Skip to Content

Found 19 Resources

Poppy Cannon, New York, N.Y. letter to Charles Henry Alston

Archives of American Art
Letter : 2 p. : handwritten ; 25 X 18 cm.

Konrad and Florence Ballin Cramer

Archives of American Art
1 photographic print : b&w ; 10 x 15 cm.

Identification (handwritten): Konrad and Florence Ballin Cramer, 1930's

Rena Bransten, San Francisco, Calif. letter to Daniel Jacobs, New York, N.Y.

Archives of American Art
Letter : 1 p. : typescript ; 28 x 22 cm Bransten sending well wishes after Derek's surgery and discussing the aquisition of Monkey on chair.

Herbert D. Hale letter to Mary E. Williams

Archives of American Art
Letter : 1 p. : handwritten, ill. ; 26 x 19 cm.

Letter has photos pasted on to the page.

F. W. (Fitzwilliam) Sargent, Cadenabbia, Italy letter to Thomas Sargent

Archives of American Art
Letter : 4 p. : handwritten ; 21 x 13 cm.

Typescript available.

F. W. (Fitzwilliam) Sargent, Nice, France letter to Thomas Sargent

Archives of American Art
Letter : 4 p. : handwritten ; 21 x 14 cm.

Typescript available.

Autobiographies of two Kiowa women collected by Truman Michelson, 1932 June

National Anthropological Archives
Digital surrogates are available online.

Digitization and preparation of these materials for online access has been funded through generous support from the Arcadia Fund.

Title changed from "Autobiographies; sociology" 5/28/2014.

Notebook containing autobiographies of two Kiowa women handwritten in English by Truman Michelson. The two women, ages 72 and 73, recount memories from their childhood and their marriages. Topics include childhood amuseuments, being vaccinated for smallpox, adultery, and interpersonal relationships between relatives.

Kickapoo texts from Joseph Murdock, 1929, 1967

National Anthropological Archives
Microfilm- Sol Tax- 9/11/56; University of Michigan-Anthropology, 10/52.

Digital surrogates are available online.

Digitization and preparation of these materials for online access has been funded through generous support from the Arcadia Fund.

English translations by Alice Abraham mailed to Paul H. Voorhis, who in turn sent them to the NAA.

Title changed from "Kickapoo Legends and ethnology 1929" 6/10/2014.

Notebook containing Kickapoo syllabic texts handwritten in 1929 by Joseph Murdock, a Mexican Kickapoo residing in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Also English translations dictated by Alice Abraham of Shawnee, Oklahoma, and handwritten by her granddaugther Susan in 1967. The texts include a story of why rabbits only have fat on their shoulders and an anecdote from Murdock's courtship days. Other texts are on a virginity test, marriage and natal customs, joking relationships, and father and mother-in-law taboos. The notebook also contains 2 pages of linguistic notes in phonetic transcription with English translations.

Truman Michelson notes on Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho story, 1930 June

National Anthropological Archives
Digital surrogates are available online.

Digitization and preparation of these materials for online access has been funded through generous support from the Arcadia Fund.

Citation corrected from 3188 (part) to 3188-b on 2/28/12.

Title changed from "Miscellaneous notes June 9, 11, 13, 1930" 5/22/2014.

Place supplied from 47th Annual Report of Bureau of American Ethnology, page 2.

Handwritten Cheyenne linguistic and ethnographic notes and anthropometric data collected by Truman Michelson in Oklahoma. Much of the information is from his work with Mack Haag. The materials include vocabulary and notes on grammar and phonetics; a short story in Arapaho about spider with an interlineal English translation; notes on Cheyenne family and kinship relationships, marriage, divorce, adultery, illegitimacy, incest, pregnancy, death, etc.; and anthropometrical data on 22 Cheyenne adult males, identified by name and age.

Advertising Materials Relating to Western Psychological Services

National Museum of American History
This folder contains multiple documents related to Western Psychological Services Materials.

1- This is a business reply card.

2- This document is entitled “Psychological Test Specialists” and aims to inform the reader of three main points. There are to “tell you about a change of address; describe the broad test development and publishing program in progress; give you the information necessary to plan for your personal testing needs and special Fall courses and Programs.”

3- This document is entitled “Western Psychological Services Catalog.” It is dated 1958/1959. According to a message from the director K.F. Rexon, “We strive to provide professional workers in the fields of interpersonal activities, behavioral and social sciences, and group interactions with the best materials and instruments available so that improved services can follow. In this catalog are many psychological and educational tests; hundreds of outstanding current books—bringing to you the latest findings and thoughts of our fast-moving sciences.” The end provides an index.

Pamphlets, Catalog of Standard Tests and Related Material Published by World Book Company

National Museum of American History
This folder contains multiple documents related to Western Psychological Services Materials.

1- This is a business reply card.

2- This document is entitled “Psychological Test Specialists” and aims to inform the reader of three main points. There are to “tell you about a change of address; describe the broad test development and publishing program in progress; give you the information necessary to plan for your personal testing needs and special Fall courses and Programs.”

3- This document is entitled “Western Psychological Services Catalog.” It is dated 1958/1959. According to a message from the director K.F. Rexon, “We strive to provide professional workers in the fields of interpersonal activities, behavioral and social sciences, and group interactions with the best materials and instruments available so that improved services can follow. In this catalog are many psychological and educational tests; hundreds of outstanding current books—bringing to you the latest findings and thoughts of our fast-moving sciences.” The end provides an index.

Sleep Experts Have No Idea What the Most Common Nightmare Is

Smithsonian Magazine

Photo: astridle

Teeth falling out, leaving the house naked, running your sister over in a car: this is the stuff of nightmares, the common ones, that most of us have experienced. But although we all suffer from nightmares and can often recall them, research surrounding the subject of those twisted dreams is still murky.

