporate identity,” Weiss writes.

But for women to fully join Harvard as students, “She would have more than a century to wait,” wrote Drew Gilpin Faust in 2001. Radcliffe College was fully dissolved in 1999, at which point women ceased to have two signatures on their diplomas—one from Radcliffe and one from Harvard.

Editor's note: The photo accompanying this story was originally captioned with an incorrect date. The date of the photo of Elizabeth Cary Agassiz seen here is unknown.

Barefoot Hemingway

Smithsonian Magazine

Why did you want to write this story now?

With the news coming in from Cuba over the last few months, I was thinking that Cuba's on the verge of a change. I came to Cuba from Ireland in January 1960, just after Castro came into power, in January 1959. Since then I've spent all my time in the U.S., but I'm very interested in Cuba, so I've observed how things have changed. Now it seems as if Castro's demise is imminent, or at least the demise of his influence and his reign. He was very visible for all these years, and now he's not. He's almost a ghost. So I thought this would be a perfect time to go down to Cuba.

The main thrust of the story is Hemingway, because when I think of Cuba I think of Hemingway. I went back to Cuba in 1999, and I was amazed at how alive the Hemingway legend was. It's was as if he were still walking the streets. To the people who have Hemingway in their hearts, which is a great many Cubans, he is still there and he belongs there. A lot of Cubans actually think he's a Cuban writer, born in Cuba. That's slightly amusing. Plus I think there's this sort of one-upmanship, thumbing the nose at the U.S. He lived in Cuba longer than in the U.S., he probably wrote more—maybe not better, but more. They are almost creating a Cuban Hemingway, which I found amusing and endearing.

Do they read his books in Cuba?

Well, here's the problem. Cuba is under communist rule, and this means that they don't pay for copyrights. They were lamenting to me, "Hemingway is taught in all the schools, but we can't get copies of his books in Cuba because they want us to pay money for the copyright, and we don't have any money." So I have a feeling there must be photocopies. At the Finca and the Journalists' Union, they asked me if I could bring copies in English and Spanish for their libraries. They didn't seem to have the latest copies of posthumous publications.

You mention in the story that the United States still restricts travel to Cuba. How did you get there?

I had to go slightly roundabout. I have an Irish passport. I went through Canada, and I took my brother with me. We're Irish, although I have an American passport too so I'm American too, but he's just Irish. The restriction is that a U.S. citizen or resident cannot spend money in Cuba, so technically he paid all the bills, and that covered me as far as the U.S. government was concerned. I also had to get a Cuban journalist's visa in order to do a story down there, and I got into a real tangle because I went down there on my Irish passport but the journalists' visa had been issued to my American passport. We sorted that out, but I tell you, these bureaucratic countries don't care who you are, what the name is, who you know. The two passport numbers didn't match, so I almost found myself on a plane back to Canada.

Did anyone get excited when they found out your name was Hemingway?

Some of the people did. The Cuban people were excited, but I think the tourists couldn't have cared less. I went to two different hotels in two different areas, and in both cases they gave me a huge bouquet of flowers the day before I was leaving each one. I think it was because when my brother made the reservations he just asked for two single rooms under his name. Then phone calls started coming in for Mrs. Hemingway.

What was it like being back?

Cuba has been living in a little time warp, so it's a peculiar place. It reminded me very much of growing up in Ireland in the '40s and '50s. That was after the War, and there were no goodies, food and travel were restricted. No one had a car when I was growing up—a car was the most exotic thing. This was just like going back into my childhood. Everything in the house has to last, because you can't just go out to the store and buy new things. And in some ways there's something nice about that, there's none of this urgency to run out to the store and stock up with a zillion things.

How did it feel being back at the Finca?

It's lovely to see the house preserved. They had just renovated it, and they're scrupulously trying to adhere to how the house was, so they bombarded me with questions about whether they were getting it right. They wanted to get to the nitty-gritty of the authentic Finca that Hemingway had lived in. They asked, "Was that chair in that corner?" When I was there chairs were moved around as needed. I tried to say, "It wasn't a museum then, it was a house, and in a house things get moved around." They asked, "Were his shoes there or there?" I remember Hemingway mostly went barefoot, and he would kick off his shoes, and then René, his valet, would put them away. He wasn't meticulous when it came to his clothes. Everything wasn't perfect. He wasn't the tidiest person. Things were always lying around.

It feels more like a museum since the renovation. I try to avoid going back to places, because I like to retain the memory, but when I went back in 1999 I expected Ernest to burst through the door and Mary to peer around the corner with her pruning shears and basket. And this time it was less so.

Do you reread the books?

I do. In 1998 I was going to the south of France, so I reread Garden of Eden. If I'm going to Paris I might reread A Moveable Feast. Going down to Cuba this time I reread Islands in the Stream. There are also other times when I'm interested in Spain, and I reread For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Had you read the books before you met him?

I'd just turned 19 the week before I met him. When I was 16 I had pilfered this book, Fiesta [called The Sun Also Rises in the United States]. Most of his work was banned in Ireland, and this one was definitely banned. Someone had given me Men Without Women, his book of short stories. And that was it. But I didn't know that he was a great writer. In Ireland we thought the greatest writers were Irish writers. (And of course James Joyce was banned too, so he wasn't among the writers that we read, except surreptitiously.) There was no American writer that we studied in school, it was thought that Americans didn't really have the hang of the English language, that they were too new to have written anything of consequence. It all seems funny now, but that was the attitude.

When you read the books now, do you read them as the work of Hemingway, the famous writer, or Ernest, the man you knew?

It's very hard to remove the person you knew from the books, because there's so much of him in his books, there's so much of the attitudes—he's right there, that whole personality is right there in those books.

What was the most surprising thing about this trip?

I think the most surprising thing was how Hemingway is still so alive. There is such an affection for him. I don't know many writers that people actually think of them as a person 45 years after their death.

This Insect Has The Only Mechanical Gears Ever Found in Nature

Smithsonian Magazine

The small hopping insect Issus coleoptratus uses toothed gears (magnified above with an electron microscope) to precisely synchronize the kicks of its hind legs as it jumps forward. All images courtesy of Malcom Burrows

To the best of our knowledge, the mechanical gear—evenly-sized teeth cut into two different rotating surfaces to lock them together as they turn—was invented sometime around 300 B.C.E. by Greek mechanics who lived in Alexandria. In the centuries since, the simple concept has become a keystone of modern technology, enabling all sorts of machinery and vehicles, including cars and bicycles.

As it turns out, though, a three-millimeter long hopping insect known as Issus coleoptratus beat us to this invention. Malcolm Burrows and Gregory Sutton, a pair of biologists from the University of Cambridge in the U.K., discovered that juveniles of the species have an intricate gearing system that locks their back legs together, allowing both appendages to rotate at the exact same instant, causing the tiny creatures jump forward.

Issus coleoptratus

The gears are located on the top segment of each of the insect’s hind legs

The finding, which was published today in Science, is believed to be the first functional gearing system ever discovered in nature. Insects from the Issus genus, which are commonly called “planthoppers,” are found throughout Europe and North Africa. Burrows and Sutton used electron microscopes and high-speed video capture to discover the existence of the gearing and figure out its exact function.

The reason for the gearing, they say, is coordination: To jump, both of the insect’s hind legs must push forward at the exact same time. Because they both swing laterally, if one were extended a fraction of a second earlier than the other, it’d push the insect off course to the right or left, instead of jumping straight forward.

