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
May 9, 2011
Monday, May 9 – Beautiful butterflies
With new summer hours in place, you can stroll through this special butterfly exhibit with exotic plants and live butterflies from around the world until the last entry at 6 PM. Tickets are required, however and rates are as follows: $6 for adults; $5.50 for seniors (60+); $5 for children and members. Big tip for the frugal visitor: There is no charge on Tuesdays; however you still must get a ticket at the desk. Visit the Butterfly Pavilion’s Web site to purchase tickets and for more information about free entry on Tuesdays. Natural History Museum, 10:15-5:00 PM.
Tuesday, May 10 — Harry Potter pops up
The Houston-based paper engineer Bruce Foster talks about designing the 2010 Harry Potter: A Pop-Up Book, the design process and paper engineering. “I will show the process from beginning to end, explain some of the math involved in creating this boo and share secrets of Harry Potter that did not make it into the final book,” Foster writes. Free. 12:00 PM. American History Museum. Sponsored by Smithsonian Libraries. Related exhibition: “Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop and Turn”
Wednesday, May 11 Behind the Scenes at the Lunder Center
Learn how museum conservators use science, art history and skilled hands to preserve the art collections at the American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. Free, but register before 3:00 PM at the Luce Foundation Center information desk. Tour begins at 3:00 PM at the same place. Repeats most Wednesdays. American Art Museum.
Thursday, May 12 Pick a Flick just $10
“Film Forward: Advancing Cultural Dialogue” presents 10 films with a discussion following the screenings: Freedom Riders (already sold out); La Mission; Udaan and A Small Act at 6:00 PM; Boy at 6:15 PM and The Last Train Home; Afghan Star; Amreeka; Son of Babylon (free admission, but tickets required) and Winter’s Bone at 6:30 PM. $10 tickets for general admission are available online. Various National Mall locations.
Friday, May 13 Not Your Father’s Planetarium Show
Cosmic Collisions, a planetarium show, is the story of a speeding comet that collides with Earth’s atmosphere. Zipping along at 40 million years per second, the film takes visitors on a journey through time and space that includes colossal impacts and exciting explosions. Scientific visualizations, images from NASA and advanced simulation and imaging technology enhance the experience. Seven shows daily, beginning at 11:00 AM. Tickets are $6.50 members, $9.00 adult (13-and up), $8.00 senior, $7.50 youth (2-12 years old). Purchase tickets by phone (toll-free) 866-868-7774; online up to two weeks in advance or at the box office. Albert Einstein Planetarium at the National Air & Space Museum
December 1, 2010
First Aircraft Moved to New Hangar: This week, AirSpace reports that the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver was the first aircraft to move into the Udvar-Hazy Center’s new Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar. Designed in 1938 and manufactured in 1942, the scout bomber flew in World War II. The Air and Space Museum’s plane is one of only a handful still in existence. The plane is scheduled to be restored over the course of the coming year, along with several other aircraft that will soon move into the new hangar. Later in 2011, the mezzanine level of the hangar will open so that visitors can see the aircraft refurbishment in action.
Patti Smith Wins National Book Award: Singer Patti Smith, perhaps best known as the “Godmother of Punk,” just won the National Book Award for her memoir, Just Kids, which chronicles her friendship with photographer and artist Robert Mapplethorpe. The Archives of American Art blog has a sound clip of Smith reading at a 2008 benefit, or your can hear her on NPR.
Twain Galore: It seems that in addition to Around the Mall’s post honoring Mark Twain’s would-be 175th birthday, a couple other blogs around the Smithsonian have paid their own tributes to the 19th century American author. Face to Face has posted some of their favorite Twain quotes as well as Edwin Larson’s 1935 portrait of the writer. The Smithsonian Libraries blog has a list of further reading straight from the Smithsonian’s collections.
Flamingo-Keeping: Now on the Smithsonian Science homepage, a video from the National Zoo features footage of the Zoo’s 61-bird flock of flaming pink Caribbean flamingos. Sara Hallager, flamingo keeper, says the birds are extraordinarily social animals (their squawks can be heard in the background). She discusses how she and the other keepers prevent inbred chicks during mating season by putting different colored bands on the flamingos’ feet to keep track of who’s who.