This may, in part, be due to the mixed methods used to quantify nightmares, i09 explains.  There’s some agreement on the definition: A nightmare is only a nightmare if it wakes you up. (Otherwise, in researchers’ eyes, it’s just a “bad dream.”) Still, over the past 100 years several researchers have tried to get to the bottom of what most often makes us bolt up in the night.

i09 collected the results of four studies, conducted between the 1930s and 2010, and all four varied in what they ranked as the top nightmare contender. But they also revealed some commonalities. Friends or family members dying or disappearing ranked as the most common nightmare scenario, closely followed by falling, being chased or the dreamer being murdered or killed. On the other hand, only a group of students reported interpersonal conflicts as being the stuff of nightmares (perhaps having a falling out with their PhD advisor?), while a group of Germans were the sole group to be haunted by nightmares of being late.

These differences likely reflect the mindset, age and cultures of different groups of people, i09 writes. To complicate matters further, people may answer differently depending on when and how they recount their nightmare—it mattes where they’re filling out a questionnaire or being interviewed, and it matters whether they’re relating their dreams immediately upon waking up or hours or days later. Short of creating an Inception-like device that allows researchers to explore and witness others’ dreams, it seems, the exact specifics of the stuff of nightmares may remain blanketed in darkness.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Dream On 
Taking Control of Your Dreams

Oral history interview with AA Bronson, 2017 March 3, 5, and 6

Archives of American Art
13 sound files (9 hrs., 37 min.) digital, wav Transcript: 201 pages. An interview with AA Bronson conducted 2017 March 3, 5, and 6, by Theodore Kerr, for the Archives of American Art's Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project, at Bronson's home and studio, in Berlin, Germany.
Bronson speaks of his mother's comparison between WWII-era London and New York City during the AIDS crisis; the community that formed in St. Vincent's Hospital in New York during the AIDS crisis; his early childhood in Fort Nelson, Edmonton, St. Jean d'Iberville, and Ottawa, Canada; the development of his sexuality; early childhood fascination with library books; regular visits to the Royal Ontario Museum and National Gallery of Canada as an adolescent ; collecting architecture books and later studying architecture at the University of Manitoba; dropping out of university in 1967 to help form a commune and free school in Winnipeg; watching the commune grow to 65 people and operate on a consensus model of governance; working in Toronto for Coach House Press and Theatre Passe Muraille; the beginnings and interpersonal dynamic of General Idea; leading Gestalt therapy workshops; General Idea's interest in countering the notion of artist as individual genius; organizing File magazine and Art Metropole as correspondence-driven endeavors; having regular exhibitions in Europe by the late 1970s; moving to New York in 1986; the genesis of the AA Bronson persona; General Idea's aesthetic and output; General Idea's AIDS-related artwork; caring for Jorge Zontal and Felix Partz from General Idea, during the height of their HIV-related illnesses in the early 1990s; going to nightclubs and sex clubs in New York as a reprieve from caretaking; the difference in AIDS healthcare and AIDS activism in Toronto and New York; Zontal and Partz's deaths; the ongoing trauma of losing loved ones to HIV/AIDS; the beginnings and development of his solo art career from the mid-1990s to the present; creating the General Idea archive and catalogue raisonne in the early 2000s; developing a professional healing practice in the 1990s and early 2000s; the incorporation of healing into his artistic persona; directing Printed Matter from 2004 to 2011; developing several book fairs, including the LA Art Book Fair; attending Union Theological Seminary; studying Tibetan Buddhism; and the role of the internet in his current collaborations and community-building work. Bronson also recalls Robert Henforth, Murray McLauchlan, Alison and Peter Smithson, Danny Freedman, Gilbert & George, Joseph Beuys, John Armleder, Ray Johnson, Chrysanne Stathacos, Lawrence Weiner, Susan Harrison, Barbara London, Ydessa Hendeles, Matthias Herrmann, Barr Gilmore, Jean-Cristophe Ammann, Ealan Wingate, Andrew Zealley, Max Schumann, Thurston Moore, Serene Jones, Terence Koh, Garrick Gott, Jonathan Katz, and others.

In Tribute to Dr. Olive Lewin

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

“They are falling all around me, the strongest leaves of my tree. Every paper brings the news that the teachers of my sound are moving on.”
—Bernice Johnson Reagon, Give Your Hands to Struggle

Our Mother-Sister-colleague, Olive Lewin has transitioned to the Ancestors. We remember her reflective calm, her serious gaze, her steady pace, her deep commitment and respect for the profundity of expressive life imagined and made by ordinary people. She was always thinking, doing, moving to the pulse of her passion for the sustenance of affirming life-ways—not just performance arts—in Jamaican communities.

For Miss Olive, the joys of music, the beauty in craft, the poetry of speech, the style and meaning of dance were one with heartfelt concern and civic action in support of quality educational life, housing, and health in often isolated and down-and-out communities, who were nevertheless rich in culture. She told me on a visit to her home that she learned from her parents to respect, applaud, encourage, promote, and advocate for the people who worked around their home. They informed her humanity, and she in turn committed to their children, learning and living their cultural legacies.

On learning of Olive’s passing, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, former Center for Folklife Festival researcher-curator and director emeritus of the program in Black American culture at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and who worked with Olive during the pioneering development of the Smithsonian African Diaspora Folklife Festival (1973-1976), commented:

Olive Lewin understood the importance of supporting those within her culture who were carriers of older traditions. She dedicated her life and energies to collecting, researching, at times performing, and lecturing on the foundational value of keeping before younger community members the importance of holding on and treasuring our cultural groundings.

Olive’s work with the Center for Folklife extended beyond Folklife Festivals. Anthony Seeger, distinguished and emeritus professor of ethnomusicology, UCLA; founding director emeritus, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings; and former president and secretary general of the International Council for Traditional Music, recalls:

Olive took me under her wing because she knew my grandfather, Charles Seeger. She was always gracious and tough-minded. We worked on many projects together, and I was always grateful for her tact and honesty. Olive Lewin was, in addition to all of her other undertakings, a very active and important member of the International Folk Music Council (later renamed the International Council for Traditional Music, ICTM), an NGO then in formal consultative relations with UNESCO. She spoke in a quiet voice but had very powerful advice and thoughtful way of suggesting ways around interpersonal conflicts and other impediments.

