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Our experts answer your #AskACurator questions

It's morning in New Zealand, meaning the global, Twitter-based Q&A called Ask a Curator Day has already started. We'll begin answering questions at 10 AM EDT on Wednesday, September 17. Here's who's on deck to answer you questions.

Ask a Curator 2014

10-11 AM EDT: Banjos, buttons, country music photography, and 50 years of museum history

Greg Kenyon, Collections on the Web Contractor, Division of Work and Industry: Greg is part of the team working to put objects online; from buttons to banjos to basketball cards, ask him about anything you can find in our online collections search results.

Shannon Thomas Perich, Curator, Division of Culture and the Arts: Shannon recently co-curated Country: Portraits of an American Sound at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, California. Ask her about how photography shapes our definition of country music or about her current work as project director for a new floor of the museum that will explore American culture and national identity. She has blogged about the message behind Civil War photography.

David E. Haberstich, Curator of Photography, Archives Center: David recently finished curating an exhibition on this museum's history, from the National Museum of History and Technology to our current form. Ask him about Scurlock Studio photographs that documented African Americna life in Washington, D.C., or his research on stereoscopic photographs. 

The button is made of celluloid and has an image of an eye with a three-link piece of chain above it. A toy goat dangles from the attached ribbon. The goat has the Viscoloid Co. trademark. It is white with grayish highlights. The button is unmarked. The three-link chain is the symbol of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. NMAH-AHB2008q11193
Celluloid button featuring the image of a three-link chain, symbol of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows 

11 AM - 12 PM EDT: Sports, hair bands, disability history, and LGBTQ history

Katherine Ott, Curator, Division of Medicine and Science: If you've seen Katherine's tweets, you know that she regularly shares our disability history collections, history of medicine objects, as well as collections related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer history. Ask her about her online exhibition EveryBody and her recent blog post on the challenges of collecting and interpreting LGBTQ history.

Leslie Poster, Editor/Writer, Building Renovation and Exhibition Services: When the words are right, information passes effortlessly from brilliant curators to intrigued museum visitors. Leslie works with those words. She is currently editing scripts for some of next year's new exhibitions that will focus on "innovation" as a central theme. Ask her about editing text for exhibitions—and, as a newcomer to the museum, she will gladly field queries about what working at a museum is like.

Erin Blasco, Education Specialist and Social Media Manager, New Media Department: As a museum educator who works with online audiences, Erin manages the museum's presence on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterst, Google+, and this blog. She'd love to answer questions about the museum's social media strategy, training colleagues in social media skills, tweetups, and Fraggle hair. She'd also love to hear from you about what you want to see from the museum on social media. 

Transgender flag designed by Monica Helms (right), and friends. The flag's stripes represent the traditional pink and blue associated with girls and boys and white for intersex, transitioning, or of undefined gender. Helms served in the United States Navy and became an activist for transgender rights in the late 1990s in Arizona where she grew up. She designed the flag in 1999.
New to our collection is the transgender flag designed by Monica Helms (right), and friends. The flag's stripes represent the traditional pink and blue associated with girls and boys and white for intersex, transitioning, or of undefined gender. Helms served in the United States Navy and became an activist for transgender rights in the late 1990s in Arizona where she grew up. She designed the flag in 1999.

12-1 PM EDT: Ceramic cats, coins, counterfeiting, and Halloween 

Daniel Gifford, Manager of Museum Advisory Committees, Office of External Affairs: With Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas around the corner, holiday scholar Daniel would love to answer your questions on the history of holidays. One of his favorite objects is our Statue of Liberty Hanukkah lamp. You can also ask him about the history of vacationing in America and World's Fairs and Expositions.

Bonnie Campbell Lilienfeld, Assistant Director for Curatorial Affairs: Bonnie works with our ceramics and glass collection and, trust us, she has some super bowls to showcase. She recently participated in #MuseumCats Day on Twitter, sharing this somewhat creepy feline from the ceramics collection. She'll also answer questions about our 50th anniversary this year and our American Stories exhibition.

