We're answering your questions on Wednesday, September 14
Ask a Curator Day has begun! We're sharing some of our favorite questions and answers on Storify.
In Part 1 of the Q&A, we answer questions on maritime history, editing museum labels, the history of money, and women in World War I.
In Part 2, curator Hal Wallace answers questions about electricity.
In Part 3, we answer questions about political history, guitars, and becoming museum professionals.
Museums make me curious. I want to know about the old and often rare objects they display, but I also want to know what happens after hours. For example, how do you dust the Spirit of St. Louis hovering overhead at the National Air and Space Museum? How do the employees at Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens resist the temptation to try on all that stunning jewelry? And who gets to organize the logistics of "carcass feeding" at the National Zoo? Luckily for me, there's Ask a Curator Day, when museums, historic houses, zoos, aquaria, heritage centers, archives, and other educational institutions answer questions via social media sites such as Twitter.
But what to ask? That part sounds easy, but, as curious as I am about how museums work, I can't always phrase a perfect question on demand. When a museum docent or tour guide invites questions at the end of their tour, I panic. But I recently learned a trick from another visitor while touring the National Building Museum. When question time rolled around, she found a smart way to indulge her curiosity without having to come up with a perfectly worded inquiry, saying, "I was interested in the part about how this building was designed with the needs of office workers and Civil War veterans in mind. Could you say more about that?" Voila!
With that "tell me more" trick in mind, check out the schedule of National Museum of American History experts who will be answering questions on Wednesday, September 14.
11 a.m. – 12 p.m.: Motorcycles, maritime history, and money, money, money
Paul Johnston, Curator of Transportation in the Division of Work and Industry: I will answer questions on maritime history, shipwrecks, motorcycles, how aquatic avian excrement changed the world, nuclear submarines, and collecting transportation history for the nation.
Hillery York, Collections Manager for the National Numismatic Collection: I'll answer your questions about numismatics, the study of coins, paper currency, and medals. I look forward to chatting about new monetary technologies in the numismatic collection and the digitization of museum collections. One of my favorite things in the museum is our exhibition The Value of Money because it shows the breadth and depth of our numismatic collections.
12-1 p.m.: Wordsmithing and women's military history
Patri O'Gan, Project Assistant in the Division of Armed Forces History: I'll answer questions about World War I and the history of women in the military. I'm particularly excited to chat about the official artwork of the American Expeditionary Force and women's participation in World War I because I'm currently assisting on upcoming exhibitions on these topics. One of my favorite things in the museum is our collection of women's uniforms from World War I because they highlight a groundbreaking time for women in the United States that eventually led to winning the right to vote.
Leslie Poster, Editor, Office of Project Management and Editorial Services: When the words are right, information passes effortlessly from brilliant curators to intrigued museum visitors. I work with those words. I edited several of the exhibitions that opened last summer in our newly renovated West Wing's first floor, and I am now working on exhibitions planned for the second and third floors of the West Wing. You can ask me about any of our current and upcoming exhibits—I've read 'em all! I've blogged about a 400-mile journey for a paint can, the science of mounting glass, and some Alexander Graham Bell facts you may not know.
1-2 p.m.: Electrical science
Hal Wallace, Curator of the Electricity collections: I'll be happy to answer questions about our objects in electrical science and technologies. I'm a specialist in the history of electric lighting and I find rural electrification particularly interesting. I am currently collecting LEDs. I'm also working on a new exhibition on solar power that will open here in November.
2-3 p.m.: Innovation, guitars, early motion pictures, sports, and culture
Monica Smith, Head of Exhibitions and Interpretation in the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation: I'm excited to answer questions about the history of invention and the inventive process. Ask me about the Places of Invention exhibition currently on display in the museum's Innovation Wing, since I worked on it as the project director and a co-curator. Besides our exhibition, one of my favorite things in the museum is the 1939 Slingerland electric guitar currently on display because it's probably the earliest commercially available solidbody electric guitar and most people, even guitar enthusiasts, have never heard of it.
Eric Jentsch, Deputy Chair and Curator in the Division of Culture and the Arts: I can answer questions about our upcoming exhibition on American culture, the history of sports, and popular culture. I've blogged about the history of basketball and hair bands. One interesting object I've gotten to research is counterculture guru Ken Kesey's large Acid Test Signboard. I have podcasted about the history of the Olympics. Catch me at the People, Passion, Purpose event in Los Angeles in October.
Ryan Lintelman, Curatorial Assistant in the Division of Culture and the Arts: I'll take questions on the history of popular culture and entertainment. I'm particularly excited to chat about 19th-century music and entertainment because I've been researching those topics for a new exhibition. One of my favorite things in the museum is the Mutoscope collection, because it sheds a light on early movies and their audience.
Claire Jerry, Curator in the Division of Political History: New to the museum, I can answer questions about the odd items used to promote 20th-century presidential campaigns. After all, this is the time of year when yard signs sprout like flowers and campaign buttons shout out from jackets and backpacks. One of my favorite examples in the museum was made by a delegate to the 1996 Democratic National Convention who managed to get four different things on her head at one time!
You can send your questions for these staff members via Twitter or Facebook. We'll share the most interesting questions and answers on the blog.
Erin Blasco is an education specialist in the New Media Department.