Dr. Amy Horowitz, former acting director of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, established a collegial and sisterhood relationship with Olive. She recalls :

[Olive] was a strong supporter of Roadwork [a non-profit women’s cultural organization that served some twenty women artists from the 1970s till 1994] and other grassroots cultural efforts and was also a great supporter personally when I decided to return to school for a doctorate in folklore. I learned a lot from Olive about the intersections of folklore and politics—although this was not her scholarly area—she lived this through her many academic and political appointments. In all of this, she kept true to her commitment to the songs and stories of Jamaican communities.

I and my wife, Miriam, also grew close to Olive. When she invited me to write the introduction to her book Rock It Come Over (Barbados: University of the West Indies Press, 2000), I was indecisive (surprised, intimidated, and pleased). This book, based on decades of research, is an impressive study of Jamaican folk music from the early 1500s through the mid-1900s. I did accept her invitation and I wrote:

Although this book focuses largely on Olive Lewin’s development as musician, teacher and cultural programmer, the underlying philosophy, values, concepts and methodologies extend well beyond an individual voice and profile. The content of this book is of critical importance in considering and figuring out the next phase that nations, especially developing nations, might formulate in development of cultural policies at the start of the twenty-first century.

I last visited Miss Olive in 2008 at St Joseph Hospital in Kingston, Jamaica. I was accompanying actor-activist Danny Glover to the premiere of his documentary co-production with Rita Marley Africa Unite: A Celebration of Bob Marley’s 60th Birthday. Although her memory was failing, she greeted me with, “I know who you are, James Early from the Smithsonian Institution.” She, Danny, and I had a joyous visit and invited the Jamaican Daily Gleaner newspaper to cover the visit as I enlisted Danny as an ally in efforts to influence the Jamaican government to take immediate steps to secure Olive’s life work. Danny and I discussed with the prime minister and the minister of culture the importance of ensuring care of Olive’s papers, and I subsequently wrote a formal letter of encouragement from the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage to the Jamaican government to work with Olive’s family and cultural institutions to ensure preservation of Olive’s and Jamaica’s cultural heritage legacies.

On April 16, 2013, I called Olive’s daughter in Jamaica, Johanna Lewin, to share condolences and our happy memories of collegiality and friendship with the gracious, stately, committed Miss Olive. On the passing of her mother Johanna commented to the Jamaican media:

I will remember her dignified struggle to breathe in the last few weeks of her life. She maintained her dignity throughout . . . she was a hard-working and dedicated woman who was so much in love with the people, the music and culture . . . She dedicated her life to that.

We too will remember!

James Counts Early is director of cultural heritage policy at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

How Food Brought Success to a Chef, a Cookbook Author and a Restaurateur

Smithsonian Magazine

Two men walked towards the demonstration kitchen stage, but only one looked the part of a chef. He was clad in a denim apron over a white shirt and khakis. His counterpart, bespectacled and wearing a suit and tie, strode onto the stage like a professor approaching a lecture podium, a map of China tucked under his arm.

What museum visitors that day may not have realized was that the professorial Paul Ma was about to resurrect his popular “Dine and Learn” class that he taught from the late 1970s to the 1980s at his upstate New York restaurant, Paul Ma’s China Kitchen. In the classes, guests enjoyed a live cooking demonstration that paired storytelling and lectures with a multi-course meal. His apron-clad assistant onstage at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History that day in October 2017 was none other than his nephew, the famed DC-area restaurateur and chef Tim Ma.

The yellowing map marked with grease stains and ink-like blotches of soy sauce was the same map that he used to guide eaters through the provincial cuisine of China during his original Dine and Learn classes. Just like a cookbook or a cleaver, this map was integral to Paul Ma’s China Kitchen and the educational experience he created for his guests. Later, he noted: “I combine good food with good stories. And the educational story. That’s why I carried my map all over.”

That day at the demonstration kitchen, Ma relied once again on his map to illustrate the regional variations in Chinese cuisine, but also to tell his own story of migration within China. Ma’s father was the chief arsenal engineer for Chiang Kai-Shek’s army, and so Ma’s childhood was marked by frequent moves throughout China, which also exposed Ma to the country’s vibrant and varied regional cuisines.

Ma sizzled with energy as he talked about the culture and politics of mid-Century China. Throughout the telling of his early life history, he discussed the food cultures of each region and how his cooking is a mosaic of these different local cuisines. He took those experiences of Chinese culinary traditions with him when he emigrated to the United States around 1970, and his mélange of Chinese cookery techniques became part of the story of American migration and food.

Carrying his yellowing map, Paul Ma (above with his nephew, the chef Tim Ma) resurrected his highly popular "Dine and Learn" class for museum audiences in 2017. (NMAH)

Ma’s story and its place within the broader history of migration in the U.S. are examples of the cultural narratives studied by the Smithsonian’s American Food History Project. Migration has been a particular area of focus for the Project in recent years, especially during the current revamp of the exhibition, “FOOD: Transforming the American Table,” which examines the cultural and technological changes that shaped the ways people eat in the U.S. from 1950 to the present.

The Project seeks to understand the history of the U.S. through the multi-faceted lens of food. Food serves as a powerful window into the past because we interact with it on a daily basis, multiple times a day. What and how we eat expresses who we are as individuals, but also as members of a community. Food, though, stretches far beyond an individual’s personal experiences and ties into broader themes in American history related to capitalism, industrialization, technology, the environment, migration and more.

Later this month a new display “The Migrant’s Table,” debuts in the exhibition. The experience of migrant food entrepreneurs defines the American story. Food-related businesses and services like grocery stores, food trucks, restaurants and farms serve as an economic toehold for many new arrivals and have proven to be a path towards business ownership. According to the National Immigration Forum (NIF), immigrants are much more likely to start businesses than people born in the U.S. In 2015, immigrant-owned businesses, which made up 16 percent of businesses with paid employees in the U.S., generated $65.5 billion in income.

