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Smile, Frown, Grimace and Grin — Your Facial Expression Is the Next Frontier in Big Data

Smithsonian Magazine
Engineer Rana el Kaliouby is set to change the way we interact with our devices—and each other

The Young Inventor Who Is a "Minder" of a Business of Her Own

Smithsonian Magazine
At age 11, Lilianna Zyszkowski designed a new life-saving device to help people track their medication. That was just the beginning

Restoring the Apollo Telescope Mount

National Air and Space Museum

This past year, I had the opportunity to lead a largely volunteer team, with supervision from museum specialist Anne McCombs and curator David DeVorkin, on a major restoration project of the Museum’s Apollo Telescope Mount (ATM). The ATM we worked on was a backup to the one used in 1973 on the Skylab space station   ...Continue Reading

The post Restoring the Apollo Telescope Mount appeared first on AirSpace.

Engaging minds: American mathematics 100 years ago

National Museum of American History

In late December 1915, a century ago, 104 mathematicians and mathematics teachers assembled at The Ohio State University to form the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). By April of the following year, membership was over 1,000. Many enjoyed doing problems posed in The American Mathematical Monthly, an established journal taken over by the new organization. Both the MAA and the Monthly endure—the organization recently celebrated its centennial in Washington, D.C.

Hundreds of objects associated with charter members of the MAA survive in the collections of the National Museum of American History. As part of the MAA's centennial celebration, museum staff and volunteers selected a few of the objects, arranged to have them photographed, and prepared brief descriptions that will become part of the objects' official records at the museum. (Check out the Mathematical Objects Relating to Charter Members of the MAA object group.) These objects date from before or after that inaugural meeting. However, looking through the collections as part of routine photography, we recently found a few objects that can be dated to the very month of the MAA's founding. Massachusetts schoolteacher A. Harry Wheeler may have lacked the resources to attend the meeting in Ohio. Instead, he worked away over his winter holiday making mathematical models. The Smithsonian has four small paper models which he made in the same month as that meeting.

Man with glasses and young boy with many mathematical models at desk in front of them

The models Wheeler made in late 1915 show flat sections of surfaces. Models of this sort had been sold for European schools from at least the 1880s and are now discussed under the name of sliceforms. They are an inexpensive way to represent simple geometric forms.

Wheeler's simplest model has several circles, fit together around an equator to suggest a sphere. A second shows parts of ellipses of slightly different size, arranged around a central elliptical ring to form an ellipsoid. Wheeler called these figures "collapsible" and they do tend to lose shape with time. A third model (not yet photographed) not only has several discs whose edges form great circles of a sphere, but circles of smaller size perpendicular to the large ones. It does not collapse. If the sphere represented the earth, the large circles would represent meridians of longitude and the small ones latitude circles. Wheeler actually made this model December 18, 1915. The two others are dated for the following day.

Paper mathematical model on blue background, three dimensional

Three dimensional mathematical model

Wheeler was an active member of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics in New England, and had attended their annual meeting in Boston earlier in the month. Instead of venturing out to Ohio for the first meeting of the MAA, he made another geometric model. (He would join the MAA in the spring.)

Three dimensional paper mathematical model on blue background

Like many good teachers, Wheeler inspired his students. For example, the Smithsonian has a model of two intersecting spheres made in early January 1916 by Wheeler's pupil Emile Jandron. It is quite similar in style to the models Wheeler had made the previous month. Jandron would graduate from the Worcester High School of Commerce in June 1916 and go on to a career as a tobacco salesman.

Three dimensional paper mathematical model on blue background

Peggy A. Kidwell is Curator of Mathematics at the National Museum of American History. Learn more about mathematical objects associated with charter members of the Mathematical Association of America. Object photography by Harold Dorwin.

Posted Date: 
Monday, December 14, 2015 - 08:00
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That’s (Not) Mine by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program

The wife-and-husband team of Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant debuted the most ingenious use of (title) parentheses with You Are (Not) Small, and...

The post That’s (Not) Mine by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant appeared first on BookDragon.

