Bring your questions and curiosity to #AskACurator Day 2015

By Erin Blasco
Ask a Curator graphic

The global online Q&A session between museum staff members and the public known as Ask a Curator Day took place on Wednesday, September 16, 2015. How did it work? Folks tweeted us a question and included the #AskACurator hashtag. 

See our the best questions and answers in this blog post. We also have a summaries of our advertising history Q&A and our Patrick F. Taylor Foundation Object Project Q&A.

Who's answered #AskACurator Day questions for @amhistorymuseum on September 16? The schedule is below. All times EDT. 


1011 a.m.: Military history and money

  • Christy Wallover, Project Assistant in the Division of Armed Forces History. Christy has worked on the Japanese American Internment Era collection and the Civil War collection. Lately, she's been inventorying the military uniform accoutrements collection, assisting in projects about World War I art and propaganda posters, and processing incoming donations that include objects from the Vietnam War, World War II, and women's military history. She loves the violin owned by Solomon Conn, a soldier who fought in the Civil War. The violin is a unique and interesting artifact and stands as an important narrative of the common soldier during the Civil War. 
  • Patri O'Gan, Project Assistant in the Division of Armed Forces History. Patri's focus is on women's military history, and she is working on an archive that documents women's interactions with the military—both as civilians and soldiers—from the Civil War to the present. She is also working on World War I projects that explore various aspects of the war, including American Expeditionary Forces artists and artwork, female members of the Navy, and uniformed civilian voluntary organizations. Favorite object? A letter from a German officer to the American mother of the man he killed in World War I. 
  • Hillery York, Collections Manager for the National Numismatic Collection. Hillery has blogged about new monetary technologies in the numismatic collections, worked on the Value of Money exhibition now on display, and helped to digitize certified plate proofs. 

Artificial eye color sampler

11:30 a.m. 12:30 p.m.: Medical history, advertising history, jazz, and teen programming 

  • Katherine Ott, Curator in the Division of Medicine and Science. Katherine is an expert in the history of disability, prosthetics, medical history, and material culture. "Ask me about ephemera," she says. "It’s a weird word—and I love it." One of her favorite objects is Yorick, a plastic male skeleton embedded with electronic and mechanical devices used to replace body parts. To see more of Katherine's collection, follower her on Twitter at @amhistcurator
  • Kathleen Franz, Curator of Business History. Kathleen is new to the museum and will oversee the history of business. In particular, she's an expert on the history of advertising in the United States. She also deals with histories of retail, packaging, office machines, women's work, and more. One of her favorite objects is the large, cast-iron Mr. Peanut that we collected last year, a piece of outdoor advertising and early branding. 
  • John Hasse, Curator of American Music. An expert on jazz and American music, John will answer questions about the museum's collections and activities related to Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. One of his favorite objects is the gown Renée Fleming wore during her performance at the Super Bowl. Another? The Presidential Medal of Freedom—the nation's highest civilian honor—that President Nixon awarded Ellington, on his 70th birthday, at a star-studded ceremony at the White House. Ellington's father occasionally served as a butler for special events at the White House. He entered through the service entrance. Ellington proudly walked in through the front door. The ten-block journey from Ellington's birthplace to the White House took him 70 years... and 10 million miles of travel.  No one led a life like Duke Ellington.  
  • Sage Xaxua Morgan-Hubbard, Youth Programs Coordinator. Sage is an educator, multidisciplinary artist, and poet. Her Youth Civic Engagement Program is dedicated to empowering local teen leaders in social justice and history through educational carts, the National Youth Summit, and other youth-centered public programs. She'll answer questions about programs and new initiatives for teens here at the museum. Her favorite objects, like this one, tend to relate to teens and tweets. 

Three black and white snapshots

12:301:30 p.m.: Photography and physics 

  • Shannon Perich, Curator of Photographic History. Shannon is responsible for collections related to the history of photography from daguerreotypes to digital photography. Ask her about Civil War photography, pre-Photoshop picture manipulation, and her research into American culture
  • Roger Sherman, Curator of the Modern Physics collection. Roger's scope includes pretty much anything new in American physics since about 1900: radioactivity, the electron, and the theory of relativity through particle accelerators, cryogenics, nuclear physics, and the Manhattan Project, up to Bose-Einstein condensation. Roger's interests include the history of physics in general, especially apparatus and experiments—the more elegant and ingenious, the better. One of his favorite objects is the apparatus with which Alfred Nier first separated the isotopes of uranium in 1940, laying the groundwork for the Manhattan Project. Not only is it of prime historical importance, but also, with all its parts visible, it happens to illustrate several fundamental principles of physics.

