Macabre school supplies: 19th century dissection sets

A 19th-century medical student brought to school a number of things, including scientific texts and a hope to one day relieve the suffering of others. The student's most important school supply, however, was a dissecting set. The era's medical curricula emphasized the importance of human dissection in the training of America's young physicians because it allowed doctors to approach the body with greater scientific understanding. With a small wooden box of ivory-handled tools, an aspiring physician hoped to learn the essence of the human body beyond what text alone could teach.

Top 5 best beards of Byzantium

I have never seen my father's chin. The man has worn a beard since well before I was born, and my brother quickly followed in his tradition. The patrilineal beard is nothing new, however. It is exemplified in much of the Byzantine selection of the National Numismatic Collection. Beards of Byzantium are represented so fantastically in the empire's coinage that they become inseparable from the iconography of the coins—in other words, the beards make the emperor.

Why does the Smithsonian have objects from a fake presidency on "The West Wing?"

As the fanfare leading up to the 2017 inauguration swirls around the Smithsonian and Washington, D.C., at large, I cannot help but think about watching events such as these portrayed on television and in movies. Depictions of the presidency and the White House in popular culture are strong influences on the way Americans imagine their government. Such scenes also reflect the views of Americans across time. While The West Wing portrayed Washington, D.C., as a complicated but generally impactful place to work, other elements of popular culture depict a very different White House.

At our "Draper Spark!Lab" the sound of homemade banjos beckons

Around age eight I decided I wanted to play the violin. Fortunately, my parents had the access and money to buy a new instrument for me. But that luxury is not something everybody gets to enjoy. People don't always have access to or are able to afford store-bought instruments, so sometimes they invented their own out of everyday materials. Today, we invite kids of all ages to channel this same inventive spirit in the Draper Spark!Lab.

HMS Terror, Charles Francis Hall, and the Star-Spangled Banner

Thanks to the help of online volunteers, the Smithsonian Transcription Center has completed a project to transcribe the second volume of the diary of Charles Francis Hall, one of the earliest northern explorers. You can follow the project on social media and learn more about Hall's adventures in the post below.

How a Congressional vote to create Revolutionary War medals affirmed the Declaration of Independence

I'm a native New Englander. Sometimes I feel like I've been to Boston more times than Samuel Adams. When one grows up in New England, it is a safe assumption that every school field trip will somehow relate to Colonial America and the American Revolutionary War. In light of this, I am always thrilled and excited to learn new things about the fledgling American nation. I hit the jackpot with the National Numismatic Collection's Comitia Americana medals. Earlier this year, I was able to record, research, and digitize this particularly historic group of medals.

A firsthand look at Electoral College drama—in 1893

The 2016 presidential election brought renewed discussion about the way Americans vote for presidential electors, those who will then cast ballots for president. But few Electoral College controversies can top the once-in-a-lifetime New York State electors meeting of January 1893, chaired by piano manufacturer William Steinway. 

10 blog posts from 2016 that history buffs can't miss

2016 was a stupendous year for the museum's blog! Many thanks to the staff, volunteers, interns, and guest writers who shared their research and expertise with us on topics ranging from an epic 1888 blizzard to a British-American television series about historical time travel. But we want to offer a special thanks to YOU, reader, for making our blog part of your week and sharing these stories with your friends and colleagues.

Duke Ellington's Christmas gift

What does a world-famous musician put under the tree for the woman he loves . . . when he happens to be married to someone else?

A cheerful Depression-era holiday greeting

A cheerful holiday greeting sent during the Great Depression? Isn't that somewhat contradictory?