5 Questions With Barbara Clark Smith

What do we love more than helping you navigate the Smithsonian? Sending someone from the Smithsonian to your neighborhood! Our people are our greatest resource and when new curators join the Smithsonian family, we like to share their stories with our network.

In this edition, we spotlight Barbara Clark Smith, an internationally known historian inImage of a book with a red cover, the Jefferson Bible, Smithsonian edition the field of Revolutionary America. She has spent her career at the National Museum of American History (NMAH) as a curator of early American social and political history. She has curated and co-curated major exhibitions, including The Jefferson Bible; After the Revolution: Everyday Life in America, 1780-1800; and Jamestown, Quebec, and Santa Fe: Three North American Beginnings. She has written both popular and scholarly books and essays and has been a frequent speaker at museums, book festivals, and other public history venues.

  • What was the moment or experience you had that made you interested in Revolutionary America?

My father was a mechanical engineer who loved reading history books in his spare time, so I learned from a young age that studying the past could be fascinating. Luckily, first-rate teachers at Montclair High School in New Jersey fed my love of history. It was the opportunity to work with a truly inspiring historian in graduate school—Prof. Edmund S. Morgan at Yale—that led me to choose the Revolution as a field of study. The Revolution is an exciting topic because events and ideas provoked the participation of men and women of many different backgrounds, beliefs, and social positions. The era shows us both unprecedented unity among North American colonists and profound differences and conflicts as well. There is no simple way to sum it up, and I know I will never fully understand every aspect of the Revolution. It is endlessly fascinating.

  • What excites you about coming to work in the Division of Political and Military History at NMAH?

Through political action, people try to bring their ideas about what is fair and what is right to bear in their societies. While some elements of political history have focused largely on a powerful elite, I enjoy tracing the relationships between political elites and more ordinary Americans. I enjoy working with NMAH museum collections that have long included attention to the political forms used by everyday people, such as protests and petitions as well as the vote. Colleagues in the division focus on different aspects of political history while sharing a dedication to exploring the past in new ways and to bringing our findings, perspectives, and enthusiasms to the public.

  • Since you oversee a vast collection of artifacts, which one is the most special to you and why?

That is impossible to answer! I love Paul Revere’s print of “The Bloody Massacre” of 1770, as it represents a dramatic (if flawed) political claim about the value of ordinary American lives. Along the same lines, I treasure Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, where he introduced radical ideas that caught fire among an unprecedented number of readers. Then there’s a Bible that belonged to Stokeley Sturgis, an ordinary farmer in Delaware who converted to Methodism during the Revolution at the urging of his enslaved man, Richard. Methodist belief moved Sturgis to allow Richard to buy his own freedom. That man, Richard Allen, later founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. Sturgis’s Bible represents a connection between two men of faith who changed each others’ lives.

  • You’re interested in visiting Affiliate communities, what would you like to share with them?

I grew up in the Jersey suburbs and have since traveled and learned from people in many parts of the country and some other parts of the world. I love hearing different perspectives and grappling with some of the contradictions of our national history. That means learning more and more local and regional history, so as to include the variety and richness of US history as much as possible. I am married and have two adult children—one in California, the other in New York. So my husband and I travel fairly often coast to coast. We have built the Midwest and, to a lesser degree, the Southwest into our travels, and we have recently been exploring the deep south. We have so much more to explore and learn, of course!

  • What projects are on the horizon you are most excited about working on?

The public talks that I am presenting are also occasions for me to learn from audiences who offer new perspectives and questions about the founding era. Besides those presentations, I am working with my colleague Kenneth Cohen on a small exhibition case that treats the encounter between Wampanoag people and the Separatists (or “Pilgrims”) who landed at Patuxet / Plymouth in 1620. The 400th anniversary of that encounter offers an opportunity to revisit and rethink those extraordinary events.

The image shows Smithsonian scholar Barbara Clark Smith and her new book, The Freedoms We Lost

Barbara Clark Smith spoke on her new book at the Durham Museum, a Nebraska Affiliate, earlier this year.