Cataloging D. B. Burrows

National Museum of Natural History
By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project In our January 22nd post, Andrea Hall, Field Book Project conservator, discussed a recently accessioned collection from Division of Birds from collector D. B. Burrows. It has proven to be a small but fascinating collection due to the scant information on the collector, the...

Smithsonian-Cornell Partnership produces First Domestic Puppies by In Vitro Fertilization

Smithsonian Science

After decades of attempts, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) scientists and researchers at Cornell University have become the first to successfully use in vitro fertilization […]

The post Smithsonian-Cornell Partnership produces First Domestic Puppies by In Vitro Fertilization appeared first on Smithsonian Science News -.

Textiles from samplers to baby bonnets reveal participation—and exclusion—in American democracy and culture

National Museum of American History

This week, we're exploring how participation—people joining together to accomplish shared goals—shapes American life by exploring our textile collections. Earlier this week, I shared with you the touching story of a quilt sewn by a Sunday school group for Civil War soldiers. Today, I want to share a few other objects that hint at stories of participation and its sometimes complicated flip side—exclusion.

1. Americans helped French women rebuild war-torn communities through needlework

Photo of embroidery with scene of airplanes flying over a cityscape

During World War I, French women embroidered detailed cross-stitched tableaux depicting soldier figures, flags, and coats of arms. While battles raged, these women fought to maintain their livelihoods and rebuild their war-torn communities. The embroidered items were sold in America through the Society for Employment of Women in France, and the money from their sale went back to the women and their families in France. Their contributions went beyond textiles, however. They also took to the fields during the summer and tended crops.

See cocktail napkins with coats of arms of Allied nations and learn more about these brave women.

2. Americans bought Belgian lace to provide war relief

Photo of white lace tablecloth on black background

When the German army invaded Belgium (a neutral country) in August 1914 in preparation to invade France, the British navy blockaded Belgium's harbors in order to cut off German supply lines. This presented a major problem as Belgium depended on imports for 80% of its food supply. Herbert Hoover set up the Commission for Relief in Belgium, negotiated food deliveries, then worked on an agreement allowing the importation of thread and the exportation of lace made with the thread. This effort helped thousands of Belgian lace makers earn money for food for their families. Throughout the Allied countries, people bought generously of these "war laces" to help support the Belgians.

Browse through our impressive collection of World War I laces in our online object group.

3. Young women created samplers to showcase their skills and record family history

Photo of sampler with text, floral decor, figure, building, two birds, and small mammals (sheep?)

Our objects often reveal interesting details about the lives of notable figures in American history; for instance, we know what was likely on George Washington's desk to help him write in the evenings. But the lives of regular folk are sometimes less easy to picture unless, for example, they left behind a purse stuffed with primary source documents that historians can use to better understand their biographies.

This is why I love samplers. Often made by girls as young as seven or eight whose names might have otherwise been forgotten or lost to history, samplers help us understand how girls were prepared for their roles in family and community life. For example, a sampler made by one M.A. Hofman provides a glimpse of what public school education was like for a young girl in Pennsylvania in the 1840s—and how education differed for male and female students.

Before woman suffrage passed in 1920, women were often barred from participating in many aspects of political life, but some samplers hint at other avenues of participation that women were able to take advantage of. Betsy Bucklin's 1781 sampler defies British rule to express faith in George Washington, a rare glimpse into the political thinking of a young woman during the Revolutionary War. Of course, it's hard to know how much choice a student had in selecting the message and design of her own sampler, but even if this message was part of an assignment, I still find it interesting for the time period. Some women used their needlework and skilled handling of sewing machines to support their families, using tools like these. Though they may seem small and quaint on the surface, samplers did leave a little mark on history. At least two of our samplers (one by Elizabeth Holland, the other by Esther Tincom) include the following rhyme: "When I am dead and gone and all my bones are rotten, I leave this sampler behind, I may not be forgotten."

Photo of sampler

Explore the samplers in our collection and see what you can learn about how some girls and young women participated in their families, schools, churches, and communities.

