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Posts Tagged ‘Smithsonian Institution

“I rather think that archives exist to keep things safe – but not secret”*…

 

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For hundreds of years, families in Mauritania have been maintaining libraries of old Arabo-Berber books.  Originally on the route of pilgrims traveling to Mecca, the libraries are now at risk from the spreading Sahara and ever dwindling numbers of visitors, in part because of security restrictions due to terrorism.  One center of this preservation is the vanishing city of Chinguetti.

Most of Chinguetti consists of abandoned houses which are being swallowed up by the ever encroaching dunes of the Sahara. But this was once a prosperous city of 20,000 people, and a medieval center for religious and legal scholars; it was known as “The City of Libraries.”

Seen as a legacy from their ancestors, the families feel it’s an honor for them to care for these books:

About 600km north-east of the capital, in Chinguetti, once a centre of Islamic learning, the Habott family owns one of the finest private libraries, with 1,400 books covering a dozen subjects such as the Qur’an and the Hadith (the words of the Prophet), astronomy, mathematics, geometry, law and grammar. The oldest tome, written on Chinese paper, dates from the 11th century…

Precious Arabic manuscripts from western Africa are under threat as Mauritania’s desert libraries vanish.  Learn more– and marvel at the photos that you’ll find at “Mauritania’s hidden manuscripts” (source of the direct quote above) and “Desert libraries of Chinguetti” (general source).  See also @incunabula and the photos at Messy Nessy.

* Kevin Young

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As we treasure treasures, we might recall that it was on this date in 1846 that President James K. Polk signed the legislation that established the Smithsonian Institution as a “trust instrumentality” of the United States, to be administered by a Board of Regents and a Secretary of the Smithsonian.

Based on the founding donation of British scientist James Smithson, and originally called as the “United States National Museum,” it now houses over 150 million items in 19 museums, nine research centers, and a zoo, several of which are historical and architectural landmarks.  “The Nation’s Attic,” as it is fondly known, hosts over 30 million visitors a year.

220px-Smithsonian_Building_NR

The “Castle” (1847), the Institution’s first building, which remains its headquarters

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Written by LW

August 10, 2019 at 1:01 am

Hardcore History…

Your correspondent and his daughter were recently in Our Nation’s Capital, and visited that collection of museums arrayed around The Mall.  We were amazed to have the exhibits more or less to ourselves.

So it was a delight to discover the work of artist Jenny Burrows and copywriter Matt Kappler, who created a wonderful set of fake ads for that famous institution.  E.g.,

The originals of the ads above and below, and of the rest of the set, featured the name and logo of “America’s Treasure Chest”; but as our friends at Design Milk report, “unfortunately, that major museum was not a fan. Jenny had to change the text at the bottom to read “Museums” and change the logo. You can read all about that here.”

See the rest of the Jenny’s and Matt’s portfolio at “Historically Hardcore.”

As we wish that our tax dollars could stretch to cover a sense of humor, we might recall that it was on this date in 1940 that Booker T. Washington became the first African-American to be depicted on a U.S. postage stamp.  (The first U.S. coin to feature an African-American was the Booker T. Washington Memorial Half Dollar, minted from 1946 to 1951; he was also depicted on a [“regular”] U.S. Half Dollar from 1951–1954.)

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Show your work…

From the always-amusing xkcd

As we contemplate coincidence, we might pause to remember Chester Greenwood, who died on this date in 1937.  One of the Smithsonian Institution’s “America’s 15 Outstanding Inventors,” Greenwood created the bottom whistling kettle, the mechanical mouse trap, and the spring steel rake, among many other indispensables.  But he is best remembered as the inventor (at age 15) of earmuffs.  By his mid-twenties, he had a factory and 11 workers producing Greenwood Champion Ear Protectors in his hometown of Farmington, ME, producing 50,000 earmuffs yearly; output grew to 400,000 pairs by the year he died. In 1977, the Maine state legislature officially declared the first day of Winter, December 21, “Chester Greenwood Day,”  which Farmington celebrates with a parade.

Chester Greenwood

Pi in the sky…

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As we watch sheep chase ice cream cones across the summer sky, we might recall that on this date in 1974, at 8:01 a.m., a “10-Pak” of Juicy Fruit chewing gum with a bar code printed on it was passed over a scanner at the Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio– and became the first product ever logged under the new Universal Product Code (UPC) computerized recognition system.

Sharon Buchanan (pictured above 30 yrs later) performed the first ever bar code scan when she rang up this 10-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum, which is now at the Smithsonian.  (source)

Taking tunes along on that summer outing (pre-iAge)…

(thanks, Boing, Boing)

As we adjust our headphones, we might spare a thought for James Smithson, who died on this date in 1829, in Genoa, Italy.   Smithson had been a fellow of the venerable Royal Society of London from the age of 22, and had published numerous scientific papers on mineral composition, geology, and chemistry.  In 1802, he overturned popular scientific opinion by proving that zinc carbonates were true carbonate minerals; indeed, one type of zinc carbonate was later named smithsonite in his honor.

But perhaps most notably, Smithson left behind a will with a peculiar footnote:  In the event that his only nephew died without heirs, Smithson decreed that the whole of his estate would go to “the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”

Smithson had been a fellow of the venerable Royal Society of London from the age of 22, and had published numerous scientific papers on mineral composition, geology, and chemistry.  In 1802, he overturned popular scientific opinion by proving that zinc carbonates were true carbonate minerals; indeed, one type of zinc carbonate was later named smithsonite in his honor.

Six years after his death, his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, died without children; so on July 1, 1836, the U.S. Congress authorized acceptance of Smithson’s gift.  President Andrew Jackson sent diplomat Richard Rush to England to negotiate for transfer of the funds, and two years later Rush set sail for home with 11 boxes containing a total of 104,960 gold sovereigns, eight shillings, and seven pence, as well as Smithson’s mineral collection, library, scientific notes, and personal effects. After the gold was melted down, it amounted to well over $500,000– a fortune in those days.

After considering a series of recommendations, including the creation of a national university, a public library, or an astronomical observatory, Congress agreed that the bequest would support the creation of a museum, a library, and “a program of research, publication, and collection in the sciences, arts, and history.”  On August 10, 1846, the act establishing the Smithsonian Institution was signed into law by President James K. Polk.

John Smithson, who had never visited the United States while alive, is interred in a tomb in the Smithsonian Building (“The Castle,” as it is popularly known).

James Smith

Written by LW

June 27, 2009 at 12:01 am

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