August 28, 2012
As the 2012 presidential campaign gains steam with party conventions, round-the-clock television ads and the usual up-tick in party-affiliated rhetoric, it becomes necessary to remind ourselves of the timelessness of such divides. In his 1796 farewell address, George Washington warned against the dangers of political factions: “The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”
We have yet to heed his advice.
Political history curators Larry Bird and Harry Rubenstein of the National Museum of American History have spent decades collecting the ephemera of our two party system, putting ideologies aside in the spirit of assembling the most valuable mementos for American history students of the future. Attending both conventions every four years, Bird and Rubenstein (known as “Harry and Larry”) preserve materials that best represent the atmosphere of the presidential campaigns, from the red, white and blue confetti that rains down at the end of speeches, to the dapper buttons of the candidates’ devotees.
In celebration of the work that Harry and Larry embark on every year, we’ve assembled a few tokens of presidential campaign memorabilia from the Smithsonian collections.
August 24, 2012
It’s long been advised to learn from the past, and this weekend, we bring to you a selection of recently digitized finds from the collections at the Smithsonian Libraries. We figure you might learn a tip or two on party going. This pamphlet, entitled The 1917 Party Book, has everything you need to know to make sure your night out is a memorable one.
Parties are great, but costume parties are even better. Don’t show up to your social engagement unprepared! Let these costumes and party ideas guide you through this Friday’s soiree, from birdcages to matching “Pats.”
August 14, 2012
Are video games making us violent? Is all that screen time playing Angry Birds bad for us? Are we becoming lazy and inferior beings? Concerns about how we spend our leisure time are so 21st century, but an 1889 catalogue of Milton Bradley’s finest toys and games reveals the anxiety is rooted in history. Playing games has had a bum rap for generations and game makers had to fight “a deep-rooted prejudice against all such pastimes.”
Great minds like Thomas Jefferson worried about the harmful effects of such activities. The third president once mused:“Almost all these pursuits of chance [i.e., of human industry] produce something useful to society. But there are some which produce nothing, and endanger the well-being of the individuals engaged in them or of others depending on them. Such are games with cards, dice, billiards, etc. And although the pursuit of them is a matter of natural right, yet society, perceiving the irresistible bent of some of its members to pursue them, and the ruin produced by them to the families depending on these individuals, consider it as a case of insanity, quoad hoc, step in to protect the family and the party himself, as in other cases of insanity, infancy, imbecility, etc., and suppress the pursuit altogether, and the natural right of following it.”
Gateway temptations have long been plentiful.
From the Smithsonian Libraries, a recently digitized collection of catalog materials (which also include medical journals waxing poetic on the location of the human soul), we present an amusing sampling:
But enough with children’s games, how is a lady to entertain? A further search in the collections reveals helpful game playing tips from the Chicago Corset Company, which in 1887 offered women a how-to for throwing the liveliest, most rocking affair of parlor and lawn games, wearing, of course, the company’s latest hot-seller the, “Health Preserving Corset.”
In its Handbook of Games and Pastimes, women were admonished for wearing the competitor’s corset. By doing so, “she is preparing herself to be a dumpy woman.” The new corset with elastic material promises to maintain “the dainty waist of the poets” without contributing to the “perishing of the muscles that support the frame.” Unlike men, who simply suffer from slovenly stooping, the text tells us, women lose height “by actual collapse.” Yikes!
Once instructed on the virtues of new corset models, the properly swaddled lady of leisure is free to play lawn tennis, learn to read palms and stage elaborate themed productions, such as: two young lovers trying to become intimate while a sleeping old woman waits nearby; Pocahontas and John Smith courting each other; or a soldier preparing for war. The guide offers step-by-step instructions for each role-playing game and, as a thoughtful reminder, the company advertises its Misses’ Corsets, to help “train your daughters to a healthy and symmetrical body.”
A game and corset for every age!
July 17, 2012
Right when D.C. needs her most, NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” heroine Leslie Knope appears. At least, that’s the hope. DCist, among other outlets, reported last week that the critically-acclaimed show about small town government in Knope’s beloved Pawnee, Indiana, will be heading to D.C. this week to film part of its season five opener.
Viewers will remember that the on-and-off-again relationship between Knope (Amy Poehler) and Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) took another hit when Wyatt decided to take a position in D.C. as a campaign adviser. NBC has only confirmed that scenes could be filmed Thursday and Friday but not whom those scenes would include or where those scenes would be shot. Poehler and Scott seem the obvious choices, but local fans are hopeful lovable curmudgeon and manliest of all the men, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) will also make an appearance.