The gearing is an elegant solution. The researchers’ high-speed videos showed that the creatures, who jump at speeds as high as 8.7 miles per hour, cocked their back legs in a jumping position, then pushed forward, with each moving within 30 microseconds (that’s 30 millionths of a second) of the other.

The finely toothed gears in their legs allow this to happen. “In Issus, the skeleton is used to solve a complex problem that the brain and nervous system can’t,” Burrows said in a press statement.

The gears are located at the top of the insects’ hind legs (on segments known as trochantera) and include 10 to 12 tapered teeth, each about 80 micrometers wide (or 80 millionths of a meter). In all the Issus hoppers studied, the same number of teeth were present on each hind leg, and the gears locked together neatly. The teeth even have filleted curves at the base, a design incorporated into human-made mechanical gears because it reduces wear over time.

To confirm that the gears performed this function, the researchers performed a neat (albeit morbid) trick with some dead Issus. They manually cocked their legs back in a jumping position, then electrically stimulated the main jumping muscle in one leg so that the leg extended. Because it was rotationally locked by the gears, the other non-stimulated leg moved as well, and the dead insect jumped forward.

The main mystery is the fact that adults of the same insect species don’t have any gearing—as the juveniles grow up and their skin molts away, they fail to regrow these gear teeth, and the adult legs are synchronized by an alternate mechanism (a series of protrusions extend from both hind legs, and push the other leg into action).

Burrows and Sutton hypothesize that this could be explained by the fragility of the gearing: if one tooth breaks, it limits the effectiveness of the design. This isn’t such a big problem for the juveniles, who repeatedly molt and grow new gears before adulthood, but for the mature Issus, replacing the teeth would be impossible—hence the alternate arrangement.

There have been gear-like structures previously found on other animals (like the spiny turtle or the wheel bug), but they’re purely ornamental. This seems to be the first natural design that mechanically functions like our geared systems.

“We usually think of gears as something that we see in human designed machinery, but we’ve found that that is only because we didn’t look hard enough,” Sutton said. “These gears are not designed; they are evolved—representing high speed and precision machinery evolved for synchronisation in the animal world.”

Macabre school supplies: 19th century dissection sets

National Museum of American History

A 19th-century medical student brought to school a number of things, including scientific texts and a hope to one day relieve the suffering of others. The student's most important school supply, however, was a dissecting set. The era's medical curricula emphasized the importance of human dissection in the training of America's young physicians because it allowed doctors to approach the body with greater scientific understanding. With a small wooden box of ivory-handled tools, an aspiring physician hoped to learn the essence of the human body beyond what text alone could teach.

A wooden box filled with various tools that include blades and scissors

As the Revolutionary War drew to a close in 1783, the country looked to mirror its newfound political independence in homegrown medical education. Before the proliferation of American medical schools, aspiring physicians had to travel to Britain or France to learn their profession. America's new interest in training her own physicians coincided with a growing European appreciation for hands-on dissection. Before the late 1700s, medical students rarely performed dissection themselves. Rather, they watched an anatomy professor demonstrate on a cadaver at the front of a lecture hall. In contrast, American medical education came of age in a world that required each student to perform dissection. Physicians of the time felt that dissection was the foundation of medical knowledge. According to surgeon Robert Liston, "it is only when we have acquired dexterity on the dead subject, that we can be justified in interfering with the living."

A wooden box with red lining laying open. The tools it contains are positioned around it, including scalpels and scissors

A 19th-century dissection set usually contained scissors, forceps, hooks, several scalpels, a heavy cartilage knife, and a blowpipe. Each instrument was designed to reveal the internal structures of the human body. For example, dissectors used scalpels and forceps to peel back the skin and blowpipes to inflate structures like the colon to make them easier to see. While surgical instruments of the same period had constructions that allowed for careful and specialized work, dissecting instruments were fewer in number and used more generally. Many instruments of the surgical craft were unnecessary in dissection. The medical student's few instruments enabled cutting through tough tissue and peeling away layers of the body to take stock of its parts.

A lack and white photograph of a group of young men standing behind a table on which is a human body which has been dissected

For much of the 19th century, surgeons performed operations on patients without any kind of anesthesia. Because of the pain patients had to endure, surgeons were trained to work as quickly as possible. On the other hand, anatomical professors encouraged their students to dissect slowly and methodically. Anatomy professor J. P. Judkins described dissection as the most captivating subject in medical study. According to him, dissection "rivits [sic] the attention, and excites the curiosity to know what wonders are contained with in us." The dissecting set allowed a medical student to expose these wonders.

But the dissecting set was not the anatomical student's only school supply. A cadaver was also necessary to perform dissection. However, the public saw dissection as a desecration of the dead and feared it might hinder a spirit's resurrection on Judgment Day. Because of this opposition, medical schools found they had a shortage of cadavers to use in the classroom. Many physicians either resorted to stealing bodies from graves or paying hired "resurrectionists" to do the same. But, if discovered, this theft could potentially result in a riot against the nearest medical institution. For this reason, body-snatchers preferred the graves of the poor and those of enslaved and free blacks. The white middle and upper class seldom objected to the violation of these populations.

A painting of a man touching the arm of a cadaver that lays on a slab. The man looks off as he reached for a tool on the counter next to him.

In this context, the dissecting set took on multiple meanings. It was a tool through which America built a scientifically respectable medical infrastructure. In the hands of curious young medical students, it represented a gateway into the medical profession. To those outside the medical community, the dissection set meant a threat of violation, both of religious beliefs and bodily integrity. Ultimately, the impact of this macabre school supply reached far outside the classroom.

Jenna McCampbell is an intern in the Division of Medicine and Science working with curator Katherine Ott. She is a junior at Smith College majoring in history and computer science.

intern Jenna McCampbell
Posted Date: 
Friday, February 17, 2017 - 08:00
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These Psychedelic Images Find Order Amid Chaos

Smithsonian Magazine

What do you see when you look at these images? Microscopic cells, cross-sections of bones, blood vessels—these biological structures all spring to mind. All of those guesses would be wrong.

At first glance the work of Australian generative artist Jonathan McCabe might look like biological specimen stained with some psychedelic chemicals for effect, but it’s not biology. He created all of these images using computer algorithms based on a little-known biological theory of how cells randomly grow into patterns and form order amid chaos.

But, before we delve into theoretical biology, what exactly is generative art?

Generative artwork is made with the help of some sort of outside system (usually a computer program or algorithm, but chemical reactions would work too) that processes and transforms initial inputs. Those inputs can be visual, statistical, or even musical—they could be food left to rot, creating delicate rings of mold, or even an artificial DNA code used to construct 3D models of cities. And one system can produce a lot of different end products.

Taking part of the creation of the art out of the artist’s total control introduces an element of surprise. “Generative art can be addictive, with the promise that something good will turn up, given enough tinkering with the process,” says McCabe. Artists focus on the output and tinker with algorithms to get the end product that satisfies them—aesthetically, mentally, artistically, etc.

Since 2009, McCabe has been tinkering with algorithms based on a biological theory proposed by computer scientist and mathematician Alan Turing. Though better known for his work on artificial intelligence and for cracking the German Enigma coding machine, Turing also had an interest in patterns that govern the natural world. In 1952, he published a paper entitled “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis,” in which he posited that chemical substances (called “morphogens”) react with each other and spread through tissue to create naturally occurring patterns in organisms made up of thousands, perhaps billions of cells. 

