The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects

The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects

The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects by Richard Kurin

E 173 .K87 2013

“The Smithsonian Institution is America’s largest and most cherished repository for the objects that define our common heritage. Richard Kurin, its Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, has for decades served as a driving force in the effort of our national museums to tell America’s whole story. This book is the culmination of a broad effort, led by Kurin and involving all the Smithsonian’s national museums and more than a hundred of its top scholars and curators, to select a set of objects that could collectively represent the American experience. Strong deliberation honed literally millions of possibilities down to a careful selection of 101 remarkable objects that do justice to the history of our bountiful land and its people.

That history begins with the remains from the earliest years of the pre-Columbian continent and relics of the American Revolution and Civil War. It includes the inventions of the Industrial Revolution and artifacts of the Depression, World War II, and cold war eras; icons of pop culture and of the civil rights movements as well as the objects that now symbolize the digital age and the first years of the new millennium. Each entry pairs the fascinating history of each object with the place it has come to occupy in our national memory. Kurin sheds new light on familiar objects such as the Star-Spangled Banner and Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, Dorothy’s ruby slippers and Julia Child’s kitchen, the giant pandas and the space shuttle Discovery – including the often astonishing tales of how each made its way into the Smithsonian. Other objects, like the suffragists’ “Great Demand” banner and the Tuskegee flyer, will be eye-opening new discoveries for many, but no less evocative of the most poignant and important moments of American history. Still others, like Sitting Bull’s drawing book, Cesar Chavez’s union jacket, and the Enola Gay bomber, illustrate difficult chapters in the nation’s history. Kurin also includes behind-the-scenes insight into controversies arising from their exhibition at the Smithsonian. In Kurin’s hands these marvelous objects come to vivid life, awakening a deep and tactile connection with our nation’s history.

A beautiful treasure in its own right, The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects is an incomparable journey through America’s collective memory and a celebration of the enduring power of objects to illustrate who we are as a people.” – publisher description

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