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.

Coming of age: Young women and the FFA

High school can be a challenging time for teens. Much as they do today, young men and women throughout the 20th century wrestled with identity, education, and social status during their teenage years. For young women in the 20th century, changes in the way people thought about gender and equality greatly impacted their experience. Documenting those changes for teens is an important aspect of telling a larger story about the changing roles of women in the 20th century. The museum has found an interesting way to tell that story through its agricultural collection. 

Four reasons why Star Wars became a huge part of my life—and maybe yours, too

May 25, 2017, marks the 40th anniversary of the release of George Lucas's first Star Wars film, the "space opera" that took the world (er, galaxy?) by storm. As an anniversary tribute, I offer four reasons why the films became such an important part of my life.

Leaving home behind: The fates of Japanese American houses during incarceration

In 1983 the United States Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) asked, "What if vandals broke into your home, sprayed graffiti, and ransacked your property simply because of race, gender, or religious affiliation?"

How “The Little Drummer Boy from New York” earned the Medal of Honor

The Medal of Honor is the highest award for bravery and valor that can be bestowed upon a member of the United States military. Modern military medals have lengthy citations that often vividly portray the sacrifice and heroism displayed by the recipients. At the Medal of Honor's inception during the Civil War, however, the curt citation often belied the extraordinary circumstances behind the award. One such citation is that of the Medal of Honor for Johann Christoph Julius Langbein:

Six things from my first 100 days

Getting to know just under two million objects, almost 17,000 cubic feet of archives, and around 140 curatorial and collections staff is a big task. I started work on January 23 as the new associate director of Curatorial Affairs—I look after everything to do with the museum's collections and curatorial work. One hundred days on, here are a few of the things I've enjoyed, noticed, or learned.

Making a place for Eastern Bluebirds—and philanthropy

If you had asked me to guess the first object I would add to the museum's new philanthropy collection, I never would have said a Virginia Bluebird Society (VBS) nest box. I'm no birder and somehow had never heard of bluebird societies until recently! When I encountered VBS boxes while out for a hike on a visit to Charlottesville, Virginia, though, I knew I had to have one. The nest box is a great object for the collection because it shows how philanthropy is a long-term conversation among many people.