Image by Paul Ma Papers, Archives Center, NMAH. Some participants waited up to four years to attend Ma's classes. This pamphlet was one way he reached those audiences. (original image)

Image by Paul Ma Papers, Archives Center, NMAH. A guest book with its hand-drawn cover served as a registry of class participants. (original image)

“The Migrant’s Table” focuses on the experiences of individuals who came to the U.S. after the landmark 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, also known as the Hart-Celler Act, which eliminated previous immigration policies that largely discriminated against working class people from non-Western European countries.

According to the Power Research Center, the population of immigrants living in the U.S. quadrupled after 1965 and resulted in the resettlement of millions of people from parts of the globe that previously had far lower migration numbers to the U.S. Because of de facto discrimination, immigrants from areas like East Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East had long been underrepresented. Like other migrants and refugees before them, they brought foods, flavors and ideas about what and how to eat, diversifying the palates of people living across the U.S.

In the exhibition, seven migrants from China, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Iraq, Pakistan, Morocco and Spain, who found new life as community leaders and entrepreneurs, tell stories of sharing food traditions with fellow migrants, but also with a broader, diverse American public. The display also showcases the stories of three second-generation Chinese Americans.

Two major themes emerged as Smithsonian researchers got to know these individuals on a more personal level. Meals—whether shared in the home, restaurants, street markets or prepared with ingredients from home or community gardens—are one of the most vital ways that migrant families maintain the tastes and traditions of their homelands. Meals are also an important way that migrants build connections and community with new neighbors in the U.S.

Researchers also found that food entrepreneurs saw their work not only as a way to stay connected to the traditions of their home countries, but also as an opportunity to share their food cultures and educate others. Of no surprise to anyone was that Paul Ma was a grocer and restaurant owner.

Ma always wanted to open a grocery store. When he first came to the U.S. in 1964, though, he was in pursuit of a degree that would support his career as a medical statistician.

But while working as a statistician, he began offering Mandarin language lessons and cooking classes on the side. He found that he truly enjoyed teaching and building meaningful connections with students not only through language, but also through discussions about culture. His cooking classes grew increasingly popular, quickly filling up with students. He found a deep pleasure in creating a communal table where cultural exchange and education went hand-in-hand.

Ma hosted the popular classes near his specialty grocery store, a purveyor of Chinese products. Later on, he opened a restaurant downstairs to meet increasing customer demand. The store and restaurant were in Yorktown Heights, New York, about an hour north of Manhattan, and in close proximity to middle- and upper-class whites who desired to live close to, but not in the hustle and bustle of New York City.

The business was a family affair. Linda Ma, his wife and business partner, managed finances and helped to run the store and restaurant. Daughters, Pauline Ma-Hoffman and Eileen Ma, grew up in the store, as well as the restaurant that shared the same building. Like many children raised in family businesses, Ma-Hoffman’s childhood was marked by her parents’ daily schedule. “Once a month, we would get into the big station wagon, my sister, my parents, [to go] down to Chinatown. We’d bring back buckets of beansprouts,” she recalls.

The Mas went on to establish several other restaurants, including Shandong Inn and Shanghai Place, and also built another business leading culinary tours to China for American tourists. Immediate and extended family members, at one time or another, came to work at the Ma’s restaurants, which became “a center of the family,” according to Ma-Hoffman.

Of all of the Ma family businesses, the Dine and Learn class emerged as something separate and unique because of its attention to history, culture and community making. As Dine and Learn guests arrived—some having been on the waitlist for up to four years—they signed a guest book with a hand-drawn cover, with the words “Paul Ma’s China Kitchen. . . a place to browse, share, learn, cook, & add a little bit of China to your life!” For Ma, this education was not a one-way street. As expressed in a pamphlet advertising Ma’s classes, “Chinese Cooking is Togetherness.”

While living in the American South, cookbook author Sandra Gutierrez (above right with the author) learned about Southern food traditions from her neighbors and in turn taught them about diverse Latin cuisines. (NMAH)

Cook and author Sandra Gutierrez is at heart a culinary educator. Gutierrez was born in the U.S. in Philadelphia, but raised in Guatemala, where she attended an American school that brought Guatemalan and U.S. cultural practices together.

Gutierrez’ life was not defined by two distinct cultures, but by a single culture that shared the traditions of Guatemala and the U.S. “Food at home was also a reflection of my fused reality: we ate tamales for special occasions. . . . and Carolina hot dogs every chance we got,” she explains in her cookbook, The New Southern Latino Table.

As an adult, Gutierrez and her husband, Louis Gutierrez, moved to the U.S., eventually settling in Durham, North Carolina. There in the American South, Gutierrez learned about Southern food traditions from her neighbors and in turn taught them about diverse Latin cuisines. It was while living in the South that she began to take note of the culinary movement that combines regional Southern and Latin American foodways and which now lies at the center of her culinary career. She notes in her cookbook that the regional cuisines of Latin America and the Southern United states share many ingredients and cooking techniques in common: ingredients like tomatoes, corn, pork, beans, sugar, potatoes and key techniques like barbecuing, braising, roasting and deep frying.

Culinary writing is one of the many ways Gutierrez builds interpersonal relationships. Inviting people into her family’s inner sanctum, she also hosts cooking classes in her home. In her kitchen, where ceramics from Guatemala share counter space with antique Jell-O molds found in Southern antique shops, Gutierrez shares her migration story and passion for food cultures.

Restaurant owner Sileshi Alifom notes the integral role of Ethiopian and Eritrean dining establishments throughout Washington, D.C. in bringing the Ethiopian migrant community together. (NMAH)

Most nights, Sileshi Alifom can be found conversing with customers at his restaurant, DAS Ethiopian, in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., relying on his strong interpersonal skills to make meaningful connections.