Hillery York, Collections Manager, The Value of Money: Ask Hillery about colonial American coins and paper money, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) proof collection, digitization of BEP proofs, surprising monetary objects, and early counterfeiting in America. She also likes to talk about Medieval coinage and the development of iconography on English coins.  

Eric Jentsch, Deputy Chair and Curator, Division of Culture and the Arts: Ask Eric about sports history (he recently blogged about baseball player Hank Aaron), Olympics artifacts, and that time he collected leather chaps from a hair band. Eric is also working with Shannon as lead curator on a new floor in our West Wing that will explore American culture and national identity.

A Virginia #15 from 1776
A Virginia $15 bill from 1776

2-3 PM EDT: Food history, Civil War printing, the conservation movement, decorative arts, and everyday things that changed everything

Laura Simo, Museum Specialist, C. Malcolm Watkins Fellow, Division of Home and Community Life: Laura has been busy cataloging a broad range of domestic artifacts—from 18th-century spoons to early 20th-century bread makers—and is excited to share what she does and how collections are catalogued. She also welcomes questions about pre-Revolutionary to pre-Civil War fine and decorative arts.   

Judy Gradwohl, MacMillan Associate Director for Education and Public Engagement: From her desk, Judy can see a special water bottle from a 1927 monitor top refrigerator and a gas light lamp that allowed early cyclists to pedal around at night. These will be part of Object Project, which opens in summer 2015, an exploration of everyday objects that changed everything. Ask her about Object Project and her recent blog post on Suzy Homemaker

Susan Evans, Program Director, American Food History Project: Ask Susan about the history of chocolate, foodways of the War of 1812, the history of cocktails in America, and other food history topics. She's also an expert on museum theater.

Joan Boudreau, Curator, Division of Culture and the Arts: Curious about the connection between hunting, fashion, and conservation, Joan curated an exhibition on the feather trade. She's also an expert on an interesting side of the Civil War—field printing. Lately, she's been researching an intriguing Civil War printing press that may have printed a very important document. She recently co-curated an exhibition on American culture in the early 1960s

Noriko Sanefuji, Program Assistant, Division of Work and Industry: Noriko is knowledgeable about Asian Pacific American history and collections. She is excited to chat about Hawaiian cowboys and slack key guitar music, the history of the fortune cookie, collecting trips, and more. Noriko often shares favorite collections on her Twitter account.

Gas lamp for a bicycle, part of the "Object Project" hands-on collection
Gas lamp for a bicycle, one of the "Object Project" hands-on collection objects

Tips for making the most of Ask a Curator Day:

  • Sometimes, it's hard to think of a question. If you're curious about a certain topic but aren't sure how to turn it into a question, tell us. "I'm interested in _____. Can you tell me more about it?" is a classic way to get curators talking. 

  • Need inspiration? Check out our favorite questions and answers from 2012 and some of the clever questions we fielded last year.
  • With a 140-character limit, Twitter is not the place for lengthy answers. We'll do our best, but sometimes the trickier questions are better handled in a blog post or by e-mail. You can contact us or check our FAQ

  • If your question doesn't relate to the topic areas above, check out which other museums are participating. We're excited to see the California Automobile Museum, EMP Museum, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and MuseumJimmy Carter Presidential Library, and the Pabst Mansion participating, along with three different postal museums. Got a George Washington question? We know who has the answer. 

  • First, best, most valuable, biggest, tallest, oldest—superlatives are fun. But they can be hard to establish. How can a curator say this is the first color photograph without worrying that future research will prove the answer wrong? If you ask for an example of an early color photograph, you might get a more useful answer!

  • Ask a Curator Day highlights a variety of museum staff, including collections managers, social media managers, editors, and staff working to get collections online. Feel free to ask questions that aren't for curators. 
  • Not on Twitter? See some of the highlights here.

Erin Blasco is an education specialist in the New Media Department.