Turing came up with a basic model of how such natural patterns work. A cell produces chemicals, and those chemicals react and diffuse into their environment of neighboring cells. There’s a compound that activates the reaction, and one that shuts it down, an “inhibitor.” Depending on the concentration of the “activator” chemical in each cell, you might get a spot or a stripe as the reaction diffuses across tissue—the larger the area, the more complex the pattern. Turing devised mathematical formulas to predict how six patterns might form in a small sphere of cells.

It’s easy to see how such a basic process could underpin pigment patters in animal skin and scales, creating a cacophony of spots and stripes. Researchers have modeled Turing patterns in seashells, fish eyes, and slime mold, and have even shown that Turing’s theory explains the evolution of leopard spots with age.

Some extend Turing’s equations to three-dimensional patterns, too, for example those found in tooth spacing and limb development. In 2011, a team provided experimental evidence that the ridges in a mouse’s mouth formed according to Turing’s theory. (Chemists at Brandeis University also published a study in March using Turing formulas to make 3D structures in test tubes, too.)

Because McCabe spends his own days devising algorithms to create art, he was aware of Turing’s work. When he started seeing the characteristic spots and stripes of Turing patterns pop up in his generative artwork, he decided to play around with his code. “I guessed that the Turing patterns were appearing accidentally,” says McCabe. So, naturally, he tried to make them on purpose. 

Turing’s work is a natural tool for generative art. To mimic a chemical system, McCabe devised programs governed by the same principles to produce images—using pixels in place of cells. The program randomly assigns a number to each pixel, which produces a color. Just as the chemical reaction in one cell influences its neighbors, the number for each pixel changes based on the surrounding pixels. “I had seen pictures of animals, particularly lizards and fishes, which had quite beautiful patterns on their bodies, so that was the inspiration,” he explains.

McCabe’s first imaging experiments were quite basic: black and white dots and maze-like patterns. Eventually, by layering two or three or more Turing processes on top of each other he could create more complex patterns—large stripes comprised of small dots or swirls and a rainbow of colors form a larger picture. These are called multi-scale Turing patterns, and McCabe has graduated to creating them on a large scale. Zooming into one of these large images is almost like peering into a network of living cells. 

The beauty of generative art is that you never know exactly what you’ll get. Depending on what he likes or doesn’t like about the end product, he’ll tweak an algorithm or combine pieces of different algorithms. “Sometimes I use genetic algorithms where I have the program randomly combine parts of 'recipes,' which have led to good outputs, doing a sort of selective breeding,” says McCabe.

Many of the images look like iridescent fish or lizard scales, animal hide, blood vessels, or even stained tissue samples. McCabe has even combined them with algorithms that mimic the physics of flowing fluid to create ocean-like landscapes.

But he never makes an image with a specific natural form in mind, nor does he title his work. That leaves them open to interpretation. Do you see a plant cell or a turtle shell? Ultimately, McCabe figures that what you see is up to you.

A New Look at the Smithsonian: Louise Hutchinson

Smithsonian Institution Archives

Louise Daniel Hutchinson, by Capilongo, Chris, 1983, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2003-19578.When I began doing oral history interviews at the Smithsonian in 1974, I went to see Louise Daniel Hutchinson (1928-2014) of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, now the Anacostia Community Museum (ACM). She was a pioneer in community oral history and experimented with new media, such as video, that captured settings and body language. She maintained the highest standards of scholarship at the same time that she welcomed the inexperienced, those outside the ivy-covered walls of academe. Her dedication to African American history was infectious, and she had a major effect on the development of the Anacostia Museum.

Anacostia Historical Society Members, by Unknown, c. 1967, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 94-2464.Born in 1928 in Ridge, Maryland, Hutchinson’s parents were teachers and civil rights activists in the District of Columbia. As a college student, she sat-in at lunch counters and attended the arguments for Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. She received her B.A. from Howard University in 1951 and pursued graduate studies in sociology. She married Ellsworth W. Hutchinson, Jr., and worked as a substitute teacher as they raised six children. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Hutchinson reassessed her life and decided she had to make more major contributions to improve the world for her children. As she was looking for an outlet, she was asked to take on an education project at the National Portrait Gallery that would focus on working with the District of Columbia public schools.  So in 1971 she became a researcher at the Portrait Gallery, working on the African American portraiture of  William Harmon and Winold Reiss, with a goal of linking to the local community. She also contributed to the exhibit The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution while creating a solid program of educational activities.

Groundbreaking of the New Anacostia Museum, by Anderson, Rhawn, 1985, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 95-1212.By that time, the Smithsonian was beginning to change a bit. Secretary S. Dillon Ripley had created the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum in 1967 to reach out to the local African American communities that rarely visited the Mall museums. Community activist John Kinard was named director, and he brought Hutchinson to the Museum in 1974 to direct its Research Center. She quickly began a series of dynamic programs that engaged the community. The museum was housed in an old movie theater which a cadre of volunteers helped convert to a museum. The Anacostia Historical Society grew under her watchful eye, and she created a research center where locals brought their treasured bibles and photographs for preservation. 

S. Dillon Ripley & "Uncle Beazley", by Unknown, September 15, 1967, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 91-521 or 68-2589.Hutchinson curated several ground-breaking exhibits, such as The Anacostia Story: 1608-1930, Out of Africa: From West African Kingdoms to Colonization, and Black Women: Achievements Against the Odds. Meticulously researched, they were accompanied by books that made this history available to a broader audience. Smithsonian administrators had viewed the Anacostia site as a temporary exhibit venue to attract visitors to the Mall, not an actual museum. Hutchinson worked hard to redefine the museum's mission and eventually succeeded "against the odds" in making it a full scale museum.  But she and her colleagues had to overcome significant inertia and even opposition on the Mall. The museum's Research Center collected a wealth of materials on African American history, including interviews of community members. She ensured that the contributions of the Anacostia and wider African American community were recognized in the historical record, and then shared that information with K-12 teachers and their students, community members, scholars and college students alike. She also rewrote Smithsonian history with her book, Kind Regards of S. G. Brown, on Professor Solomon Brown, the first African American employee at the Smithsonian who spent 54 years at the Institution.

Hutchinson was always busy, but never too busy to mentor younger folks who needed guidance.  Always generous with her time and expertise, Hutchinson placed the Anacostia Community Museum on a firm foundation and developed a cadre of young people to carry her work forward.

Please listen to the following audio clips from the oral history interviews with Louise Daniel Hutchinson:

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Kyrgyzstan’s Otherworldly Cities of the Dead

Smithsonian Magazine

In the summer of 2006, Margaret Morton found herself in Kyrgyzstan accompanying a friend who was conducting grant research on Kyrgyz culture for a theatrical performance. One day, as they were traveling by car through lonely, mountainous terrain, she noticed what appeared to be a city in distance.

Approaching the structure, however, she realized that it was desolate and overgrown with weeds. This was not a city of the living, but a city of the dead—a Krygyz ancestral cemetery. Captivated by the site, and the others that she saw on her trip, Morton extended her stay. While her attraction was aesthetic at the start, she soon learned that the cemeteries were veritable fossils of Kyrgyzstan's multicultural past and returned for two more summers to study and document the sites. Morton’s new book Cities of the Dead: The Ancestral Cemeteries of Kyrgyzstan exhibits both the beauty and structural uniqueness of these burial grounds. I spoke with Morton, who is a professor of photography at The Cooper Union, about the project.