Alifom and his wife, Elizabeth Wossen, opened DAS Ethiopian in 2011 after purchasing and rebranding an existing Ethiopian restaurant in the same location.

The restaurant’s look and feel is quite different from the city’s other Ethiopian establishments, which are often decorated with vibrant tapestries, woven baskets and other art from Ethiopia. Alifom drew upon his experience working 30 years for Marriot Hotels to create a striking interior décor fashioned after the international look: white tablecloths, cream colored walls, white plates and napkins, and black and white photographs. For his clients, Alifom has curated a playlist of international jazz music to complement the soothing ambiance.

Alifom and Wossen take seriously their role as cultural liaisons, considering themselves “cultural ambassadors.” For some of their restaurant clients the taste of tangy injera and richly aromatic chicken doro wat, the national dish of Ethiopia, might be the first. Alifom and Wossen want that experience to highlight the distinct spices, ingredients and flavor combinations of Ethiopian cuisine.

Both Alifom and Wossen were born in Ethiopia. Alifom emigrated when he was 17, and Wossen when she was three. Eventually, the two settled in Washington, D.C. where they pursued careers in the hospitality industry and diplomacy, respectively. A few years after Alifom migrated, Civil War broke out in Ethiopia, and thousands of Ethiopians came to Washington, D.C. The 1970s war-time immigration led to the areas around the city boasting some of the largest Ethiopian communities in the United States. As of 2017, U.S. Census Bureau data shows that around 5,000 Ethiopians are living in the District. Other sources like the Ethiopian Community Development Center, suggest that there may be up to 100,000 living in the greater D.C.-area.

Alifom notes the integral role of Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants in D.C. in bringing the Ethiopian migrant community together. These were places “where people met, not necessarily for the food, but the food is what gravitated everybody to come.” These early restaurants were in D.C. neighborhoods like Adams Morgan and Shaw. As rents soared in the past few decades, however, many Ethiopian restaurants and specialty grocery stores have moved out to the suburbs including areas like Silver Spring, Maryland and Alexandria, Virginia.

Conversation is made easier over coffee, Alifom suggests, as caffeine awakens the mind and encourages people to open up. His coffee server is now in the Smithsonian collections. (NMAH)

Inspired by those early restaurants, Alifom seeks to create communal experiences among his own diners. In late spring and early fall, when temperatures linger at a pleasant 80 degrees or so, Alifom invites some patrons to return to the restaurant the following day for a special Ethiopian Coffee ceremony, a social ritual with deep roots in Ethiopian culture.

“The coffee is a place where I feel that a conversation begins. Whatever type of conversation. It could be social, it could be political for all you know, but the coffee is a setting that allows [for] that sort of conversation.”

Conversation made easier, Alifom suggests, as caffeine awakens the mind and encourages people to open up to one another and converse in a more vulnerable and meaningful way. The coffee ceremony is a catalyst for some people, he says, to “express thoughts, feelings, inner feelings in some cases.”

For Alifom, like Ma and Gutierrez, food and beverage are more than just a means of sustaining the body, but a means of sustaining the inner self and one’s community. One of the major takeaways of this research is that the process by which we feed our neighbors can also be the process by which we feed the soul.

The exhibition, “Food: Transforming the American Table” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. opens October 24, with new displays on migration and food, America’s brewing history, a history of diets and dieting, and the emergence of Mexican-American vintners.

The museum’s fifth annual Food History Weekend takes place November 7 to 9, 2019. On November 8 and 9, migrant food entrepreneurs, community activists and chefs will speak about their work and life experiences during “Deep-Dish Dialog” and “Cooking Up History” programs. Attendees can sample several of the dishes prepared on stage at the museum’s café, Eat at America’s Table.

Can a Headband Really Help You Take Control of Your Dreams?

Smithsonian Magazine

The concept of lucid dreaming—knowing you're dreaming while it's happening, and in some cases, being able to control it—has always struck me as the ultimate stretch goal, like learning to write Chinese or having one last growth spurt. These things aren't ever going to happen, and neither is a scenario in which I would be able to control how I behave in my dreams.

See, I’m one of those people who remembers dreams about as often as my dog brushes his teeth. So it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll ever get to the point where I can will myself to move faster than the zombies that, from time to time, show up in my sleep. 

Yet there may be hope.

The newest invention is called the Aurora, and unlike much of what's come on the market in the past few years, it’s not a mask. Instead, it's a headband, one equipped with sensors that track your brain’s EEG signals—the voltage fluctuations within its neurons. Through the sensors, which also measure eye movements, the Aurora claims to detect various stages of a person's sleep cycle. When the user falls into REM sleep, the headband goes into action, either flashing multicolored LED lights or playing audio cues of the wearer's choosing on a smart phone app linked to the device through Bluetooth.

If this sounds familiar, it's because over the past few years, a handful of startups have created souped-up versions of the old sleep mask designed to cue sleeping people when they’re dreaming, which, say the experts, is the critical step in being able to affect what they’re dreaming.

A year or so ago, a mask called the Remee—which set an array of red LED lights over a user's eyes—was a hot item. The person wearing the mask can select the display pattern of the lights and how long he or she expects to sleep, information the device uses to predict when the wearer is in REM sleep. When a person arrives at that stage in the cycle, the device's lights start flashing—the idea being with practice, the lights, an external element to the dream, could become a factor in how the dream unfolds.

One of the criticisms of the Remee is that it involves too much guesswork. Its red light display isn’t based on any actual evidence of what is going on in a person’s brain. And secondly, if the sleeper isn’t in REM, there’s a good chance the lights will startle him or her awake before entering a dreamscape.

The Aurora attempts to solve both of these issues. Since the Aurora is placed over the head, it's able to read both brain waves and eye movement—making it more effective, creators say, than an eyemask. Either of this device's cues—the flashing colored lights or the sound clips—should also be enough to alert a person that they’re dreaming without waking them up.

