December 14, 2012
Friday, December 21: Lars Krutak: Spiritual Skin
Presuming the end of the world is not for at least a few thousand more years, we present a night of enlightening tattoo appreciation. It turns out, while the oldest known example of tattoos are cosmetic, the second oldest is actually most likely medicinal. Megan Gambino spoke with Smithsonian anthropologist Lars Krutak for her blog, Collage of Arts and Sciences, about his time spent studying tattoo practices throughout history. His research has taken him around the world and now it brings him to the Big Board in D.C. for a book signing and lecture about the spiritual role of tattoos and scarification. Free. 7:00 p.m. The Big Board, 421 H St. NE.
Saturday, December 22: Dakota 38
Abraham Lincoln has been remembered for many things, but seldom is he mentioned as the President who authorized the largest mass execution in United States history. Thirty-eight Dakota man were put to death at the end of the Dakota War of 1862. Native spiritual leader Jim Miller knew none of this when he dreamed, in 2005, that he rode across South Dakota to watch the execution of 38 strangers in Minnesota. When he learned of the event, he set out with a group of riders to recreate his dream journey, documented in the film Dakota 38. Free. 3:30 p.m. American Indian Museum.
Sunday, December 23: ZooLights, Conservation Carousel
What better way to spend a restful Sunday evening than taking in the seasonal lights display at the National Zoo. See your favorite animals larger than life and in their full holiday splendor. And new this year, the Conservation Carousel features 56 hand-carved figures modeled from the Zoo’s collection as well as two hand-carved chariots. Everyone from naked mole rats to hummingbirds is along for the ride, so you should be too! Rides are $3. Parking is $16 for non-members. Lights run 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. National Zoo.
Read more articles about the holidays with our Smithsonian Holiday Guide here
December 13, 2012
The head of Hallmark, Donald Hall, is worth an estimated $1 billion, according to Forbes. Founded in 1910, the company has grown into the biggest greetings card manufacturer in the United States and by now, its brand is commonplace during the holiday season.
But Mary Savig and the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art are here to remind you that not all cards come from a store. In her new book, Handmade Holiday Cards from 20th-Century Artists, Savig includes 190 illustrations of the original holiday cards held in the Archives. Some famous names pop up, including Josef Albers, John Lennon and Yoko Ono and Robert Motherwell. Unlike the Hallmark stock on the shelves, these cards weren’t meant to be sold, but were instead just sent between friends to mark a shared occasion.
See more handmade cards here.
December 11, 2012
Last week’s holiday gift guide had a little something for everyone: science lover, wordsmiths, artsy types and history buffs. But this week, we’re bringing you the unabridged list of history picks, each of which were recommended by researchers, curators and staff at the Institution so they’ve got the smarty stamp of approval.
So stop sneezing over perfume samples and sorting through silk ties, this list of more than 30 titles, from hip-hop history for newcomers to the Civil War canon, is all you’ll need this holiday season.
Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. The Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer delivers a dramatic account of one of the most famed but misunderstood women of all time. The New York Times called it “a cinematic portrait of a historical figure far more complex and compelling than any fictional creation, and a wide, panning, panoramic picture of her world.” (Recommended by Laurel Fritzsch, project assistant at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian by Heather Ewing. Learn more about this British chemist and the Institution’s founder, who left his fortunes to a country he’d never even set foot in, all in the name of science and knowledge. (Recommended by Robyn Einhorn, project assistant for armed forces history at the American History Museum)
Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry’s Greatest Generation by Daisy Hay. In addition to the celebrated figures of Lord Byron, Mary Shelley and John Keats, Hay’s book also weaves in mistresses, journalists and in-laws for a riveting tale of personal drama. (Recommended by Laurel Fritzsch, project assistant at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted by Justin Martin. “Olmsted did so many different things in life, that it’s like reading a history of the country to read about him,” says the Institution’s Amy Karazsia. Not just the landscape architect behind everything from Central Park to Stanford University, Olmsted was also an outspoken abolitionist, whose social values informed his design. (Recommended by Amy Karazsia, director of giving at the American History Museum)
Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature by Philip Nel. Not as famous as their mentee Maurice Sendak, Johnson and Krauss lived just as colorful a life creating children’s classic, including Harold and the Purple Crayon, that endure even today. (Recommended by Peggy Kidwell, curator of medicine and science at the American History Museum)
Big Chief Elizabeth: The Adventures and Fate of the First English Colonists in America by Giles Milton. A look at some of the first settlers, including a Native American who had been taken captive, traveled to England and then returned to America as Lord and Governor before disappearing. Milton unravels the mystery of what happened to those early settlers. (Recommended by Carol Slatick, museum specialist at the American History Museum)