Cities of the Dead: The Ancestral Cemeteries of Kyrgyzstan

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When you returned to Kyrgyzstan after your first trip, what were you looking to find?

I wanted to see in the different regions of Kyrgyzstan how [the cemeteries] varied, which they did dramatically.

How so?

On the Uzbekistan-Tajikistan border, they’re quite different. The images in the book with the animal horns and the yak tails—those were on the remote border regions. The one with the deer horns was actually on the north shore of Lake Issyk Kul—that area was originally settled by a tribe called the deer people.

The very grand cemeteries that I saw initially were on the south shore of Lake Issyk Kul. If they’re high up in the mountains, they’re very different. I had this theory that if the mountains are rounded and soft, the monuments have more rounded tops. I couldn’t help thinking it was just innate response. That is often the case where the people that build their own building are just responding very directly to the landscape because it’s a larger part of their lives than it is for us who live in cities.

And how did you go about finding the burial sites?

That proved more difficult that I had thought because of the roads. Kyrgyzstan is [mostly] mountains so there aren’t a lot of roads to get to places, and there aren’t a lot of paved roads—many haven’t been repaired since Soviet times—and there are a lot of mountain roads with hairpin turns, so I realized it was going to take two more summers to do what I wanted to do and to visit every region.

What elements or combination of elements in these cemeteries did you find most striking?

Certainly the fact that they looked like cities and that they were in this dramatic landscape. I was initially really more compelled by that response and not thinking about it as much as a burial tradition. As I learned more and more about it … the fascinating aspect was the fact that you could have nomadic references and Islamic references and Soviet references—all this could coexist in the cemetery architecture, and nobody had ever tried to change that or destroy that. That was really fascinating to me because, during the Soviet era, a lot of the important mosques were destroyed in Kyrgyzstan. But the cemeteries were never touched.

Do you think there is anything quite like this?

It seems that it’s quite unique. I did speak to artists and art historians from Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. I haven’t been to those countries, but I know a lot of people that either live there or have traveled there. They say that sometimes the cemeteries aren’t as elaborate, which is ironic because those countries do have more elaborate architecture than Kyrgyzstan. The metal structures that replicate the yurt—they said that it is unique to Kyrgyzstan. Elmira Kochumkulova, who wrote the book's introduction, had seen yak tails right on the Kyrgyz border in Tajikistan, but then she reminded me that those borders were Soviet-made borders.

Is anyone working to preserve the cemeteries?

The Kyrgz don’t preserve them. They think it’s fine that they return to the earth. A lot of [monuments] are made just from dried clay with a thin stucco, a thin clay coating over them, and you can see some of them look very soft and rounded and they wouldn’t have been when they were built, they would have had more pointed tops.

Your past four books have focused on environments of the homeless in New York. Did those projects inform this one in any way?

Absolutely. The four previous projects, even though they were centered in Manhattan and about homeless communities, were about the housing that homeless people made for themselves. [It's] this idea of people making their housing—in this case it’s housing their dead, and it’s a dramatic landscape that I was being exposed to for the first time ... what attracted me to it was the same.

Was there a reason why you chose to publish these photos in black and white?

The first summer I was photographing in black and white for my own projects. Then the second summer, I did film and then also color digital because I knew the country so much better. The color is just this pale, brown clay, usually—it’s very monochromatic. The architectural forms definitely come through better in black and white.

Do you have any projects coming up?

I’m photographing an abandoned space in Manhattan again. What will become of it I don’t know. I wanted to stay very focused on this book. I put so much energy into the project—I don’t want to let it go now that it’s finding its life in the world.

An auto racing legacy: Meet the Black American Racers

National Museum of American History

As a kid, Leonard W. Miller secretly tinkered with his parents' car for almost a year before they noticed he'd been replacing parts under the hood. His fascination with cars found a new outlet when neighbors moved in next door and let "Len" help prepare their 1939 Ford coupe convertible hot rod for races on the local drag strip. When he spent more time working on his own 1940 Ford Club Coupe convertible instead of studying for his classes at Pennsylvania's West Chester State Teachers College, his mom made him sell his hot rod. But his passion for race cars wasn't going anywhere.

A Pennsylvania license plate. It is yellow with blue outline and numbers/letters

Len went on to challenge the primarily white world of auto racing to make room for African American team owners, crews, mechanics, and drivers. He formed Miller Brothers Racing with his brother Dexter and, with Kenny Wright as their driver, won dozens of times during the 1969–1971 racing seasons.

A trophy. There is a silver figure on top holding something aloft but the rest of the trophy is gold with a center stripe having daisy-like accents

In 1973 Len launched Vanguard Racing Inc. and became the first African American owner to enter a driver in the Indy 500. Len found John Mahler, a white driver who had run in the Indianapolis 500, to show Benny Scott the ropes in the hopes that Scott would drive in the Indy 500. Benny Scott was an African American race car driver whose father, Bill "Bullet" Scott, raced in the California black auto circuit in the 1930s. John Mahler—not Benny Scott—was behind the wheel for the Indy 500 of 1972. The Indy 500 didn't allow a black driver to enter the race until 1991.

In 1973 Len founded the Black American Racers Association (BARA) with Wendell Scott, Ron Hines, and Malcolm Durham, to unify African Americans involved in all types of motorsports—stock car, open-wheel, and drag racing. Stock car racing uses cars that can be bought by the general public with car parts readily available, such as the cars used in NASCAR racing. Open-wheel racing uses cars with the wheels mounted outside of the main body of the car, like those found at the Indianapolis 500. Drag racing involves two cars racing from a standing start on a measured, flat track.

The cover to "Black Racers Yearbook" It has text in yellow and an illustration of men fixing up a car in the forefront and more cars going back into the distanceAn iron on patch. It is white with a yellow outline and a red car zooming through some text in the middle

A car that appears to be a very dark yellow. It has an emblem in the upper left corner and writing on the rest

Later that same year, Vanguard Racing became Black American Racers, Inc. (BAR), and was operated by members of BARA. The racing program was built around Benny Scott as the sole driver; he raced open-wheel for BAR until 1976, when he bought his own car to race on the West Coast. In 1976 BARA member Tommy Thompson would become a driver for BAR after Scott's departure. Tragically, Thompson was killed in a raceway accident on the Trenton Speedway in 1978.

A black iron on patch with a white helmet on the front

Black steering wheel

As a result of Thompson's death, BAR began entering stock car races in 1980. Despite the switch to stock car racing, BAR and the Black American Racers Association lay dormant through the 1980s and eventually interest in the organizations faded. This is when Len's son, Leonard T. "Lenny" Miller, decided to join the family business and became co-owner of the Miller Racing Group with his father.

An iron-on patch. There is a motorist in a red and back helmet appearing to drive right at the viewer. It saying Miller Racing Group on his steering wheel.

Miller Racing Group (MRG) pursued the more popular NASCAR racing and over the course of about ten years was sponsored by General Motors, Sunoco, Dr. Pepper, and others. In what was standard operating procedure for Len and BAR, and now MRG, white-owned corporate sponsors wanted to help African American race teams—but only for half the price they were offering white teams. Eventually, Len's tenacity won out and BAR was given full sponsorship money. But attracting equal sponsorship would remain a challenge for Len, his son, and other African American race teams. MRG won many races during the late 1990s and early 2000s, but after sponsorship began to dwindle they left racing in 2006.

