Ask a Curator Day: Indulge your curiosity, history nerds!
Getting to handle and study treasured artifacts, pursuing fascinating research adventures all day, and building inspirational exhibitions—people who work in museums sure are lucky. But much of the time, museum workers do all these cool things behind the scenes. All that changes on Wednesday, September 13, 2017. Curators and other museum staffers will be lured away from their daily work to answer yourquestions for Ask a Curator Day, so get your questions ready. You can ask your question on Twitter and our roster of smart, interesting staff members will do their best to get you an answer. See the schedule below.
I never thought to ask how many biologists it takes to give a stingray its check-up, but was thrilled to discover the answer on Twitter! Many other organizations are participating. See the full list.
How many biologists does it take to administer a check-up to an 11-foot, 160-pound honeycomb (Himantura uarnak) stingray? Exactly 8. pic.twitter.com/SbhF5IYVxD— CA AcademyOfSciences (@calacademy) August 28, 2017
11-12 a.m. EDT: Clothing, philanthropy, and military history
Nancy Davis, Curator, Division of Home and Community Life. I will answer questions on clothing, accessories, jewelry, and domestic life objects. I enjoy talking about objects and clothing that people bring to this country from their homelands because for several years I have been working on the exhibition Many Voices, One Nation, which includes these types of objects. One of my favorite things in this exhibition is the colorful carnival costume and mask from Puerto Rico.
Amanda Moniz, David M. Rubenstein Curator of Philanthropy, Division of Home and Community Life. I'm thrilled to answer questions about the exhibition Giving in America and building the new collection in the history of philanthropy. Part of my work this year is rediscovering objects in the collection that tell stories about giving. I was excited to see objects such as medals from the Humane Society of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the Numismatics Collection. The humane society movement of the late 1700s and early 1800s had nothing to do with animals. Rather, it promoted the rescue and resuscitation of drowning victims. I would love to chat about what the movement meant to Americans in the founding generation.
Frank A. Blazich Jr., Curator of Modern Military History, Division of Armed Forces History. I will answer questions about the American home front, World War II, the Vietnam War, the U.S. Navy, and prisoners of war. I'm particularly pleased to chat about the Vietnam War, both as the son of a disabled combat veteran and on account of my recent work with the collection of a posthumous Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient. One of the my favorite things in the museum is the khaki flying jacket of Ensign George H. Gay Jr., on display in our exhibition The Price of Freedom: Americans at War. Gay wore this simple and unadorned jacket in the Battle of Midway, and as the sole aircrew survivor of Torpedo Squadron 8 on June 4, 1942, he was an eye witness to the destruction of three Japanese aircraft carriers and a major turning point in the Pacific War.
Ryan Lintelman, Curator, Divsion of Culture and the Arts. I will answer questions about the history of American entertainment, including theater, movies, and television. I'm particularly excited to chat about the early years of the American film industry because I recently spoke about it at the NYC Podfest for the Smithsonian Sidedoor podcast. One of my favorite things in the museum is the Indiana Jones hat, because it proves that anyone, even a tenured professor, can become a hero.
Carrie Kotcho, A. James Clark Director, Education and Impact. I’m a history educator and an education technologist, so I’m especially excited to speak with teachers and students about “doing history.” There are so many ways to make history learning active and experiential. We offer hundreds of media, interactive, and primary source learning resources on our History Explorer teacher portal and we train thousands of teachers via our Let's Do History Tour program. My favorite object in the museum is the Greensboro Lunch Counter because four young students made a decision to make our country a better place by sitting there. If you love to learn, let’s talk!
1-2 p.m. EDT: Money and political history
Bethanee Bemis, Museum Specialist, Political History. I'll answer questions about the American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith installation. I want the public to have the opportunity to understand the work that goes into a museum exhibition behind the scenes. My favorite objects? Writing boxes of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton. They offer a window into the personalities of three of our Founding Fathers, our collective memory of the national narrative, and the importance of material culture all at once. Plus, who wouldn't want a writing box like one of these?