4. Exclusion, business success, and cultural identity were woven into the Lee family textiles

White top and trousers with patterned hems and no sleeves

After immigrating from Guangdong Province, China, to San Francisco in 1881, Lee B. Lok (1869–1942) moved to Chinatown in New York City. He found work at the Quong Yuen Shing & Co. general store. By 1894, he became head of the store and upgraded his identity papers from "coolie" to "merchant," a change that allowed him to avoid restrictions imposed by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which barred the entry of Chinese laborers who had not already been in the United States. He was able to return to China to marry Ng Shee around 1900 and then return to New York. Living above the store at 32 Mott Street, the couple raised seven children.

Lee went on to found the Chinese Merchants Association and become a prominent member of the Chinese community in New York—a great example of community participation—but U.S. laws barred him from citizenship.

Photo of bonnet with colorful floral designs. It covers the child's neck and has two ears on top, like a dog or other mammal. Tied with a red ribbon under chin.

From the trunk Ng Shee brought with her from China to New York to the baby bonnet she made for her only son, the Chinese American textiles in the Virginia Lee Mead Collection tell powerful stories of cultural identity.

5. Quilts raised funds for community causes

Photo of quilt

Complete with an American flag and an appliquéd and embroidered fire engine marked "Yale 1," this quilt is marked "Ladies' Donation / to the Fireman's Fair / Yale Engine Co. No. 1 / South Reading / July 1853." This quilt, so carefully worked, is an example of efforts by women of South Reading, then a small rural New England town, to work together to provide for their community. A new engine house was erected in South Reading, Massachusetts, in 1853.

From how they were made to how they were interpreted by those who wore or saw them, textiles offer much to explore when we think about participation in American life. Are there treasured textiles in your family history—perhaps a wedding gown made from unusual fabric, a military uniform, or quilt that raised funds for a special cause? Do these perhaps have tales to tell of participation or exclusion in American democracy and culture? Share your stories in the comments below or on social media. To follow the conversation, check out our #AmericaParticipates website and our posts on FacebookTwitterInstagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr.

Erin Blasco is an education specialist in the New Media Department. Patri O'Gan, Leah Tams, Jordan Grant, Madelyn Shaw, Doris Bowman, Virginia Eisemon, Karen Thompson, Timothy Winkle, and Nancy Davis contributed to this blog post.

Posted Date: 
Tuesday, January 12, 2016 - 08:00
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The Tragic Bad Axe Massacre of 1832

Smithsonian Magazine
In 19th-century Illinois, tensions between settlers and local Native American tribes led to a series of escalating confrontations

Crepe Paper Creations

Smithsonian Libraries

With just a few days left until Christmas, everyone is rushing around trying to accomplish last minute things, like finding the perfect gift. The Trade Literature Collection at the National Museum of American History Library includes several Dennison Mfg. Co. catalogs which give ideas for homemade party decorations and even handmade gifts. One of these catalogs is more »

The post Crepe Paper Creations appeared first on Smithsonian Libraries Unbound.

Meet Native America: Theresa Snow, Councillor for the Lower Similkameen Indian Band

National Museum of the American Indian
In Meet Native America, the museum invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. This week, meet Councillor Theresa Snow, from the Lower Similkameen Indian Band.

To Stop an Endless Cycle of Corruption, History Says Fix the System, Not the Politician

Smithsonian Magazine
A turn-of-the-century muckraker named Lincoln Steffens understood the true problem with a "throw the bums out" strategy

The Indian Arts and Crafts Board: For Halloween, a Spooktacular Navajo Rug

National Museum of the American Indian
A Halloween scene woven by Elizabeth Begay (Diné) reflects both the interplay of tradition and change in Navajo culture and the artist's imagination and humor. This post is from a series by a research fellow studying the Indian Arts and Crafts Board Headquarters Collection at the museum.

The Owner’s Manual to Terrible Parenting by Guy Delisle, translated by Helge Dascher

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program

Just look at that cover! Clearly, the emergency room beckons! Even as you already know what not to do as a parent, these...