If Knope does make it to D.C., it would be a dream come true for a woman whose office includes framed photos of Madeleine Albright, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. With so much to see here in just two days, we narrowed our list down to five Knope must-sees.
1. Li’l Przewalski: Though no horse could ever replace the dearly departed Li’l Sebastian, Pawnee’s favorite mini-horse, the National Zoo’s diminutive band will help Knope feel right at home. The Przewalski’s horses, named after the Polish scientist who first described the species (and pronounced sheh-val-skee), grow to be just four feet tall.
2. Votes for Women pennant: The collection of First Lady artifacts, including Michelle Obama’s inaugural ball gown, is worth a visit for anyone, but we know Knope is more interested in being the first lady president, not the president’s First Lady. A big fan of voting in general, Knope should visit the American History Museum to see pennants, buttons and signs from the suffrage movement and maybe take some notes for her own presidential campaign gear.
3. Waffle literature: That’s right, in the great treasure trove that is the Smithsonian Libraries, there are scores of documents about the creation of the waffle iron. Because Knope is such an avid and serious waffle-fan (Her position statement includes the line, “A Knope presidency will be a waffle-based presidency, and everyone has to deal with that.”), she’ll want to sift through papers about Cornelius Swarthout’s 1869 patent that made Troy, New York the waffle capital of the world.
4. Clearing the Right of Way, Indiana mural: While this mural on view at the American Art Museum doesn’t have the bloodshed or aggressively offensive material Knope may be used to in Pawnee’s city hall, it does depict another sort of patriotic moment in Indiana’s history. Commissioned by the Works Progress Administration, Joe Cox completed this mural study for the post office in Garrett, Ind. of muscular loggers clearing land for the railroad. Though it hasn’t been confirmed, the mustached man far left could very well be Ron Swanson’s relative.
5. Madeleine Albright swag: Some look to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis as a style icon, but the true trendsetter of Leslie Knope’s Washington will always be Madeleine Albright, whose pins alone warranted their own exhibit at the Smithsonian. After a generous donation to the American History Museum, Knope and other Albrighters can view the former Secretary of State’s red wool dress and Ferragamo pumps worn the day she was appointed to office, as well as several pins including her Liberty Eagle pin–patriotic and one-of-a-kind, just like Knope. She can even pick up her own replica while in town.
July 5, 2012
In A Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare wrote one of the strangest stage directions ever given in the history of theater: “exit, pursued by bear.” This order is difficult to follow in modern-day productions of the comedy, but in the 17th century, bears and other animals we now call exotic were, for better or worse, often assimilated into daily life. Many of the images in Zoos: A Historical Perspective, a collection of pamphlets, photos, maps and guidebooks beautifully displayed by the Smithsonian Libraries, reflect a similar sentiment. Bears can be seen climbing poles, elephants in Australia carry elegantly clad school children, and tigers stare lazily at humans inches away from their cages.
The collection features pamphlets, sketches and photos from not only the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, but from zoos across 30 states and 40 countries, making it the largest project of its kind, and providing a valuable perspective on the changing relationship between animals and humans throughout history. The photographs demonstrate, for example, how zoos were once places frequented for the sake of spectacle, and the evolution of the zoo into what it is today: an educational and conservation-minded institution.
Head of Information Services Alvin Hutchinson hopes that the online collection will give visitors “an appreciation of the history of zoos and the fact that they’ve been around for more than 300 years. They were once a place for oddballs and curiosities, but they’ve evolved into much more than that.”
The current collection is just one example of a larger effort by the Institution to digitize a host of print documents. “This collection was sitting in boxes and folders,” says Hutchinson, “and we put out a call for things not easily findable, and discovered these pamphlets.”
Hutchinson hopes to digitize the entire collection one day (the current exhibit features about 80 images), based on the feedback he’s received from those already on display. “I’ve gotten many calls,” he explains. “Mostly out of curiosity, but some have been very personal. One guy called and told me that his relative in England had done the stonework photographed in one of the zoos. The feedback has been great.”
Some of the images—lions sitting behind heavy metal bars, monkeys in cages too small—may seem a bit disturbing, but they serve as a reminder of how our understanding of animals and animal intelligence has changed over the years. Whereas once we poked fun at how easily chimps could look like humans (a photograph in the collection shows a family of chimps sitting down to dinner, complete with china tea cups and a tablecloth), we now view these similarities in the context of scientific understanding.
At once contemplative and whimsical, the collection is a valuable lesson in how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go.
View it here, along with an introduction from the curator.
By Jeanie Riess