The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilization, 1600-1675 by Bernard Bailyn. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has written profusely on early American history here turns his eye to the people already on North America’s shores when the British arrived and their interactions with the colonists. (Recommended by Rayna Green, curator of home and community life at the American History Museum)
Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different by Gordon S. Wood. For those who think they have the complete picture of the founding fathers, allow Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gordon S. Wood to fill in the details and explain what made each unique. (Recommended by Lee Woodman, senior advisor for the office of the director at the American History Museum)
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 by Gordon S. Wood. And for those who like their Pulitzer Prize winners to take a broader look, Wood’s Empire of Liberty examines the larger context in which those greats from his Revolutionary Characters worked. (Recommended by Timothy Winkle, curator of home and community life at the American History Museum)
Six Frigates: The epic history of the founding of the US Navy, by Ian W. Toll. Our Smithsonian recommender wrote that this book is a, “real page-turner about the politics surrounding the creation of a navy, the shipbuilding process, the Navy culture of the time, characteristics of each ship and the characters who served on them,” from the War of 1812, the Mediterranean naval actions and more. (Recommended by Brett Mcnish, supervisory horticulturalist at Smithsonian Gardens)
The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814 by Anthony Pitch. The story of how Dolly Madison rescued George Washington’s portrait from the White House when it was engulfed in flames during the British attack is by now common classroom stuff. But Pitch breathes new life into the now quaint tale, delivering a gripping account of the actions as they unfolded. (Recommended by Cathy Keen, archives curator at the American History Museum)
What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War by Chandra Manning. We remember the Civil War through the words of famous men, but Manning returns the struggle’s voice to those who fought, including both black and white soldiers as she pulls from journals, letters and regimental newspapers. (Recommended by Barbara Clark Smith, curator of political history at the American History Museum)
The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner. Though we learn more about the man every year, Abraham Lincoln’s true relationship to the issue of slavery remains buried somewhere between pragmatism and indignation. This account from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Foner brings out the nuance of the full conversation, not shying away from the difficult and sometimes contradictory parts. (Recommended by Arthur Molella, director of the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard. The best-selling book just released in June details the attempted assassination of President Garfield in 1881. Full of intrigue, the book found fans in the Smithsonian partly because the apparatus Alexander Graham Bell used to find the bullet which wounded the President is actually in the collections. (Recommended by Roger Sherman, curator of medicine and science for the American History Museum)
Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation by Deborah Davis. Though enslaved African Americans built the White House, none had ever dined there until Booker T. Washington was invited to by President Roosevelt. The incredibly controversial dinner engulfed the country in outrage but Davis places it within a larger story, uniting the biographies of two very different men. (Recommended by Joann Stevens, program director of Jazz Appreciation Month at the American History Museum)
Freedom Summer: The Savage Season of 1964 That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy by Bruce Watson. Racism consumed the entire nation, but the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee chose Mississippi as one of the worst offenders. A modest army of hundreds of students and activists went to the state to man voter registration drives and fill the schools with teachers. Though the summer produced change, it also witnessed the murder of three young men whose deaths would not be solved until years later. (Recommended by Christopher Wilson, program director of African American culture at the American History Museum)
The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro. This four-volume monolith by the Pulitzer Prize winning Robert Caro runs more than 3,000 pages and yet it captured the adoration of nearly every reviewer for its painstakingly thorough and engaging biography of a complicated man and era. (Recommended by Rayna Green, curator of home and community life at the American History Museum)
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James McPherson. As Alex Dencker says, this is, “not a typical Civil War book.” McPherson deftly handles the Civil War while also creating a portrait of what made America unique, from its infrastructure, to its agriculture to its populations, to set the stage in a new way. (Recommended by Alex Dencker, horticulturalist at Smithsonian Gardens)
City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago by Gary Krist. July 1919 proved particularly eventful in Chicago, with a race riot, the Goodyear blimp disaster and a dramatic police hunt for a missing girl. Krist looks beyond the buzz of headlines to capture a city in transformation. (Recommended by Bonnie Campbell Lilienfeld, supervisor curator of home and community life at the American History Museum)
Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez. A revised and updated edition of a comprehensive work from columnist Juan Gonzalez provides a contemporary look at the long history of a diverse group whose national profile continues to rise. (Recommended by Magdalena Mieri, program director in Latino history and culture at the American History Museum)
The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace by Lynn Povich. Valeska Hilbig, from the American History Museum, loved the way this book, “as compelling as any novel,” also provided “an accurate, intimate history of new women journalists invading the male journalistic world of the 1970s” to reveal how women’s struggle for recognition in the workplace may just be beginning. (Recommended by Valeska Hilbig, public affairs specialist at the American History Museum)
At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson. If you happen to, like Bill Bryson, live in a 19th century English rectory, you might assume your home is full of history. But Bryson shows us, in addition to touring his own home, that these private and often ignored spaces hold the story of human advancement. (Recommended by Laurel Fritzsch, project assistant at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
Poisons of the Past: Molds, Epidemics, and History by Mary Kilbourne Matossian. Could food poisoning have been at the heart of some of Europe’s strangest moments in history? That’s what Matossian argues in her look at how everything from food preparation to climate may have shaped a region’s history. (Recommended by Carol Slatick, museum specialist at the American History Museum)
Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor. An easy read that looks at the often dark and very long history of biological warfare, using everything from Greek mythology to evidence from archeological dig sties. (Recommended by Carol Slatick, museum specialist at the American History Museum)
The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States by Mark Fiege. In a sweeping history, Fiege persuasively argues that no moment in time can be separated from its environment, brining together natural and social history. (Recommended by Jeffrey Stine, supervisory curator of medicine and science at the American History Museum)
Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery, The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 by Nathaniel Philbrick. Our insider, Brett McNish, described the text and its connection to the institution saying it was, “a brilliant read about the U.S. Exploring Expedition (a.k.a. Wilkes Expedition) and what would become the basis of the Smithsonian’s collection,” noting that, “Smithsonian Gardens has descendants of some of the plants Wilkes brought back in our Orchid Collection and garden areas.” (Recommended by Brett McNish, supervisory horticulturalist of grounds management)
The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson. 1854 London was both a thriving young metropolis and the perfect breeding ground for a deadly cholera outbreak. Johnson tells the story not just of the outbreak, but how the outbreak influenced that era’s fledgling cities and scientific worldview. (Recommended by Judy Chelnick, curator of medicine and science at the American History Museum)
The Arcanum The Extraordinary True Story By Janet Gleeson. The search for an elixir has long obsessed man, but in the early 18th century, Europeans were hard at work on another mystery: how exactly the East made its famed and envied porcelain. Gleeson tells the diverting tale of that fevered search with flourish. (Recommended by Robyn Einhorn, project assistant for armed forces history at the American History Museum)
The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead by Ann Fabian. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, the story of skull collecting in a misguided effort to confirm racist stereotypes of the 1800s is a dark, even ghoulish tale. Fabian takes one noted naturalist, Samuel George Morton, who collected hundreds of skulls over his lifetime as she unpacks a society’s cranial obsession. (Recommended by Barbara Clark Smith, curator of political history at the American History Museum)
The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum. For years, poisons had been the preferred weapon of the country’s underworld. All that changed, however, in 1918 when Charles Norris was named New York City’s chief medical examiner and made it his mission to apply science to his work. (Recommended by Laurel Fritzsch, project assistant at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-Hop DJ by Mark Katz. Told from the point of the view of the very people at the center of the genre’s creation, Katz’s history of hip-hop relies on the figure of the DJ to tell its story and reveal the true innovation of the craft that began in the Bronx. (Recommended by Laurel Fritzsch, project assistant at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
Underground Dance Masters: Final History of a Forgotten Era by Thomas Guzmán Sánchez. According to the Institution’s Marvette Perez, the text “captures the essence of hip-hop culture in California, not only from a great student of hip hop and popular culture, but one who was part of the movement back in the day, a great account.” Looking at the break dance movement that predated hip-hop’s origins, Sánchez details what made California’s scene so unique. (Recommended by Marvette Perez, curator of culture and the arts at the American History Museum)
Read more articles about the holidays with our Smithsonian Holiday Guide here
December 5, 2012
The curators and researchers spend a lot of time reading, everything from classic novels to the latest exhibition catalog. We asked some of them to lend us their reading lists to see which titles rose to the top and why.
