For Roswell Day, a celebration of aliens at the lunch table

Our imaginations have met extraterrestrials of all types. With an amazing variety of looks and intentions, alien life-forms have become some of the most memorable characters in our popular culture.

Weighing the baby

Parents today proudly announce the weight of each new child, along with the baby's height, name, and sex. When did the practice of weighing newborns begin? And why?

Well, that sucks…or does it?

While our pals at the National Air and Space Museum will get excited about the vast vacuum of space, we at American History are geeking out about how a good vacuum was both necessary and fatal for a scientific experiment that demonstrated an important concept in quantum mechanics.

Paul Revere's church bell from "Religion in Early America"

For several decades after the Revolution, Paul Revere was as famous for his church bells as for his midnight ride. While he is often remembered simply as a patriot silversmith, Revere's career and reputation were far more complex during his lifetime.

Dotchin or "opium scale"—What's in a name?

Working with museum collections, I am often reminded that the names we attach to objects can reflect powerful social and political forces. A case in point is the small instrument of ancient Asian tradition that, in popular parlance, became known as the "opium scale" in the late 19th century.

Looking for Liberty in the Nation We Build Together

On June 17, 1885, a French ship, the Isère, arrived in New York Harbor laden with very special cargo—more than 200 crates filled with enormous pieces of copper and iron that, once assembled, would form the towering sculpture dubbed "Liberty Enlightening the World."

George Washington weighs his hogs

George Washington is seldom seen as a man of science. But, like others who lived during the Enlightenment, he used scientific ideas, instruments, and experiments to maximize his profits. Despite a meager formal education, Washington was a voracious reader. His extensive library contained some 1,200 titles, 14% of which related to agriculture, and 5% of which related to science, industry, and natural history.

Sunae Park Evans: First Lady of costume conservation

Sunae Park Evans probably knows Martha Washington’s measurements better than anyone, including her own seamstress. As the senior costume conservator at the museum, Evans cares for the museum’s costumes and textiles, from the First Ladies collection to the Muppets.

Contributing to a conversation: Reflections on David Rockefeller's Giving Pledge letter

In March, David Rockefeller died at the extraordinary age of 101. He was one of the first signers of the Giving Pledge, a commitment by some of the world's wealthiest individuals and families to give half or more of their wealth to philanthropy. As have the more than 150 other signers of the pledge, David Rockefeller wrote a letter explaining his thinking about philanthropy. His Giving Pledge letter will go on view in Giving in America in July.

The Smithsonian and the 19th century guano trade: This poop is crap

Though it authorized our nation's earliest imperialistic land grab outside our continent, the 1856 Guano Islands Act is little known today. The act stated that the United States could claim any island that had seabird guano on it, so long as there were no other claims or inhabitants. Any guano mined had to be sold to American farmers as fertilizer at a reasonable price. Guano, or seabird excrement, was at the time the finest natural fertilizer, and farmers needed it to replenish the nutrients in their fields and increase their crop yield.