Black hat with Dr. Pepper logo in red with "Racing" in yellow.

I look forward to sharing more about these wonderful objects through blog posts and our museum's website in the coming months.

Leonard W. Miller and his son, Lenny, along with other team members of the Black American Racers, Inc., are formally donating a collection of objects related to their legacy in auto racing to the museum on February 1, 2017. The objects won't be on immediate display, but stay tuned for updates.

Jane Rogers is curator in the Division of Culture and the Arts. She has also blogged about the sport of wheelchair basketball and collecting objects from the Summer Olympics.

Posted Date: 
Wednesday, February 1, 2017 - 11:00
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Oral history interview with Tom Patti, 2010 January 18-19

Archives of American Art
Transcript: 77 pages

Sound recording: 6 sound files (4 hr., 47 min.) digital, wav

An interview of Tom Patti conducted 2010 January 18 and 19, by William Warmus, for the Archives of American Art's Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America, at Patti's residence, in Miami Beach, Florida.

Patti talks about growing up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in a working-class neighborhood, and playing in and around the General Electric Corp. landfill, the major employer in the area; losing vision in one eye after a childhood accident; he recalls running with a tough crowd during high school and making homemade tattoos for his friends; his probation officer during high school, who encouraged his interest in art; meeting Norman Rockwell, who encouraged him to attend Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York; majoring in industrial design at Pratt, where he worked with Rowena Reed Kostellow; the idealism and social consciousness of the 1960s; exposure to the ideas of visionary architects such as Moshe Safdie and Buckminster Fuller; the New York art/social scene in the 1960s, including Max's Kansas City; meeting Marilyn Holtz, whom he later married; a trip to Colombia to discuss shelter development, and exposure to severe poverty; a resulting focus on people-centered shelter ideas; graduate work at Pratt, and the value of his studies in an academic environment; working with inflatable shelters, experimenting with different materials, including using glass; returning to the Berkshires in Massachusetts, working odd jobs, running a small glass school for children; becoming aware of the studio glass movement and attending a glassblowing workshop at Penland School of Crafts in Penland, North Carolina, in 1971; continued work with glass, including Vitrolite and other scavenged materials; growing public recognition in the 1970s; an internship at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Deer Isle, Manie, where he met Steve Feren, with whom he worked for several years; acquisition of work by the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York, in 1976; first one-man gallery show in 1977; purchase of work by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York; series Solar Riser and the importance of a meditative/spiritual component of his work; setting up a studio in Plainfield, Massachusetts; first museum exhibition at the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts; speaking at the World Crafts Council conference in Vienna in the late 1970s; continued travel and recognition in Europe in the 1980s; "Genic Doran Divider-Sentinel," (1982-84), commissioned sculpture for General Electric in Pittsfield, which led to his focus on laminated materials; early 1990s studio expansion to work on a larger scale; commission work with Cesar Pelli for Owens Corning Fiberglas in 1993; one-person show at Serge Lechazynski's gallery in Biot, France; travels in Europe and Israel; serving on the board of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts; consulting work with the glass and materials industry; "Spectral-Luma Ellipse" (2000); "Spatial Boundary" (2001), commissioned by Ann and Graham Gund; continued smaller-scale work; designing the window for Sienna Gallery in Lenox, Massachusetts, owned by his daughter; recent commissions including "Morton Square" in 2004, the Roosevelt Avenue Intermodal Station (2004), both in New York City, and "Miami Rain" (2009), Miami, Florida; and the importance of transparency, opacity, and translucency in his work. He also recalls Joseph Parriott, Sybil Moholy-Nagy, Rudolf Arnheim, Art Wood, Thomas Buechner, Doug Heller, Penelope Hunter-Stiebel, Laurie Wagman and Irvin Borowsky, and Malcolm Rogers.

Watch Seven Medieval Castles' Digital Reconstruction

Smithsonian Magazine

The COVID-19 pandemic has put millions of people’s travel plans on hold, but thanks to digital technology, anyone with an internet connection can virtually traverse continents, cultures and even time periods.

London-based creative agency NeoMam Studios recently released animated images of seven medieval-era castle ruins digitally restored to their prime. Working on behalf of Australian insurance company Budget Direct, the design team created the images with input from architects who studied old blueprints, paintings and other miscellaneous documents, reports Isaac Schultz for Atlas Obscura. Read on for Smithsonian magazine’s roundup of the resurrected fortresses’ fascinating histories.

Samobor Castle

Samobor Castle was first built in the mid-1200s for Otakar II of Bohemia. (Courtesy of Budget Direct)

The first of the seven is a castle overlooking Samobor, a small town 15 miles outside of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. All that remains of Samobor Castle’s original 13th-century structure are the ruins of the fortress’ guardhouse.

Otakar II of Bohemia built the castle in the mid-1200s while fighting Hungary for control of Styria, a state in modern-day Austria. The king seized Styria in 1260 but proceeded to lose much of his acquired land during the 1270s.

The castle remained in use and was even expanded in the 16th century, but it eventually fell into ruin. The town of Samobor bought the property in 1902, per Mental Floss’ Ellen Gutoskey.

Menlo Castle

Menlo Castle is located off a path near the National University of Ireland, Galway. (Courtesy of Budget Direct)

Menlo Castle in western Ireland was built in the 16th century as an estate for the Blake family of English nobles. Though it wasn’t a military fortress, Menlo was equipped with a cannon for defense—just in case. Tragically, a fire destroyed the historic home in 1910, claiming the life of Eleanor, daughter of Sir Valentine Blake.

Today, the castle’s ruins, located off a trail near the National University of Ireland in Galway, are covered in ivy that makes them easy to miss at first glance. Interested parties can view the estate’s front gates in 3-D via Sketchfab.

Olsztyn Castle

Olsztyn Castle was built in place of a wooden hill fort to better protect the region from armed raiders. (Courtesy of Budget Direct)

The ruins of Olsztyn Castle—including a gothic tower, several white walls and remnants of pillars—sit on a hill overlooking Poland’s Łyna River. Built in the 1300s to protect the region against incursions by armed raiders from Bohemia and Silesia, the fortification was incrementally renovated over time, with additions including an octagonal brick structure erected at the top of the western tower. Swedish forces ransacked the castle during the mid-1600s, and by 1729, workers had partially demolished its ruins in order to use the building materials for construction of a church.

Spiš Castle

A fire in 1780 destroyed the structure, and subsequent neglect led to its ruin. (Courtesy of Budget Direct)

Unesco world heritage site Spiš Castle, originally placed to mark the edge of the Hungarian kingdom, was built in Slovakia during the 12th century. In the mid-1400s, the king gave the castle to brothers Stefan and Imrich Zápolský, who, despite having more than 70 other castles in the family, chose it as their main seat and revived its architecture in the Gothic style. A fire in 1780 destroyed the structure, and subsequent neglect led to its ruin.

Poenari Castle

Poenari Castle was once the clifftop fortress of Vlad the Impaler. (Courtesy of Budget Direct)

Poenari Castle sits atop a Romanian cliff at an altitude of more than 2,600 feet. Once the home of Vlad the Impaler, the ruthless 15th-century ruler who inspired fictional vampire Count Dracula, the fortress is partially built into the earth and features a maze of passageways designed to ensure easy escape.