There isn't a lot of information about how the Aurora has tested, so far, but the device certainly has its fans. Nearly 1,500 people backed a Kickstarter campaign for the headband earlier this year, helping its creators raise just more than $239,000—two and a half times the initial goal.

The headband won't be available to those supporters until June. And for the rest of us, the expected cost of the Aurora is $175—about twice as much as some of its predecessors, like the Remee.  

 

Of course, there’s no guarantee that someone wearing an Aurora headband will be able to rule their own Dreamland. Lucid dreaming, from what I'm told, takes a lot of practice.

 

That said, the possibilities of what we could do with the device are intriguing. The firm behind the headband, a company called iWinks, says it will make its API available to outside developers to see what other things they can get it to do. One notion that’s been floated: social lucid dreaming, which would involve two or more people wearing the device and syncing the signals so they enter into their dreams at the same time.

 

Here’s a little tutorial on lucid dreaming: 

Field of dreams

Here is some other recent research related to sleep and dreams:

Forget me not: Neuroscientists in France say they think they know why some people remember many of their dreams and others hardly ever do. They’ve found that the former tend to wake up at night twice as often as people who don’t remember their dreams and that those people are more reactive to sounds both when they’re asleep and when they’re awake. They also determined that the part of the brain that acts like an information processing hub is more active in people who recall their dreams, which could make them more responsive to external stimuli. The researchers think that having a brain that is more reactive to sounds causes more wakeful periods at night; it is during these times that the brain memorizes dreams.

Nightmares don’t have to be scary:  According to a recent study at the University of Montreal, nightmares are not all about fear. In fact, the researchers found that while fear was the most frequently reported emotion in nightmares and bad dreams, other primary emotions, such as anger, sadness and frustration, are part of almost half of upsetting dreams. The researchers also found that most nightmares, defined as disturbing dreams that wake you up, were more likely to contain scenes of physical aggression while bad dreams, which upset but don’t wake the dreamer, often involved interpersonal conflicts.

Trouble ahead?:  Kids who have a lot of nightmares might be more at risk of developing mental health problems later in their lives. At least that’s what a team of British researchers concluded. They said their study suggested that children who had frequent nightmares before age 12 were three and a half times more likely to have psychotic experiences early in their teen years. But they did note that the research didn't prove that kids who have a lot of nightmares are destined to have emotional problems as teenagers. 

Linking Language: A Brief History of Armenian American Newspapers

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

We create community in a variety of ways. A community can be the familiar faces and houses you pass on your daily walk, or the swirl of shared language in the air. Sometimes, it takes the form of ink on paper. As physical communities are changed or taken away, communities based on interpersonal connection and commonality are reinforced to maintain a sense of home in a tumultuous world.

The first wave of Armenian immigration occurred in the 1890s. These families, largely fleeing violence, settled mostly in the northeastern United States, and many moved west to California. Shortly after that wave, newspapers for Armenian Americans began publishing news and covering community events. Most of the publications were connected to political parties from the Diaspora or from Armenia for support and funding. Although some have shut down, many of these publications are still circulating today.

Most of these newspapers began publishing in Armenian, and a few originated in English. The Armenian Mirror, founded in 1931 in Watertown, Massachusetts, with the goal of bridging the generational gap, became the first English-language Armenian newspaper in the United States. Itlater merged with The Spectator in 1939 and publishes today as The Armenian Mirror-Spectator.  

For thirty-five years, editor Harut Sassounian has written weekly content for The California Courier, founded in 1958 and originally published in English as a way to connect the community.

The California Courrier
This front page from the June 4, 1959, California Courier demonstrates the paper’s long-lasting emphasis on sharing Armenian news and culture with their American audience.
Photo courtesy of Harut Sassounian

The California Courier was published in English for the simple reason that there were no English-language newspapers for the Armenian community in California in 1958,” he explained. “Since there were no Armenian Day schools at the time, many Armenians did not know how to read in Armenian.”

In fact, The California Courier emerged during a difficult time for Armenian Americans. In order to escape discrimination, many individuals Americanized their last names; even the Courier’s founder, George Elmassian, changed his surname to Mason.

Of those papers that originated in Armenian, many have expanded to include English-language sections or publications to address the growing population of English-speaking Armenian Americans. Baikar (meaning “the struggle”), founded in 1922, serves as a sister publication to The Armenian Mirror-Spectator. Asbarez of Fresno began as a wholly Armenian publication in 1908 but added an English section in 1970 that has continued to grow in popularity.In 1981, Massis of Pasadena began publishing in Armenian only, but added an English section in order to connect to younger readers. As a bilingual publication, most of Massis’scontent is the same in both Armenian and English, especially news items relating to political development in Armenia. As readership for the English section increased, Massis added an online publication, which is even more popular than the print version.

The California Courrier
Before immigrating to Boston and serving as the editor of Hairenik from 1949 to 1962, Kourken Mekhitarian was editor of Hoosaper in Cairo, Egypt.
Photo courtesy of Seta Mekhitarian Terzian,  Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives

A similar process occurred on the east coast. Hairenik (meaning “fatherland”), the first Armenian American newspaper founded in 1899 in Watertown, launched an entirely English publication less than two years after receiving a wave of positive feedback towards the English column they began in 1932. However, the growth of the paper and the inclusion of new readers can be traced to less positive influences. In the 1930s, Armenian Americans were under tremendous pressure to speak English and further assimilate into American life. Many children simply wanted to fit in and strayed away from the Armenian language, both written and spoken.

Rupen Janbazian, editor of the Armenian Weekly,can see these influences in the results of a questionnaire from the time. “Hairenik’s Questionnaire to the Armenian Youth of America” asked questions like:

  • Are you conscious in your daily life that you are an Armenian?
  • Do you read Armenian books, magazines, or newspapers?
  • Do you see the necessity of publishing an English paper, weekly or monthly, for our young generation?

Overwhelmingly, the responses confirmed that the Armenian American youth were interested in participating in Armenian life and news as long as they could do so through the language they preferred—the language that helped them fit in.

