The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects

Richard Kurin, 1950-

Book - 2013

A literary exhibition of 101 objects from across the Smithsonian's museums that together offer a marvelous new perspective on the history of the United States. Ranging from the earliest years of the pre-Columbian continent to the digital age, and from the American Revolution to Vietnam, each entry pairs the fascinating history surrounding each object with the story of its creation or discovery and the place it has come to occupy in our national memory.--

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Subjects
Published
New York : The Penguin Press 2013.
Language
English
Physical Description
xx, 762 pages : illustrations (some color), color maps ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 735-743) and index.
ISBN
9781594205293
1594205299
Main Author
Richard Kurin, 1950- (author)
Review by Choice Reviews

Presenting an interesting view of American history and culture, Smithsonian undersecretary Kurin covers prehistoric through present times by proposing 101 items within the Smithsonian collections that "could act as signposts for larger ideas, achievements and issues that have defined America over time." The selections are designed to connect readers in a "direct, visceral, sensory manner to other times and places." The objects were selected from all of the museums and are placed into one of 17 time periods within American history--from "Before Columbus" to the "New Millennium." Each item also fits into one of the themes used in Smithsonian exhibits: America, the beautiful and bountiful; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; discovery, innovation, artistry, and creativity; and diversity--a nation of nations. Entries are thoroughly researched, well written, and illustrated with color photography. Related material on various topical subjects and issues accompanies some articles. The introduction provides insight into how the objects were selected and a historical accounting of James Smithson, the original benefactor of the Smithsonian. The appendixes feature object specifications and photo credits; a time line of American history; maps covering various historic periods; and notes. A subject index is included. This fascinating look at American history and culture is most suitable for public or school libraries, and for individuals. Academic institutions with a strong popular culture program may find the book useful. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates, general readers. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates. J. M. Piper-Burton West Chester University of Pennsylvania Copyright 2014 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Lincoln's hat, Harriet Tubman's hymnal, Sitting Bull's ledger, Cesar Chavez's union jacket, the Enola Gay bomber, even Dorothy's ruby slippers—these are among the objects featured here that tell the story of America. Kurin, the Smithsonian Institution's undersecretary for history, art, and culture, worked with the institution's curators and scholars to make this compendium, which matches photos of each object with a discussion of its creation or discovery and its significance. [Page 80]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

We all hold on to objects that are laden with our memories. Kurin (under secretary, history, art, & culture, Smithsonian Inst.; Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem) presents a chronological selection of Smithsonian holdings that represent the nation's memory, organizing materials according to the themes of U.S. history, from "Before Columbus" to "New Millennium." A guide like this is all the more useful since such a small percentage of the Smithsonian's holdings can ever be on exhibit. The book is much more descriptive than analytical, as Kurin sets each object, beautifully photographed, in its historical and institutional context. The objects cover a wide spectrum: here are all four of Katharine Hepburn's Oscars, Helen Keller's tactile watch, one of only three surviving Mormon moonstones from the Nauvoo Temple, Neil Armstrong's space suit—and the entire Carnegie mansion, now housing the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. VERDICT Written for nonspecialists, albeit insatiably curious ones, this volume will be welcomed by museum visitors, docents, and general history and biography buffs, much like Harold Holzer's The Civil War in 50 Objects and Neil MacGregor's A History of the World in 100 Objects, using collections at the New-York Historical Society and the British Museum, respectively. [See Prepub Alert, 5/13/13.]—Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC [Page 89]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

As Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture for the Smithsonian Institution, Kurin (Hope Diamond) has intimate knowledge of the organization's inventory of over 137 million items (that doesn't include millions and millions of books, photos, documents, recordings, etc.). That blessing had the potential to turn into a curse when he was challenged to select a mere 101 objects that would tell the history of the United States. But he's done a masterful job. Yes, there are obvious inclusions, like the Declaration of Independence, Neil Armstrong's space suit, Dorothy's red ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, and the Wright Brothers' Kitty Hawk Flyer, but even these well-known items have surprising and significant backstories—the Wright Brothers, for example, contacted the Smithsonian for information on research on flying machines prior to their epic flight. (The Smithsonian happily obliged.) Unexpected selections—like vials of Jonas Salk's polio vaccine, Louis Armstrong's trumpet, and an Emancipation Proclamation pamphlet that freed slaves carried with them—make the book even more engrossing, and, as in the case of the last item, can make for some emotional reading. Kurin does a terrific job of expanding upon the story of each object, whether it's a pair of slave shackles or a damaged door from one of the New York City fire trucks that responded to 9/11. This humanistic approach to storytelling (he even includes digressions on things that didn't make it in, like the ubiquitous stuffed animal named after the first President Roosevelt: the teddy bear) makes for immersive, addictive reading. Photos and illus. throughout. (Oct. 29) [Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A history of the United States as reflected by 101 Smithsonian artifacts shares remarkable new insights into such objects as Abraham Lincoln's hat, Sitting Bull's ledger and Dorothy's ruby slippers to survey their roles in national identity and the controversies surrounding their exhibitions. 175,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Author Richard Kurin (Smithsonian Institution's under secretary for history, art, and culture) has assembled a literary exhibition of historical objects that collectively embody the American experience, with pieces ranging from the pre-Columbus era through independence and national expansion to the Civil War, the Depression, industrialization, and the digital age. Each entry is paired with a color photograph and the story of its creation or discovery, highlighting the place it has come to occupy in our national memory. The chapters of the book follow a general chronological context of periods and time spans, and a helpful timeline of American History with a few accompanying color-illustrated maps are included in the back matter. Annotation ©2014 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Review by Publisher Summary 3

The Smithsonian Institution is America's largest, most important, and most beloved repository for the objects that define our common heritage. Now Under Secretary for Art, History, and Culture Richard Kurin, aided by a team of top Smithsonian curators and scholars, has assembled a literary exhibition of 101 objects from across the Smithsonian's museums that together offer a marvelous new perspective on the history of the United States. Ranging from the earliest years of the pre-Columbian continent to the digital age, and from the American Revolution to Vietnam, each entry pairs the fascinating history surrounding each object with the story of its creation or discovery and the place it has come to occupy in our national memory. Kurin sheds remarkable new light on objects we think we know well, from Lincoln's hat to Dorothy's ruby slippers and Julia Child's kitchen, including the often astonishing tales of how each made its way into the collections of the Smithsonian. Other objects will be eye-opening new discoveries for many, but no less evocative of the most poignant and important moments of the American experience. Some objects, such as Harriet Tubman's hymnal, Sitting Bull's ledger, Cesar Chavez's union jacket, and the Enola Gay bomber, tell difficult stories from the nation's history, and inspire controversies when exhibited at the Smithsonian. Others, from George Washington's sword to the space shuttle Discovery, celebrate the richness and vitality of the American spirit. In Kurin's hands, each object comes to vivid life, providing a tactile connection to American history. Beautifully designed and illustrated with color photographs throughout, The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects is a rich and fascinating journey through America's collective memory, and a beautiful object in its own right.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

The Smithsonian Institution is America's largest, most important, and most beloved repository for the objects that define our common heritage. Now Under Secretary for Art, History, and Culture Richard Kurin, aided by a team of top Smithsonian curators and scholars, has assembled a literary exhibition of 101 objects from across the Smithsonian's museums that together offer a marvelous new perspective on the history of the United States.Ranging from the earliest years of the pre-Columbian continent to the digital age, and from the American Revolution to Vietnam, each entry pairs the fascinating history surrounding each object with the story of its creation or discovery and the place it has come to occupy in our national memory. Kurin sheds remarkable new light on objects we think we know well, from Lincoln's hat to Dorothy's ruby slippers and Julia Child's kitchen, including the often astonishing tales of how each made its way into the collections of the Smithsonian. Other objects will be eye-opening new discoveries for many, but no less evocative of the most poignant and important moments of the American experience. Some objects, such as Harriet Tubman's hymnal, Sitting Bull's ledger, Cesar Chavez's union jacket, and the Enola Gay bomber, tell difficult stories from the nation's history, and inspire controversies when exhibited at the Smithsonian. Others, from George Washington's sword to the space shuttleDiscovery, celebrate the richness and vitality of the American spirit. In Kurin's hands, each object comes to vivid life, providing a tactile connection to American history.Beautifully designed and illustrated with color photographs throughout, The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objectsis a rich and fascinating journey through America's collective memory, and a beautiful object in its own right.