Legend suggests that Vlad spotted the fortress while hunting and recognized its potential. When aristocratic boyars refused to fund the renovations he desired, Vlad forced them to build it personally instead.

Dunnottar Castle

The British government seized Dunnottar from the Keith family in 1715. (Courtesy of Budget Direct)

Dunnottar Castle is perhaps best known as the fortress that William Wallace and his Scottish forces reclaimed from English occupation in 1297. But the site’s foundations were first set in Pictish times, or between the fifth and seventh centuries A.D., per the Scottish Field’s Kenny Smith.

The earliest stone structures still standing today were built in the 1300s by Sir William Keith. But the British government seized the castle from the Keiths in 1715, when Earl Marischal George Keith was convicted of treason for taking part in a failed uprising, and in 1717, its new owners, the York Mining Company, removed everything of value from the property.

Château Gaillard

The castle’s name has alternately been translated as “saucy,” “cheeky” and “defiant." (Courtesy of Budget Direct)

Toward the end of the 12th century, England’s Richard I—also known as Richard the Lionheart—built Château Gaillard in just two years. The castle’s name, Gaillard, has alternately been translated as “saucy,” “cheeky” and “defiant,” as it was built to challenge the French and protect England’s rule over the Duchy of Normandy.

France’s Philip II captured the castle six years after it was built. Following an eight-month siege, French forces collapsed part of the structure and entered the main fortress via its latrines.

The castle changed hands several times throughout the Hundred Years’ War. Left in ruins by the late 1500s, Gaillard was eventually demolished by Henry IV of France, who believed it could be a dangerous rallying point if ever restored.

Luckily, the digital restoration poses no such threat.

The Intrepid Teachers Bringing Internet Access To Women In Rural India

Smithsonian Magazine

On Nov 8, 2016, the largest denominations of currency in India, notes of 500 and 1,000 rupees, were demonetized. Overnight, in a country where over 95 percent of all transactions involve cash, people were left scrambling to deposit their useless notes and replace them with any legal tender remaining at banks. If the situation was bad in urban India, in rural India, it was devastating.

In Nandgaon, a village of only 2,000 residents tucked in the hills of Maharashtra’s Satara district, Jyoti Gadekar was rushed to a hospital for an emergency C-section. Her extended family had collected the 10,000 rupees, around 156 USD, required upfront for such a procedure and deposited it in the bank. Suddenly, it couldn’t be reached. The bank would take too long to transfer the amount and ATMs only allowed 2,000 rupees to be withdrawn per day to keep up with demand.

That’s when her family approached a woman known in the village for her resourcefulness: Manasi Kulkarni.

Nandgaon is not too different from the rest of rural India. Smartphone use has skyrocketed in the last few years, with early generation Android devices selling for as little as 2,000 rupees, around 30 USD. Internet use on smartphones is growing exponentially too, with unlimited browsing packages becoming cheaper in a highly competitive market. “Men here don’t let their wives use their phones. You’ll break it, they tell us, and what use do you have for it anyway?” Manasi says. Indeed, only 12 percent of rural India’s internet users are women.

Manasi, a 32-year-old mother of two, only started to use the internet in August last year. Manasi describes the fifteen years prior to that as being filled with fear. Manasi worked as a teacher for 2-4 year olds in the small city of Kolhapur before moving to Nandgaon after marriage. She wanted to find a way to help her community but felt afraid she would never find an outlet.

Manasi finally went online through Internet Saathi, a Google and Tata Trusts program. When the program was advertised, she hesitated to even apply, it was her teenaged kids who insisted that she must. Through this program, key women in villages across India are taught to use the internet and given access to smartphones of their own. These women assume the role of a Saathi—a companion—and teach other women in their villages to use the internet, too.

Manasi had spent the three months since becoming a Saathi, teaching women to find information on the skills that interested them. “If I saw a woman has a small tailoring business, I’d show her tutorials on YouTube and new patterns on Google. If she loves to cook, we’d look up recipes. For a woman who tends to chickens, I’d share information on how to treat them better,” Manasi recalls. And slowly, these women would see the internet as approachable, rather than daunting, and useful to themselves, not just their husbands.

On that day post-demonetization, Manasi’s challenge was unlike any she’d faced. With a woman in a complicated labor and a doctor refusing to treat her without upfront payment, she found an app, Paytm, that could transfer money from the family’s bank account directly to the doctor’s. This, in a village where online banking was unheard of.

Five hours later, a healthy baby girl was born.

For Manasi, the experience opened her eyes to a new world. While the internet could be used to learn skills and share photos, it could also be used to save a life.


The next billion users to join the internet will come from India and Africa. In India, presently only 26 percent of the population has regular access to the internet. This is expected to more than double from 330 million to 730 million by 2020. The majority of these new users are joining from rural India, where presently only 17 percent of the population is online. This growth is fueled by programs like Google’s Free WiFi initiative, Internet Saathi, and the Indian government’s own efforts to connect villages with optic cables.

In another rural region, Bundelkhand, in north India, there is little to no presence of Internet Saathi or similar digital literacy programs. Here, a hyperlocal newspaper, Khabar Lahariya, caters to villages that often have no other source for news. Their newsroom is all-female, with reporters who are recruited from the communities they cover, several of whom are also from low-caste and marginalized backgrounds. These women are newly literate and, as of last year, newly trained in smartphone and internet use.

Image by Khabar Lahariya. The hyperlocal newspaper, Khabar Lahariya, has recruited female reporters from several villages and taught them how to use smartphones and the internet. (original image)

Image by Khabar Lahariya. Kavita (on the right) is Khabar Lahariya's founder and digital head. (original image)

One of these women is Kavita, who was married at the age of 12 and fought for her right to study against a culture that had prescribed a very different life for her. She was the oldest person to enroll in 5th grade shortly after marriage. Now, she has a masters degree and is the founder and digital head of Khabar Lahariya. Kavita, like the majority of Khabar Lahariya’s reporters, goes only by her first name; last names are too revealing of their backgrounds and lead to discrimination within the society.

“We noticed that even though people in Bundelkhand weren’t well-educated, often only until 5th grade or high school, smartphone use among them was increasing. Every house has a phone,” says Kavita.

“The world of the internet is growing,” Kavita says, and realizing the impact it’d have on Khabar Lahariya’s reporting and reach, Kavita and her team ditched their print newspaper entirely and moved to digital. “We first hired a trainer to teach us to use smartphones for filming news segments, scripting, and sharing our reports with the team,” and since then, the veterans train the new journalists on staff. Their reports are distributed to their audience through WhatsApp, YouTube and Facebook. Since this move, more women are tuning into Khabar Lahariya for their news than ever before. Over 30 percent of their readership comprises women and young people, when previously only literate and elderly men read the print edition.

Despite the ongoing cultural tension that comes with the adoption of the internet among Khabar Lahariya’s journalists, it has granted them more freedom and power than they’ve ever had.

Rural India also has one of the worst gender disparities among internet users in the world. Women face immense cultural barriers to access the internet. In turn, the internet breaks immense barriers for them.  

Generally, it is the men who own and control the gateways to the internet, their low-cost Android smartphones. In Nandgaon, Manasi finds that sometimes men put up the barriers to the internet, not out of malice but ignorance.

In the last year, Manasi has taught around 1,000 women in her district’s villages to use the internet. She reckons she’s taught 200 men, too.

