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.
July 11, 2012
Dr. John Grant likes to say that it is just no big deal that he has control of the Mars rover on his desktop computer. He will tell you that a whole team of people has access to the rover. But still, that leaves out a lot of us who don’t.
This Friday, aspiring space explorers will have a chance to talk with Grant and other scientists about what they’ll argue is the greatest planet in the solar system, Mars. Though Mars Day honors the first spacecraft ever to land on Mars, Viking 1, back in 1976; this year it also marks the upcoming August 6 landing of Curiosity, the newest rover.
Though there isn’t a joystick or live feed from the rover, Grant is still able to send out a series of commands (timed to coordinate with the rotations of the satellites orbiting Mars) to guide the rover as his team explores the planet. On Wednesday, Grant will be preparing commands directing the rover to Mt. Goldsworthy, which is not a mountain at all, but a deep crack in the surface.
He’s been in love with the red planet ever since he read Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. Trained as a geologist, Grant studies the mineral makeup of Mars to learn more about the forces that transformed the planet over billions of years. He spoke with ATM about his recent research and why he loves Mars Day.
You recently co-authored a paper on alluvial fan formations on the surface of Mars possibly formed by snow, how does this change our understanding of Mars?
It says that things were happening on Mars, in terms of water on the surface, more recently than a lot of folks had thought about in the past. It’s not like these things are suggesting that Mars was like the Amazon rainforest relatively late in its history, it was still cold and relatively dry compared to what we think about here on Earth, but that things probably were happening later in Mars’ history, things from running water–albeit from melting snowfall–than we’d really thought about earlier.
Why does everyone get so excited when we’re talking about water or snow, what are the possibilities?
Water is very important in terms of establishing habitable conditions and providing some of the kinds of habitats that might be needed for life. There used to be a mantra among the Mars program, “Follow the water,” that’s sort of evolved into “Was Mars habitable?” because we’ve sort of seen now what the role of water has been. Although, this paper that I just described, is still sort of changing our perspective a little bit.
So how do you answer that question, is Mars habitable?
It looks like it certainly was in some places in the past. We’re sending our science laboratory there, which is arriving in about four weeks, to try to evaluate that a little more comprehensively. But there’s evidence that there were standing bodies of water; that there was water flowing on the surface; that, relative to what we see today, Mars in its earliest history at least was much wetter, maybe more clement, more Earth-like in some regards than it is today.
You fell in love with Mars after reading The Martian Chronicles. What did you imagine Mars to be like when you were young?
When I was a little kid and I really didn’t know any better, The Martian Chronicles really captured my imagination because it was this idea that you could have a place that was different, but in some ways similar. And Mars hasn’t disappointed in that regard. There are a lot of scenes that we’ve taken with the rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, it looks for all the world like the Mojave Desert, minus a few sage brush and grasses. But it’s different, there are other things that make you say, “That’s not quite right.” The life part hasn’t played forward yet, but it still is a key interest and something that I’d like to find out or see others find out before I retire.
Why is Mars the best planet?
It’s one that’s very intriguing because the processes that have shaped the surface in many ways are the same as on the Earth. There have been a lot of craters formed on the Earth but because of plate tectonics, because of more erosion, the signature of those has been erased. So when we see Mars, we see a planet with the same processes, different emphasis and we see a surface that has been preserved from three to four billion years ago. And that record’s not really preserved on the Earth. We’re sort of looking back in time and I think that’s why it’s so special.
What is your favorite part of Mars Day?
Mars Day is great, I think, because it allows, especially kids, but people of all ages, to come in and really discover something about Mars. To me, it’s kind of like that same experience that I had of reading The Martian Chronicles. You’ll see a small child have a look at something on Mars and they’ll start to make discoveries themselves. Not only does that peak their interest in planetary geology and Mars but it also gets them thinking about science, which I think is really important.
Mars Day visitors can view Viking 1, a 3-D, HD image of the planet’s surface and a Mars meteorite. Test your knowledge with a Red Planet Quiz Show and try your hand at maneuvering robots. Events take place at the Air and Space Museum July 13 and run from 10:00 to 3:00.
June 29, 2011
This Friday, the National Air and Space Museum will celebrate its 35th anniversary. Since it opened on July 1, 1976, the museum has been home home to the world’s largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft and is the Smithsonian Institution’s most-visited, having hosted a grand total of 303,674,128 visitors. At the ribbon cutting ceremony that summer day, President Gerald Ford called it “a perfect birthday present from the American people to themselves.” To commemorate the museum’s anniversary, we compiled a list of five cool things you might not have known about the much-loved Air and Space Museum.
1) In 1946, President Harry Truman signed Public Law 722, establishing the National Air Museum, the predecessor to the Air and Space Museum. The museum’s collections were interspersed between the Arts and Industries building and various other locations until Congress appropriated the money to construct the current Air and Space Museum, which finally opened in 1976.
2) One of the most peculiar objects at Air and Space is no longer on display. An electric, moving sculpture called the S.S. Pussiewillow II, the piece was created by British artist Rowland Emett. It has been in storage for about 20 years, but people still call and ask about it, said senior curator Tom Crouch. “It was life-size, and it moved—it whirled, it clicked, it lit up. It was wonderful, it was supposed to be a whimsical kind of spaceship,” Crouch said. “We had to take it off exhibit because we had a power problem and a minor fire. It’s been in storage forever now, but people, even now, are still asking about Pussiewillow II.”
3) The 1976 ribbon-cutting began in true Air and Space fashion—with a signal from outer space. The Viking 1 spacecraft, which was in orbit around Mars at the time, sent a signal to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. That signal was then relayed to Washington, D.C., where it activated a mechanical arm that cut the ribbon in half. (But just in case it didn’t go as planned, museum officials did have a pair of scissors on hand.)
4) The Air and Space Museum is more than just a collection of exhibits and artifacts–museum scientists are involved in research and exploration both about Earth and the solar system. According to program manager Priscilla Strain, Smithsonian scientist John Grant is a part of the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, the team that directed the Mars rovers “Spirit” and “Opportunity.”
5) Many museum employees bring real-world—or real-space—experience to the job. Two years after piloting the Apollo 11 command module and orbiting the moon while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took those first famous steps on the moon, in 1971, astronaut Michael Collins became the museum’s third director. Under his tenure, the museum consolidated its collections and moved into its current building on the National Mall.
6) Thirteen of the Air and Space’s original employees are still employed at the museum today, 35 years later. Among them are Priscilla Strain and Tom Crouch, the mastermind behind the June reenactment of Civil War ballooning on the National Mall.