For the Art Connoisseurs:
Leslie Umberger, from the American Art Museum, recommends:
“James Castle: Show and Store, an exhibition catalogue produced by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sophia in 2011 brilliantly navigates the complex depths of Idaho artist James Castle (1899-1977). Fresh, insightful, and deeply moving, the images and essays explore a truly, astonishing, poetic and enigmatic body of work–drawings of soot, paper constructions, and carefully rendered books and letters–entirely in its own terms. Perfectly magical.”
Lisa Hostetler, from the American Art Museum, recommends:
“Photography Changes Everything, edited by Marvin Heiferman (Aperture/Smithsonian Institution, 2012). It’s an interesting look at the wide variety of ways that photographs are used and how photography itself has affected contemporary culture. Two exhibition catalogues that I’ve been looking forward to reading are Cindy Sherman (MoMA, 2012) and Rineke Dijkstra (Guggenheim, 2012). Sherman and Dijkstra are two of today’s most compelling artists, and these retrospectives are important compendia of their careers.”
Maya Foo, from the Freer and Sackler, recommends:
“Rome by Robert Hughes. In college, I studied art history in Rome and I have wanted to return to Italy ever since. Robert Hughes’ Rome is a readable and rich history of the city told through art, architecture, literature and the author’s personal narrative.”
For the Wordsmiths:
David Ward, from the National Portrait Gallery, recommends:
“What with the opening of Poetic Likeness at the museum this fall and co-editing Lines in Long Array: A Civil War Commemoration, which includes 12 newly commissioned poems, my mind has been mostly on poetry the last year or so. I have been especially taken by the following titles: First, work by two of the great “voices” in modern American poetry, one still vital even at 85, John Ashbery, and the other sadly gone, Adrienne Rich, who passed away earlier this year after an amazingly powerful career. Adrienne Rich, Later Poems: Selected and New, 1971-2012 (WW Norton, 2012). John Ashbery, Quick Question: New Poems (Ecco, 2012).
The writer Eavan Boland is not only a first-rate poet but she is continually interesting on the subject of writing, literary history and social roles. Her latest book explores the sense of doubleness that she navigates in her career: A Journey with Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet.
Two prize-winning books by two of America’s best poets are also of note: Jorie Graham’s Place (Ecco, 2012) and Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars (Greywolf, 2011), which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2012.
Also, a pitch for a book that was published a couple of years ago that I don’t think got as much attention as it should have, from Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors, A New Literary History of America (Harvard University Press, 2009), which came out in paperback in 2012. It provides a really valuable, entertaining and incisive view of 500 years of American writing.”
For the Scientists:
John Grant, from the National Air and Space Museum, recommends:
Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity and the Exploration of the Red Planet by Steve Squyres is good for adults. Squyres writes about his work as the principal investigator on both the Spirit and Opportunity missions to Mars in 2004. A good read for people following the more recent Mars developments with the Curiosity mission.
And for the younger set: Fly Me to Mars by Catherine Weitz is a terrific kids book.
For the History Buffs:
Cory Bernat, co-curator of FOOD: Transforming the American Table at American History, recommends:
Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern America by Harvey Levestein, which covers America’s eating habits from the 1930s to present day.
John Edward Hasse, at the American History Museum, likes:
Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood and How It Changed America, by John M. Barry, because it’s a “fascinating story told so compellingly that it reads almost like a novel.”
Nancy Bercaw, of the American History Museum, suggests:
Tiya Miles’ Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom, first published in 2006, but an interesting read for readers looking for something different in the Civil War sesquicentennial.
December 4, 2012
It’s that time of year again when the airwaves jingle with a potpourri of holiday music, performances and mashups, featuring songs and artists with jazz, pop culture, film, classical and sacred music roots. Some of the chestnut classics are playing 24/7 on radio stations (for those of you who still listen to radio) across the land.
Speaking of chestnut classics, during his 29-year career, jazz vocalist and pianist Nat King Cole recorded four versions of his chestnuts roasting by open fire “The Christmas Song” before arriving at the 1961 version that became the perennial favorite. Surprisingly, the tune was composed on a hot summer day in 1944 by Mel Tormé and Robert Wells. Whitney Houston released her stellar version in 2003. Two years later, the music licensing organization ASCAP noted that the song was number one among the ten most performed holiday tunes during the first five years of the 21st century. Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, were two and three, respectively.