Nowadays, Armenian Americans consume their news in a variety of languages. Many households identify themselves as multilingual, speaking and reading in any combination of Armenian, English, French, Arabic, Spanish, and Turkish. As Krikor Khodanian, chairman of the Social Democratic Hunchakian Party that publishes Massis, explains, his parents consumed media in Armenian, himself in English, Armenian, and Arabic, and his children in English online.

As Armenian American newspapers and the communities they serve become more linguistically diverse, some express concern for the language being left behind.

“[The community] cannot ‘feel Armenian’ or ‘maintain Armenian spirit’ by merely speaking Armenian,” Janbazian said. “It is also essential to be conscious of the necessity to keep the mother tongue alive as a warranty of survival. It is through the Armenian language that Armenian literature, culture, and identity are preserved and kept alive.”

In either language, the Armenian newspapers in America still fulfill their original purpose of connecting the community, but they have also stretched beyond our borders to reach Armenians and others around the world.

The California Courrier
Banquet and joint celebration of the forty-fifth anniversaries of Baikar and Armenian Daily and the thirty-fifth anniversary of The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, St. James Armenian Church, Watertown, Massachusetts, March 24, 1968.
Photo by Atlantic Photo Service, Inc., Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives

Rachel Barton is a media intern at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She is a rising senior at Rowan University, double majoring in English and writing arts, and cannot wait to see how storytelling continues to change in her lifetime.

The Public Puts Great Trust in Museums, and Now It’s Time Museums Trust the Public

Smithsonian Magazine

There has been plenty of talk about the “sharing economy” of late—a system of interpersonal exchange, built on trust. It is remarkable that at a time when cynicism directed towards corporations, governments and academia is at a notable high, a growing number of trusting people are more willing to hitch a ride on Uber over a taxi and stay at an AirBnB over a hotel.

The phenomenon isn’t occurring just because of cheaper prices or the nicer view from the bedroom, it’s also tied to a belief that human-to-human contact results in a more fruitful, unique and rewarding experience than the traditional impersonal approach.

Yet, amidst all this hype, museums have been slow to embrace this practice. This Memorial Day weekend, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center will present "CrossLines: A Culture Lab on Intersectionality,"  a project that offers an alternative approach to exhibiting art, history and culture at the Smithsonian.

While this certainly isn’t the first time a museum, or even the Smithsonian Institution, has let the public have a say in what appears in an exhibition, it’s still unorthodox.

In other realms of media and storytelling—news, music and film, for example—peer-to-peer exchange isn’t new, as evidenced by Facebook, Soundcloud and Youtube, among others. Citizen journalism and video footage captured on personal cellphones has been key to some of the decade’s most important stories. The rise of music sharing that the record industry feared as piracy and the “end of music” has instead expanded our sonic palettes well beyond Top 40 radio.

Some museums have maintained a particularly steadfast grip on the expertise and authority over the institutions that deliver on history, natural history, science, the arts and culture. While people have been fine with trusting public opinion when it comes to getting driven to work, choosing where to eat and even deciding which doctors to visit, the authority of the museum curator over our public narrative has remained virtually uncontested.

In order for a piece of art to appear in a gallery, a person to be recognized through portraiture or a moment in history to be memorialized in an exhibition, the process is vetted by a curator with field expertise and academic credentials.

But this model is slowly being challenged.

In museums, projects such as Museum Hack—which calls itself “a highly interactive, subversive, fun, non-traditional museum tour”—and the hashtag  #MuseumsRespondToFerguson—which is an ongoing discussion of how museums should be more inclusive to underrepresented communities—have taken traditional curatorial practice to task, emphasizing the need for a more diverse range of perspectives in determining the art, history and culture that define us as a nation.

After all, asking museums to embrace a more democratic outlook isn’t so much an abandonment of curation, but rather a critique of who holds the authority to curate. This phenomenon doesn’t sound very different from musicians during the Myspace era who complained: “everyone thinks they can make beats now;” or poets with MFAs who sneered at emerging spoken word artists.

SALAM ! COME IN PEACE by SUPERWAXX (Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center)

Even the word is being reinterpreted. People have begun helping themselves to the title of “curator” in every facet of life in which deciding or selecting happens. People are no longer just cooking dinner, they are curating their home menu. Instagram feeds and Tumblr blogs are curated posts, and small business owners are now curators of everything from vintage clothes to ice cream flavors.

But whether it’s music, poetry, journalism, film or museum curation, the inevitable change of tides has resulted in an ecosystem where self-taught doesn’t necessarily equate to amateur, and accredited doesn’t necessarily guarantee quality. The fact is, there have always been great and horrible music, poetry and film, even when it was all “professionals” in the game. Expanding who participates in making those decisions has undoubtedly led to more diverse, multidimensional and interesting results, whether those results pass the test of excellence or not.

As the public more seriously considers what it means to actually claim the role of a curator, opportunities for a sea change are especially potent in the fields of history—where authority taught that Columbus “discovered” America; art—a universal language that galleries have transformed into something that many people feel they “just don’t get;” and culture—which has been interpreted for centuries through the lens of a dominant narrative that doesn’t reflect today’s diverse and complex society.

Before we begin gasping at the idea of museums expanding true agency to the public in the curation process, we must consider whether it’s really all that bad to make the people experts in their own stories. It’s not about a free-for-all or a system without checks and balances, but a questioning of why museums value the cultural perspective of an anthropologist over, say, a community organizer. It’s about determining our canons and hall of fames through a lens of today’s dynamic society, rather than yesterday’s rigid rubric.

CrossLines has been six-months in the making (lightning speed for an institution this big) in which more than 40 artists are developing their works down to the wire, some even creating them on the spot in front of the public.

Most of the artists are new names to the museum world—such as DC-based artists SUPERWAXX and No Kings Collective and the Hawaiian mural team Wooden Wave—but have been vetted by activism communities, avid followers of street art and Instagram aficionados. But before you scoff at this concept, consider if it’s really unreasonable to trust the judgment of thousands of audience members who spend time daily sifting through media over the judgment of a single expert.