“Getting women online isn’t just about teaching them to use a smartphone. It’s about changing women’s thinking and men’s thinking,” Manasi says. When a farmer in her village refused to let his wife learn to use the internet, Manasi went to him armed with a search engine. “I told him, your crop is not doing well, here, let me find out how to fix it.” As his crop started to get healthier in the following weeks, he started to realize that a phone in the hands of a woman empowers not only her, but her family, too.

In the weeks after the emergency Caesarian, Manasi challenged herself to find more and more profound ways to improve the lives of women in her village.

Image by Vishal Yadav for Dharma Life. Manasi, smartphone in hand, talks with other women in her village. (original image)

Image by Manasi Kulkarni. Manasi with her husband, Milind, and her two teenaged children. She says it was her kids who encouraged her to enroll in the Internet Saathi program. (original image)

Image by Vishal Yadav for Dharma Life. Milind is a soybean farmer. Manasi has been showing YouTube clips that explain the National Pension System to farmers and farmers' wives. (original image)

Image by Vishal Yadav for Dharma Life. Using WhatsApp for village-to-village communication, Manasi's own small snack business has taken off. (original image)

There had been an uptick in the number of women-owned small businesses in her district. More women were improving their crafts, particularly tailoring and production of preserved foods, but, as always, sales were limited by geography. Nandgaon is in a fairly well-connected district, not too far from a national highway, but historically there has never been a distribution network for such goods. If sales come, they’re only from someone known to the seller. So stocks had started to pile up and money was not trickling in.

But Manasi had a new network now, “my internet family, as I call it”, she says. The women whom she’d taught had, in turn, taught others in neighboring districts, spread out over a few hundred miles. So they set up a WhatsApp group. WhatsApp is the world’s largest app for peer-to-peer texting and communication. These women used it in a novel way, for village-to-village communication. Now, if a woman in their villages has, say, a dress she can produce, she pulls up a photo of the design from Google and sends it to the group. Women share her query with potential customers in their entire village, and the orders come rolling in. Only once orders have arrived does the production begin.

This way, Manasi says women have tripled their incomes in the last few months. Her own small business of crisp snacks and pickles, which employs 14 women, has taken off. Their snacks sell anywhere within a 150 mile radius, and a new order is just a WhatsApp query away.

“My wish is to improve women’s lives in every way,” Manasi says. Financial independence is just the start.


India is often thought of as a country of contradictions. There’s the India that grows its economy, then there’s the India with extreme income inequality. One India shows its girls they can grow up to be president, the other India doesn’t ensure their rights to education and safety. While one India scrappily builds a better tomorrow, the other India clings to its past.

It is incorrect to assume that the India reaching toward its future is urban India, and the India clinging to its roots is rural. Modernity and scarcity coexist in rural India too. And there is a remarkable diversity of mindsets throughout the country.

India is increasing its GDP by 7 percent a year, but rural communities such as Nandgaon remain on the periphery of India’s remarkable growth effort. This farming community is dependent on fickle weather in a time of climate change. Manasi’s husband, Milind, is a soybean farmer. Nandgaon experienced the first rains of the season in mid-July, two weeks later than the norm. “I don’t know if we’ll make it this year,” he says, but he and Manasi remain adamant that they’ll find a way. “Our salary is our children’s education,” Manasi says, and she ensures that her teenage daughter and son attend a good school, even if it’s 30 miles away by public bus.

This is the context in which this the greatest learning tool of the century, the internet, is making its entry.

When Facebook was planning to launch its Free Basics program in 2015, it offered a free but censored internet to people in communities like Nandgaon and Bundelkhand. Only around a dozen websites chosen by Facebook would be accessible, and the rest of the internet would be cordoned off. While Free Basics was widely advertised as being a philanthropic effort to get rural India online, it was by a for-profit company that had more to gain than the people it was targeting.

Khabar Lahariya ran an in-house survey last year where it found that in farming communities like Bundelkhand, people weren’t just using the internet, they were tailoring it to their needs. Voice search is their entryway to the internet, and the services that were most useful to people were YouTube, a service run by Facebook's competitor, Google, that people relied on for tutorials, and government websites for crucial information that couldn’t have been accessed otherwise. Kavita remarks that Free Basics was “a bad idea, how could it be a good one. For people here, YouTube is a must, news on the government and its services is crucial. Free Basics blocked these.”

In return for its Free Basics service, Facebook would find its next few hundred million users, collect marketable data on them, and establish an overwhelming dominance in the digital space. Free Basics was publicly debated until it was banned by India’s telecom regulatory authority in 2016. Before its arrival into India’s digital shores, rural communities had already been experiencing high growth of smartphone and internet use. This hasn’t changed since it was turned away. In attempting to decide for these users how and where they could surf the web, Facebook took a misstep.

It is the inventive use of simple tools that Manasi finds have greatest impact for her community in Nandgaon.

“Buying power is reducing in our communities. By 2030, we’ll have a hard time affording anything,” Manasi says. National pension programs for farmers and daily wagers exist but perhaps because of low awareness or the uncertainty of making deposits for decades before any return is seen, they remain unused.

No farmer in Maharashtra’s Satara district, of which Nandgaon is a part, has had pension in generations. As for the farmers’ wives? “Our incomes have tripled since we started selling through WhatsApp. So suppose we earn 3000 rupees [50 USD] per month, a third of it goes to the husband’s drinking habit, a third to the kids’ education, the rest for household expenses. We are left with nothing for ourselves,” Manasi says.

“Old age happens to everyone, so why not pension?”

In January, Manasi found the government’s website for the National Pension System. The program enables workers in the unorganized sector, of which farmers and laborers are a part, to reliably deposit a small amount every month, with a healthy interest rate of around 12 percent assured by the government and selected fund managers. With a change made by government in 2015, this pension would be available in a decade, not just at 60 years of age.

Manasi found 32 YouTube clips that simply explained the benefits of pension and the NPS service and downloaded them for offline viewing using one of India’s most popular apps, MX Player. Then, she started showing the playlist to every farmer and farmer’s wife she met, on buses, farms and in organized workshops.

In six months, she has signed 350 people from her district, including 200 women, on the pension program. Liaising with the local government, she’s started a scheme through which any woman who signs up others in her community gets a small cut from the government. Now, the pension drive is gaining steam.

Through the combined efforts of Manasi and women in these communities, change is coming to rural India.


Pornima Gurav, a 19-year-old from the nearby Ond village, was inspired by Manasi’s example and joined the Internet Saathi program shortly after her, in September last year. Since then, Pornima has taught another thousand people in her school and district to use the internet. “There are no other ways to learn to use the internet here,” Pornima says. Schools teach typing on decade-old desktop computers, but to learn about the internet and from the internet, “we lean on each other.”

Pornima Gurav, 19, is teaching women in her village about hygiene and pregnancy-related issues using YouTube and Google voice searches. (Pornima Gurav)

Pornima comes from a family of peanut farmers and never envisioned a life of teaching, or any work at all after marriage. In the last few months, she’s taught women in Ond about hygiene and pregnancy-related issues through YouTube clips and Google voice searches. Pornima will likely be married soon but she says, “I’ve told everybody, I will continue to work even after I’m married. I just want to keep teaching and teaching until we all know to use the internet.”

So far, Internet Saathi has trained 26,000 Saathis, who have gone on to reach an estimated 10 million other women in 100,000 villages. Ten million may seem like a drop in the bucket of the total number of users who have joined the internet from rural India in the same time frame. User growth is only incidental to the goal of the program: to promote the use of this technology among a group that is routinely prevented from accessing it.