Claire Jerry, Curator, Political History. I work most closely with the collections related to 20th- and 21st-century politics, particularly campaigning. I would love to talk to you about presidential speeches or all those odd items that have promoted presidential candidates. Ask me how campaigns used soap, tobacco, toys, or stickers—the odder or creepier the object the better!
Hillery York, Collections Manager, National Numismatic Collection. I have 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. I'm particularly excited to chat about iconography on coins including mythological creatures, cityscapes, and the sigils from Game of Thrones.
Emily Pearce Seigerman, Museum Specialist, National Numismatic Collection. I'm looking forward to answering questions about Byzantine, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean coins and Revolutionary War-era medals. I'm particularly excited to chat about digitization because it helps so many people from all over the world interact with our collection. One of my favorite things in the museum is The Value of Money exhibition because it compels you to think about currency—something we all interact with—in a new way.
2-3 p.m. EDT: Business history and music
John Troutman, Curator, Division of Culture and the Arts. I will answer questions about our musical instruments collection. I'm particularly excited to chat about our guitar collection, and the installation of our planned permanent exhibition on the history of entertainment in the U.S. The exhibition is scheduled to open in 2020. One of my favorite things in the museum is the Yellow Cloud guitar that Prince donated to the American History museum, because it so beautifully conveys his original sense of style and sound.
Peter Liebhold, Curator, Division of Work and Industry. My curatorial responsibilities include agriculture, manufacturing, and mining—and I can't wait to answer questions about those areas of American history! Throughout my professional life, I've been involved with industrial history and the effort to preserve the working history of the nation. I have curated numerous exhibitions, including American Enterprise. You can also ask me about Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program 1942–1964, Barriers to Bridges: Asian American Immigration after Exclusion, and America on the Move. Right now, I'm working on a book titled Food Tech: Commercialized and Revolutionized, which examines the intersection of technological and social change in agriculture.
Leslie Poster, Editor. Commas and adverbs and moods, oh my! I'm here to answer your questions about editing at the National Museum of American History. I worked on all of the exhibition projects in our newly opened wing, themed The Nation We Build Together. I'm also a fan of the museum since long before I became its editor, so I'm happy just to gush about my favorite exhibitions of yesterday and today. Did I mention how cool it is to work in a museum? Y'all, I've got stories!
3-4 p.m. EDT: Entertainment history
Hanna BredenbeckCorp, Project Assistant, Division of Culture and the Arts. I'll answer questions about groundbreaking comic Phyllis Diller, as well as cataloging and housing music, sports, and entertainment objects at the museum. I'm particularly excited to chat about the Phyllis Diller gag file digitization project, because it made it possible for everyone to enjoy 52,569 of Phyllis Diller's best jokes from anywhere in the world. One of my favorite things in the museum (besides anything Phyllis Diller of course) is the South Bend Blue Sox baseball dress worn by Betsy Jochum. The story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is an inspiring narrative of athletic strength and sisterhood—and the end of A League of Their Own always makes me cry.
But what to ask? Don't feel pressured to come up with the perfect question. "Tell me more about your favorite research topic" is a good start and sure to invite some interesting stories and facts. Here are a few of our favorite questions we answered last year on maritime history, editing museum labels, the history of money, and women in World War I and on political history, guitars, and becoming museum professionals.
Kenneth Cohen, Curator, Culture and the Arts. I'm looking forward to taking your questions related to sports history. I think it's important for Americans to know that sports have never existed only as an escape from everyday life, but in fact have helped shape the country in lots of ways. From issues of equality to regulation and deregulation, Americans from all walks of life have debated and laid out the kind of nation they want in part by playing and cheering. My favorite object? It's more of a "game" than a "sport," I think, but I love the 1949 Milton Bradley board game called "Lobby," in which you have to get a bill through Congress while some special interests help and others hinder your efforts. Anyone want to create a version of that for PlayStation or Xbox?
Erin Blasco is an education specialist in the Office of Audience Engagement.