Embroidered picture

1:302:30 p.m.: Philanthropy, electric power and lighting, and political history

  • Dan Gifford, Manager, Museum Advisory Committees, and Project Historian. Dan is a scholar of American holidays, charities and nonprofit organizations, and the evolution of different types of advocacy, particularly the environmental movement. He has blogged about everything from birdwatching in America to depictions of Thanksgiving. His favorite object currently (he discovers new favorites all the time!) is an 1810 silk embroidered sampler of "Charity" made by 18-year-old Rachel Breck.
  • Harold Wallace, Curator in the Division of Work and Industry. An expert in electrical history, Hal can answer questions on the Morse telegraph or the near disaster caused by an electrical demonstration that could have endangered the German royal family. Three of his favorite objects are: a 1750 electrostatic generator designed by Ben Franklin, a fluorescent lamp demonstration fixture from around 1938, and the demonstration "Mazda F" sales kit.
  • Jon Grinspan, Jefferson Fellow, Division of Political History. New to the museum, Jon can answer questions on 1880s political cartoons poking fun at the presidential candidates in crowded races to the White House. He has written about the history of abolitionism, the connections between booze preference and the ballot box, and an 1894 march on Washington that did not go well.

Photo of bicycle

2:303:30 p.m.: The Patrick F. Taylor Foundation Object Project team explores electric refrigeration, biking, ready-to-wear clothing, and household innovations: 

  • Judy Gradwohl, MacMillan Associate Director for Education and Public Engagement. Judy is one of the project leads for the Taylor Object Project. Her scope includes anything related to this new learning space, including the use of touchable objects from the teaching collection. One of her favorite objects is a Suzy Homemaker toy refrigerator from the 1960s. She also loves talking about a unique 1896 women's safety bicycle on display, which was embellished by Tiffany & Co. with gems, silver and gold. 
  • Howard Morrison, Director of Interpretation. Howard is co-project director and lead content developer for the Taylor Object Project. He's interested in the history of how people, innovative things, and social change shaped life as we know it. He really wants you to think differently about those everyday objects that you take for granted! One of his favorite objects is the first pop-up toaster from 1926—the best thing before sliced bread! 
  • Emma Grahn, Lead Facilitator for Taylor Object ProjectEmma is a jack of all trades. She does everything from collections management to talking with visitors on the floor, developing programs and activities, and keeping the interactives working. She loves both the painted window screen and the embellished toilet because they are visually wonderful to look at, have surprising but fascinating stories, and are infused with just the right amount of humor.
  • Cathy Keen, Archivist. Cathy can answer questions about the acquisition process in the Archives Center and working with documents. For the Taylor Object Project, she has blogged about Clara Bow paper dolls and frozen Chinese food, and researched in the Archives' cookbook collection. Her other interests include the history of Washington, D.C., and baseball history. Her favorite Archives Center collection is a set of scrapbooks documenting the Sioux City Ghosts, a traveling African American softball team and swing band in the 1930s.

Photo of recipe on clipboard

3:304:30 p.m.: Food history, editing, American domestic life from the 18th to early 20th centuries, and innovative places 

  • Jessica Carbone, Project Associate, American Food History Project. Jessica's focus includes Food Fridays, a weekly cooking and food history program on the Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza, research on Julia Child's kitchen and the FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950–2000 exhibition, and content preparation for our upcoming Smithsonian Food History Weekend, October 2224. Jessica's interests include the relationship between American foodways and immigrant culture, the story of cookbooks and food media in America, and major food movements throughout the 20th century. One of her favorite objects in the museum is Julia Child's handwritten recipe for pain de mie, which she kept attached to a small clipboard hung in her Cambridge, Massachusetts, kitchen. 
  • Leslie Poster, Editor. When the words are right, information passes effortlessly from brilliant curators to intrigued museum visitors. Leslie works with those words. She has edited several exhibitions that opened this summer in our newly renovated West Wing's first floor, and is now working on exhibitions planned for the second and third floors of the West Wing. You can ask her about the Hair of the Presidents if you want to, because it's her favorite object, but frankly it's pretty weird. You can tweet questions directly to Leslie at @leslieposter.
  • Laura Simo, Museum Specialist, Division of Home and Community Life. From colonial silver tea services to 1850s wax flower making kits and a 1930s gasoline-powered laundry iron, Laura catalogs just about anything and everything related to American domestic life from the 18th to early 20th centuries. Ask her about household objects, no matter how great or small. 
  • Monica Smith, Exhibition Program Manager, Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. Monica serves as project director, co-curator, and principal investigator for the Places of Invention exhibition. She has blogged about Nashville as a place of musical invention, innovations behind the Olympic Winter Games, and the process of building an exhibition. 

Erin Blasco is an education specialist in the New Media Department. She'll be facilitating Q&A on Wednesday and looks forward to your questions.