India’s digital literacy movement continues to gain steam. Any effort that brings more people, especially the marginalized, onboard the internet and empowers them to use it to match their needs, is worthwhile. After all, the internet is so powerful, in places like Bundelkhand, it can even turn some women into reporters.

Kavita describes the field of journalism in Bundelkhand as being “a stockpile of men. People used to think of women as soft-hearted, that they can’t do this work”. Khabar Lahariya’s reporters have to be tough, often rebelling against society and their own families to do this work, but the internet has given them a greater potential for impact and a new identity.

Across the country, Manasi has had a similar experience. “We used to spend our entire lives in housework,” Manasi says, “We never lived for ourselves.” Since going online, Manasi has found a new direction in life. Manasi wants to improve the lives of women in her district’s villages in every way.

The internet’s just the tool for the job.’s Top Books of 2012

Smithsonian Magazine

How Music Works
by David Byrne

David Byrne takes readers on an intimate excursion through the past and future of the music industry in his book, How Music Works. The former Talking Heads frontman covers a range of topics—from the technology that has transformed the way music is recorded, to the business of making successful albums, to the science behind how our brains process music—in a comfortable, conversant way.

Read an excerpt of Byrne’s book and an interview, in which he offers advice on how to enjoy music.

The Passage of Power
by Robert A. Caro

There is Ahab and his white whale, and then there is Robert Caro and his behemoth biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson, says Smithsonian’s national correspondent Ron Rosenbaum. A full 30 years after the first volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Caro released his fourth installment, The Passage of Power. The book chronicles six years of Johnson’s life, from 1958 to the first weeks of his presidency in 1964.

Read Rosenbaum’s piece on The Passage of Power.

The End of Men: And the Rise of Women
by Hanna Rosin

In the summer of 2010, Hanna Rosin wrote a much-talked-about cover story in the Atlantic, boldly declaring that for the first time in our male-dominated history, women were pulling ahead. In the workforce. In the academic world. And, in the home. Her latest book, The End of Men, delves into the hookup culture at colleges, group therapy sessions for unemployed men and “seesaw marriages,” or marriages where each person has a shot at being the breadwinner at any given moment. The end result is an in-depth look at how this shift in social order is impacting the way we live.

Read a Q&A with Hanna Rosin in which she talks about what it will take for women to rise to the top.

Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived
by Andrew Wilson

This year marked the 200th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, on April 15, 1912. Instead of dwelling on the casualties of the shipwreck, as many historians do, journalist Andrew Wilson focuses on the 705 survivors. He explains how some of the survivors were forever affected by the experience, piecing together letters, diaries, memoirs and interviews with their family members.

Read an excerpt from Wilson’s book.

Dictionary of American Regional English, Volume V: Sl-Z
Edited by Joan Houston Hall

Do you know what a rippet is? How about a rumpelkammer or a honeyfuggle? “The loss of such words almost puts a lump in your goozle,” writes Smithsonian staff writer Abigail Tucker. Fortunately, editors at the University of Wisconsin at Madison have compiled some 60,000 of these hyper-regional terms in the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE). The fifth volume, containing the last third of the alphabet, was released in March.

Read Tucker’s story about DARE and take a vocabulary quiz.

by Mary Ellen Mark

Some may boast about going to three or four proms, but renowned photographer Mary Ellen Mark attended a total of 13 from 2006 to 2009. With a Polaroid 20x24 Land camera, Mark captured couples—and some brave stags—from high schools in New York City, Houston, Los Angeles and other cities. There are a lot of “naked and fearful expressions,” writes Sloane Crosely, of the black-and-white series. “When I look at these pictures, I see the strange mixture of maturity and naïveté that comes with being 17 or 18. As grown-ups, we tend to forget that being a teenager is an art. It’s the art of trying on the future.”

See a selection of Mark’s photographs and read Crosely’s essay.

The Social Conquest of Earth
by E.O. Wilson

Edward O. Wilson has written 27 books. He is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author, for his titles On Human Nature (1979) and The Ants (2001), and a recipient of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ Crafoord Prize, the highest honor in the Nobel-less field of ecology. Needless to say, when the evolutionary biologist talks, people listen. His new book argues that we should trade the decades-old theory of kin selection for group selection, when explaining human evolution and dominance in the world. Whereas kin selection favors the reproductive success of an individual’s relatives, group selection furthers groups that organize together to successfully gather food and defend and conquer territory.

Read Natalie Angier’s article about The Social Conquest of Earth and an interview with Wilson by writer Carl Zimmer.

Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone
by Eric Klinenberg

According to the latest census, more than 32 million people in the United States live alone. To put that into perspective, that’s 28 percent of the country’s households. And, it’s a good thing, says Eric Klinenberg. “The spike in living alone has played a large and overlooked role in revitalizing cities, because singletons are so likely to go out into the world, to be in cafes and restaurants, to volunteer in civic organizations, to attend lectures and concerts, to spend time in parks and other public spaces,” the New York University sociologist told Smithsonian.

Read a Q&A with Eric Klinenberg in which he talks about what factors are driving this trend.

Consider the Fork
by Bee Wilson

As the title suggests, British food writer Bee Wilson considers the fork—and many, many other kitchen tools—in her latest book. With each surprising tidbit about the origins of everyday culinary implements (i.e. strangely enough, the can opener came some 50 years after the invention of canned food), she layers on more evidence for her thesis: that the history of kitchen technology is inseparable from the larger history of food. “There are complex investigations at work in Wilson’s book; it’s nominally about things in our cabinets and on our shelves, but it’s really about family, labor, technology, sensation,” writes Smithsonian’s book reviewer Chloë Schama.

Read Schama’s review of the book.

Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves
by Henry Wiencek

Master of the Mountain paints a grim picture of Thomas Jefferson as a shrewd slave owner with dollar signs in his eyes. Author Henry Wiencek bases his argument, in part, on a notation of Jefferson’s that counts each slave born as a “4 percent per annum” profit return. Wiencek has taken some heat from Jefferson scholars since October, when the book was published, but he defends his claims.

Read an excerpt of Wiencek’s book that reveals the dark side of Jefferson.

Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing
by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers

Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, a cardiologist at the UCLA Medical Center, serves on the medical advisory board of the Los Angeles Zoo. But, the fact that doctors do not reciprocate by asking veterinarians to consult on their cases is a “major blind spot,” she says. Natterson-Horowitz and her co-author, Kathryn Bowers, have coined a term—zoobiquity—for the combined study of animal and human medicine. “We brought together zo, which is a Greek word for ‘animal’ and ubique, which is Latin for ‘everywhere,’ ” Natterson-Horowitz told The book highlights some of the afflictions—obesity, cancer, substance abuse—that humans and other animals have in common.

Read a Q&A with Barbara Natterson-Horowitz in which she encourages doctors to embrace our animal roots.

American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation

by Eric Rutkow

“It’s very hard to understand the American experience if you don’t understand our relationship to trees,” says Eric Rutkow. The historian’s new book, American Canopy, is a thorough and fascinating romp through the country’s 400-year history from the often-overlooked perspective of our interactions with forests. Where and who, for that matter, would we be without the stalwart pines of New England, a crucial resource for building some of our first settlements? Not to mention, the towering conifers of California, which inspired the conservation movement.

Read a Q&A with Eric Rutkow in which he talks about the future of American forests.

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