National Museum of “Dad-Trolling”? The web comic XKCD has proposed a new Smithsonian museum that specializes in enabling fathers to tell little white lies to their children. Click on various parts of the museum’s floorplan and see what waits inside the “Hall of Misunderstood Science,” “Regrettable Pranks: An Interactive Experience” or the “Rotunda of Uncomfortable Topics,” among others.
September 29, 2010
For the record, October is American Archives Month—To celebrate, the Smithsonian Collections blog, SIRIS, is hosting a 31-day blogathon, where Smithsonian museums and affiliates will be blogging about their archives, giving an insider’s look at what goes into preserving and storing so many precious artifacts. The Institution is also hosting the “Ask the Smithsonian” program, where members of the community can set up appointments to bring in objects and learn how best to care for them. An online version of the program will be available on the Smithsonian’s Facebook page.
Cell Phones and Far Beyond—You know that nifty feature on your iPhone that flips your display vertically or horizontally depending on how you hold it? According to a post this week on the AirSpace blog, that mechanism is called an accelerometer, and consists of a tiny chip inserted into the phone that can sense the acceleration of gravity. This technology has apparently been used for years in automobiles, video games and even ballistic missiles, and was designed in 1970 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by Charles Stark “Doc” Draper.
Skating Through the Week—It might be time to dust off those old roller skates and take them for a spin. As we emerge from the dog days of summer and enter early fall, there couldn’t be a better time for National Roller Skating Week, which the Smithsonian Libraries blog let us know about yesterday. They also posted a charming trade advertisement of Plimpton’s Patent Roller Skates from around 1879 (Plimpton’s roller skates were patented in 1863 and 1866).
It Has Been Fifty Years… Since Vice President Richard Nixon faced off with John F. Kennedy for the first ever nationally televised presidential debate. The Portrait Gallery’s Face to Face blog has two posts on the debates, and we published an article about the changing dynamics of debating on television this month as well.
Unexpected New Bird Species—Smithsonian researchers at the Conservation Biology Institute and Natural History have discovered that the magnificent frigatebirds living on the Galapagos Islands are genetically distinct from those living on the mainland of the Americas, and have been for over half a million years. This comes as quite a surprise, as frigatebirds are able to travel hundreds of miles and are not particularly isolated from those on the mainland.
July 27, 2010
What’s Up, Doc? His buck teeth and long ears may be timeless, but Bugs Bunny has reached a ripe old age. It was 70 years ago yesterday that everybody’s favorite “wascally wabbit” first popped his head out of his rabbit hole and posed the notorious aforementioned question to arch nemesis Elmer Fudd. Arguably the most famous cartoon character of all time, Bugs Bunny ushered in the Loony Tunes era that enraptured adults and children alike. Complete with slippery banana peels, plummeting planes and extensive carrot chomping, the Smithsonian Libraries blog posted a 1943 video of Bugs, alongside other links of interest, in tribute to his life in television.
Introducing the Art-O-Matic: Following the ban on cigarette vending machines in the late 1990s, artist Clark Whittington co-opted the machine and re-purposed it as an art dispenser for cigarette-sized, original works of art. The “Art-O-Matic” took off, and now Whittington oversees 83 over 90 such machines, one of which just arrived at the Luce Foundation Center for American Art. According to Eye Level, at five dollars per work, you can get your own miniature art straight out of this 60-year-old vending machine. Works include everything from jewelry to sculptures to collages, all handmade by an international array of artists.
It is an exciting time… As a result of a recent effort to broaden accessibility and searchability of all the Smithsonian has to offer, Smithsonian has produced a prototype of the Smithsonian Commons, a centralized online forum for the “Smithsonian research, collections and communities.” Featured recently by We Love DC, the Commons will open the doors to a global audience interested in the Smithsonian who aren’t necessarily able to travel to the museums in Washington, D.C. Explore, vote and comment on the prototype in order to shape the final product!
For lucky iPhone and Android owners, the Collections Search Center (CSC) has recently enhanced their mobile web portal, so that you can find any object in the collections that strikes your fancy while on the go. Simply visit the CSC Web site on your phone, and you’ll get to see the new and improved version.
Holy Mangrove! This past Monday, the National Museum of Natural History’s Ocean Portal blog celebrated International Mangrove Action Day. If you missed out this year, you can still listen to a podcast of Dr. Candy Feller of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), in Edgewater, Md., speaking with SERC ecologist Dr. Dennis Whigham about the importance of these twisted, tropical plants. If you did take a moment out of your day for the mangroves, they invite you to share your celebration with other readers.