I always keep my ear out for Eartha Kitt. The original Cat Woman purrs for holiday furs, cars and jewels in Santa Baby, a satirical tune co-written in 1953 by Philip Springer and Joan Javits, niece of U.S. Senator Jacob Javits.
Whether your tastes veer towards the traditional or something a little funkier, here’s an eclectic mix of jazz and other music by seasoned and emerging artists to explore this season, along with some interesting bedtime stories you probably didn’t know. So curl up with your hot cocoa and click through some of my holiday favorites.
Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s Nutcracker Suite. Tchaikovysky swings in the hands of these classically trained jazz masters. In 1960 the duo reinvented the ballet classic, mixing rhythms and musical styles. These two selections bring sass to the Nutcracker Overture and make the Sugar Plum Fairies sound like they’re hung over from too much partying at the Sugar Rum Cherry Dance.
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. At four foot nine, country music-rock star Brenda Lee was known as Little Miss Dynamite. She was 13 when she recorded this classic in 1958. Her version became a chart buster in 1960 and reigns as the all time favorite, played by radio formats from Top 40 to Country Music to Adult Contemporary and Adult Standards. Nielsen Sound Scan rated digital track sales at 679,000 downloads. Miley Cyrus also had fun with the song .
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Composed by Hugh Martin Jr., who also wrote “The Trolley Song” and “The Boy Next Door” for the film Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland. This song from the film might have become the most depressing holiday song ever written. Luckily studio executives and Garland intervened, requesting rewrites to give the public a more hopeful classic. Compare the original lyrics to the holiday friendly versions sung by Frank Sinatra and Luther Vandross.
The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late). What more can I say? Gotta love Alvin and the Chipmunks in this song composed by Rostom Sipan “Ross” Bagdasarian, who had a knack with novelty music. The son of Armenian immigrants, Bagdasarian was a bit stage and film actor whose first musical success, ”Come-on-a-My House,” was a dialect song that became a hit for Rosemary Clooney, the aunt of actor George Clooney. The song was co-written with Bagdasarian’s cousin, the famous writer William Saroyan. Go ahead, do your best impersonation. ALLLLLVIN!
Oh Chanukah. This traditional song commemorating the Jewish Festival of Lights was standard fare in the New York City school programs when music appreciation and performances were used to explore cultural diversity and heritage. Enjoy the traditional song by this young choir and an offering of Klezmer holiday music by a high school sax quartet. Klezmer Jazz a fusion of the rhythms and traditional music of the Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe with American jazz, evolved in the U.S. in the 1880s.
Carol of the Bells. One rarely hears jazz played on the Hawaiian ukelele or such performances compared with Miles Davis, unless you’re Jake Shimabukuro — a largely self-taught virtuoso who was introduced to the instrument by his mother. Listen to his take of the classic Carol of the Bells, a song based on a traditional Ukranian folk chant, followed by a rocking jazz performance .
Yagibushi. Okay it’s not a holiday carol but if music by jazz performer Chichiro Yamanaka, a standout at the 2012 Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival, doesn’t rouse you for the holidays, nothing will.
Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is observed from December 26 to January 1 in Canada and the U.S. to honor African and African American cultural traditions that teach valuable life principles.
And Now for Something Completely Different. Jazz pianist/composer and NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston has made African and world culture the core of his creative process. Blue Moses is a composition influenced by time Weston spent in Morocco learning the traditions and musical culture of the Gnawa people—West Africans taken to North Africa as slaves and soldiers around the 16th century. In an interview with Jo Reed, Weston said that within the Gnawa music ”I heard the blues, I heard Black jazz, I heard the music of the Caribbean, I heard the foundation which proved to me that the rhythms of Africa, they remained alive, but disguised in different forms, whether in Honduras, or Haiti, or Jamaica, or Trinidad, or Brazil, or Mississippi. ”
Happy Musical Holidays!
Joann Stevens is program manager of Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), an initiative to advance appreciation and recognition of jazz as America’s original music, a global cultural treasure. JAM is celebrated in every state in the U.S. and the District of Columbia and some 40 countries every April. Recent posts include Danilo Pérez: Creator of Musical Guardians of Peace and Jason Moran: Making Jazz Personal.
Read more articles about the holidays with our Smithsonian Holiday Guide here