The post The Owner’s Manual to Terrible Parenting by Guy Delisle, translated by Helge Dascher appeared first on BookDragon.

Remembering Astronautics and Museum Leader Frederick Clark Durant III

National Air and Space Museum

We have a tradition at the National Air and Space Museum of recognizing the passing of aerospace leaders with a temporary memorial panel displayed for a time on the Museum floor. Once in a while, one of those individuals was not only a figure of some importance in the wider world, but someone of special   ...Continue Reading

The post Remembering Astronautics and Museum Leader Frederick Clark Durant III appeared first on AirSpace.

The Dark Side of Taxonomy: Part Two

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
by Heather Soulen Darker Still Delving deeper into the dark side of taxonomy, we forge forth into the ether to uncover obscure and wickedly inspired scientific names. What’s in a scientific name? As described in The Dark Side of Taxonomy: Part One, some scientific names for organisms have dark and twisted origins. In part two […]

Book: Airport Towers as Abstract Art

Smithsonian Science

“My recurring theme is the transformation of the ordinary…,” explains National Air and Space Museum photographer Carolyn Russo in reference to her new book, Art […]

The post Book: Airport Towers as Abstract Art appeared first on Smithsonian Science News -.

Measuring Sloth Bear Blood Pressure

Smithsonian Science

What is the average blood pressure of a geriatric sloth bear? Asia Trail keeper Stacey Tabellario is hoping to learn exactly that, as she trains […]

The post Measuring Sloth Bear Blood Pressure appeared first on Smithsonian Science News -.

Event Horizon Telescope Reveals Magnetic Fields at Milky Way’s Central Black Hole

Smithsonian Science

Most people think of black holes as giant vacuum cleaners sucking in everything that gets too close. But the supermassive black holes at the centers […]

The post Event Horizon Telescope Reveals Magnetic Fields at Milky Way’s Central Black Hole appeared first on Smithsonian Science News -.

Smithsonian lab receives GreenGov Presidential Award

Smithsonian Science

Throughout 2015 the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Md., has marked its 50th year of operation. Now there’s another reason for SERC to […]

The post Smithsonian lab receives GreenGov Presidential Award appeared first on Smithsonian Science News -.

Ask Me by Bernard Waber, illustrated by Suzy Lee

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program

Although Bernard Waber passed away in 2013 (at 91!), he’s left quite the literary legacy – most especially his beloved, readily recognized Lyle,...

The post Ask Me by Bernard Waber, illustrated by Suzy Lee appeared first on BookDragon.

A Surprise Call From Space

National Air and Space Museum

It’s not a typical afternoon at work when you answer the phone and hear, “Hey, Dr. Neal. It’s Kjell Lindgren calling from the International Space Station.” Thus began a 15-minute surprise call from the ISS Expedition 44-45 NASA astronaut. Lindgren just wanted to say that he had with him the Museum flag and Gemini IV patch   ...Continue Reading

The post A Surprise Call From Space appeared first on AirSpace.

American Philanthropy: A new Smithsonian initiative

National Museum of American History

"In the United States associations are established to promote public order, commerce, industry, morality, and religion; for there is no end which the human will, seconded by the collective exertions of individuals, despairs of attaining."

—Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835

Philanthropy has been a critical element of American society from the beginning. Writing in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville, keen observer of the United States in its formative years, concluded that the success of the new nation depended heavily on voluntary associations and giving. For democracy to work, Americans had to participate in it actively, both as individuals and through organizations. He was encouraged to find that Americans relished the opportunity to shape their civic life themselves and to take responsibility for nurturing the common good. 

For the past few years, I served as project director for the major new exhibition that just opened on the first floor of the Museum, American Enterprise. It traces the history of business and innovation in America from the 1770s to the present. The exhibit chronicles the interaction of capitalism and democracy in the nation throughout this period, and how that dynamic interaction has shaped economic development.