Perhaps the most daring aspect of CrossLines’ approach is the incredible amount of trust that is required among curators, artists and the public in order to make it happen. It’s with this trust that we landed on this concept in the first place, when we earnestly navigated social media to ask what the public would like to see in their museums today.

The answer we received wasn’t amateur or remedial to any extent—it was intersectionality, a term rooted in academia that depicts the moments of oppression and empowerment that occur when we consider the complex layers of our identities, such as race, gender, class, sexuality. Our curatorial process was also made open and transparent in the selection of artists, with ultimate trust that visitors will walk into our space with the curiosity and openness that the Smithsonian Institution has thrived on for almost 200 years.

When I was hired as the Smithsonian’s first curator of digital and emerging media, I challenged myself to own the level of authority in my field that all other curators claim in theirs. Growing up, I learned to write and speak by going to open mics. I learned to code and design via YouTube tutorials and web forums, to compose music when frequenting jam sessions, and I gained my cultural perspective while raised in the hotbed of the Bay Area’s social movements.

To curate in my field means to embrace the democratic sharing of information that has been unlocked by digital space. My team working to develop CrossLines is composed of community leaders, educators and artists. We have excavated voices from the margins with the same precision as a paleontologist scouring a canyon for a fossil. It is with this trust that we are excited to reflect the Smithsonian Institution as a space truly owned by the people.

"Crosslines: A Culture Lab on Intersectionality" is on view Memorial Day weekend, May 28-29, 2016 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Smithsonian's Arts & Industries Building in Washington, D.C.

Stan Lee Helped Shape the Story of What It Is to Be American

Smithsonian Magazine

For Eric Jentsch, it was Black Bolt, the leader of a genetically altered race known as the Inhumans, who debuted in Marvel’s Fantastic Four in December 1965. As Black Bolt’s powerful voice could lay waste to his surroundings, the comic-book character resolved not to speak at all.

“That really resonated with me,” says Jentsch, curator and deputy chair of the division of culture and arts at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Growing up, Jentsch latched onto the inward-looking character, who understood more than most how “speaking can be both powerful but also dangerous.”

Every Marvel fan can name a character like Black Bolt, whose complexities, flaws and abilities especially hit home. They owe a debt of gratitude to the man synonymous with establishing that sprawling universe of characters, Stan Lee, who died Monday, November 12, at age 95.

“He's responsible for creating a lot of our shared stories about what it is to be an American,” says Jentsch.

Lee, who was born Stanley Lieber in New York City in 1922 to Romanian Jewish immigrants, recognized early on that the one thing more powerful than a perfect superhero was a human one.

“As a kid I would relish reading comics of all the characters that he created,” says Jentsch. “It really influenced my understanding of the world, especially in terms of interpersonal issues, different personality types, and philosophical questions; things I wasn’t really getting anywhere else.”

When Lee was just shy of 18 years old, his cousin-in-law Martin Goodman, a pulp publisher, hired him on as an assistant at Timely Comics. There, editor Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby were turning out the highly successful Captain America Comics. But once they found out they were being shortchanged on profits, they began writing on the side for rival National Comics Publications, later to be renamed DC Comics. A murky series of events followed. When the dust settled, Goodman, having learned about the duo’s moonlighting, fired Simon and Kirby, and temporarily promoted Lee to serve as the editorial director in their absence. That proved to be Lee’s big break, and there he stayed, long past temporary, as editor-in-chief of the publication, the fixture steering the ship through Timely’s reincarnations as Atlas and, later, Marvel.

It was the Silver Age of Comics and by the 1960s, Lee, together with luminary co-creators Kirby (who would return, somewhat bitterly, to work with Lee under a work-for-hire arrangement) and Steve Ditko, hit upon an alchemy that led to the birth of the challenging, subversive, wanting heroes of the Marvel universe that continue to resonate today.

“Many of the superheroes that we're seeing in movies [today] are about the people he created in the ’60s,” says Jentsch. “It's not as if there are these waves of new superheroes that people are engaging with. The core Marvel Universe is still the one that he created.”

One of popular culture’s biggest strongholds is finding inroads to capture the current moment in ways that are accessible and relatable, and Lee demonstrated a remarkable sense for how to successfully weigh in on the day’s anxieties. “Lee knew that balance,” says Jentsch. “He made these really exciting stories about complex characters, but would always kind of add this commentary in them to make them both more interesting, but also to make people a little more thoughtful about the world around them.”

What Lee also recognized was that everyone wanted to see themselves represented on the page. “The celebration around his character Black Panther so many years later shows that there’s still a need for more stories, more diversity, for all the different types of people that populated this country to have representation in stories,” says Jentsch. “I think that Lee was aware of that and tried to have characters that represented not only different personality types, but just different types of people."

Lee kept working toward that with now-iconic titles, such as the original X-Men, Thor, The Fantastic Four, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk. "He expanded his universe to include more stories and more people, and I think that that has had an impact on how people see themselves as part of this country," Jentsch says.

Lee's death, comes, perhaps, at the height of his name recognition. While he always embraced his role as the public face of Marvel— "Smilin' Stan," if you will—in recent years, Marvel movie fame further skyrocketed his profile. “Many people have peaks and valleys, [but there] has been a pretty steady ascent and recognition of his importance," Jentsch says. "He did not die forgotten."

The comic book maven leaves behind a singular legacy, so much so that Jentsch struggles to think of how to contextualize him among his peers. “It would be hard to think of someone who generated so many different characters that have such a long cultural property. . . . I'm really trying to think of what an equivalent would be,” he says. "It's hard."

Beginning November 20, 2018, the National Museum of American History will be showcasing select Superhero artifacts from the museum’s collections, which will include a shield from Captain America: Civil War and a pair of Wolverine's claws. The display will run through September 2, 2019.