Thinking about the ways that capitalism works within our democracy led our exhibit team to consider how and why Americans become motivated to give back to support the common good. Some are motivated by their religious convictions, others by family traditions, and still others simply by a sense of gratitude for the opportunities they have in this country. We were also interested to see how American giving has continually changed, from the first March of Dimes on the eve of World War II, to telethons, to the Internet-based crowdfunding of today.

Our investigations led us to ask: if philanthropy has been so important to American history, shouldn't the Smithsonian document its development and role in our national life? After all, the Smithsonian itself was the outgrowth of the astonishing philanthropy of Englishman James Smithson—who never even visited this country. And like many other museums, universities, hospitals, and similar institutions, it can only continue to exist with ongoing voluntary support.

Museum case containing a bust, a gown, paper documents, and a framed painting

Consequently we are launching a new Philanthropy Initiative on December 1, #GivingTuesday. We will seek to document, preserve, interpret, and exhibit at the Smithsonian the role of philanthropy in American history, as well as the role of Americans in encouraging and using philanthropy throughout the world. As first steps in this initiative, we are opening preview cases for Giving in America coinciding with The Power of Giving: Philanthropy's Impact on American Life, the first in a series of annual symposiums dedicated to exploring the past, present, and future of American philanthropy.

The Giving in America preview focuses on how philanthropy has shaped American civic culture in two eras—the Gilded Age (1870s–1900) and the present day. In the years following the Civil War, American capitalism boomed, and the United States became the leading industrial nation in the world. Some Americans became very wealthy, and this presented new challenges to American social life. In an article on "Wealth" he published in 1889, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie stated, "The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth, so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor in harmonious relationship." 

Bust of Andrew Carnegie, white painted plaster

Carnegie believed that the right way to dispose of wealth was not to leave it all to descendants. Nor did he think it should be taxed away and distributed by the government. Rather he thought that individuals with substantial wealth beyond their needs should distribute it to worthy social causes of their own choosing during their lifetimes. In his mind, they themselves were the best judges of how their money could best benefit the common good. He followed this precept with most of his own vast riches, giving them to libraries, universities, trusts, and a variety of learned institutions.

Carnegie's perspective on the responsibilities of the very wealthy was controversial in America then and remains so today. Yet underneath it is the same idea that Tocqueville espoused, and that most Americans accept: those who have benefitted significantly from living in the United States, with the freedoms and opportunities it affords, have a responsibility to give back to their society to support its maintenance and improvement. In a representative democracy based on individual freedom, this is not solely the government's responsibility. And this principle applies not only to the very wealthy, but also to citizens of modest means. Giving back is among the fundamental ideals that define us as Americans.

Among the most important recent innovations is The Giving Pledge, which arose in 2010 out of conversations that Bill and Melinda Gates had with Warren Buffett and other wealthy individuals. They decided they should invite the world's wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving more than half of their wealth to philanthropic or charitable causes to help address society's most pressing problems. To date, nearly 140 have publically made that pledge, and the number continues to grow. The new display will feature a rotating selection of original Giving Pledge letters which are on long-term loan to the museum as well as a computer kiosk on which all the letters may be accessed. 


White nurses cap

As the Philanthropy Initiative moves forward, we will be hiring a full-time Curator of Philanthropy, creating a permanent Giving in America exhibition, and seeking philanthropy-related artifacts and documents to add to our permanent collections. These will all support a wide range research, scholarship, and exhibition.

Our initiative will focus on American giving at all levels. And it will include how Americans give of their time and talents as well as their money. We invite you to keep an eye on our website to see how this initiative develops—and also to join in! The success of American democracy depends in large part on the participation and spirit of giving that characterizes the American people. Help us document and preserve this story permanently at the Smithsonian.

David Allison is associate director of the Office of Curatorial Affairs.

Posted Date: 
Tuesday, December 1, 2015 - 09:00
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For bicyclists and shutter bugs

Smithsonian Libraries

This post was written by Adrian Vaagenes, volunteer in the National Museum of American History library. In the last five years, the Go-Pro, the durable HD camera of daredevils the world over, has become ubiquitous. Whether out on the trails or on the streets, it’s not uncommon to see a bicyclist documenting his or her more »

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