Barbara offers the following presentations to Affiliates:

1. “A Freeborn People”: Slavery and the Founders

New findings and insights have transformed historians’ understanding of chattel slavery in the nation’s founding era. During years of revolution and nation-building, Americans both white and black confronted slavery’s powerful impact on their economy, society, and political world. Both slavery and opposition to slavery shaped the era’s most important documents and institutions. A white historian of 18th-century politics and society considers this history and its legacy for today.

2. “Hanging Together”: Unity and Disunity in America’s Founding Era (Available early 2020)

“Now we must hang together, or we shall assuredly hang separately.”
—attributed to Benjamin Franklin, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence

Today’s experience of deep divisions in US society, culture, and politics makes the history of 18th-century nation-building more pertinent than ever. The founding generation needed to reconcile people of divergent religious beliefs, economic interests, social positions, and ethnic backgrounds to create a revolution and form a “more perfect union.” How—and how far—did they hang together? A historian finds answers in English political traditions; an ideal of economic patriotism; ideas of racial identity; African American acts of community-building; and Native American practices of confederation. A Smithsonian curator offers timely perspectives on the founding era.

Interested in bringing Barbara or other Smithsonian scholars to your organization? Contact your National Outreach Manager!

Kudos Affiliates!! November 2019

Congratulations to these Affiliates on their recent accomplishments! Do you have kudos to share? Please send potential entries to Aaron Glavas, GlavasC@si.edu.

FUNDING

The Institute of Museum and Library Services announced grant awards totaling $21,726,676 for museums across the nation to improve services to their communities including the following Affiliate projects:

Museum of History and Industry (Seattle, WA): $128,200 to conduct formative evaluation and community research to guide the redesign of its core exhibit, “True Northwest,” which traces the history of Seattle.

Denver Museum of Nature and Science (Denver, CO): $249,950 to redesign and expand its Space Odyssey exhibition with a renewed focus on inclusive and accessible informal learning opportunities.

Cincinnati Museum Center (Cincinnati, OH): $250,000 to develop a permanent exhibition to showcase its invertebrate paleontology collection and develop related educational programming that builds on a strong commitment to gender equity.

Ohio History Connection (Columbus, OH): $233,403 to continue its work to empower New Americans to become community leaders and advocates for their communities of origin. Originally funded through the IMLS Community Catalysts initiative, the project connects New American leaders with established community resources and fundamental civic education in order to build a base of knowledge that increases their sense of belonging in the larger metropolitan community.

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture (Seattle, WA): $167,522 to rehouse a portion of its mycology and fish collections to secure their long-term preservation and to improve access for the benefit of researchers, students, government biologists, and citizen scientists.

Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience (Seattle, WA): $136,134 to draw on its collections to supplement the Asian Pacific American (APA) history curriculum in Washington state schools.

Michigan State University Museum (East Lansing, MI): $113,221 to improve accessibility, environmental conditions, and housing for more than 5,000 vertebrate specimens, including rare, endangered, and threatened species.

Conner Prairie Interactive Historic Park (Fishers, IN): $104,500 to address institutional challenges relating to diversity, accessibility, equity, and inclusion (DEAI) and strengthen its relevance to the communities it serves by implementing policies, procedures, and training.

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (Raleigh, NC): $105,085 to train staff members on the design and delivery of accessible content for its public programs and exhibits.

 

Conner Prairie Interactive History Park (Fishers, IN) received a $25,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation’s “Powerful Communities” program, to support conservation, habitat and forest restoration and other environmental initiatives. The funding will be used to provide White River shoreline stabilization and conduct a pond analysis in Hamilton County.

The Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum (Ashland, NE) received a grant of $2,000 from Humanities Nebraska to support an Apollo 11 50th Anniversary exhibit.

The National Inventors Hall of Fame (Canton, OH) was awarded $189,800 by the Burton D. Morgan Foundation to support Camp Invention and Invention Project programming.

The PNM Resources Foundation awarded “reduce your use” grants totaling $100,000 to 21 New Mexico nonprofits, including the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science Foundation (Albuquerque, NM). The $5,000 grant will allow the organization to spend less on electric bills and more on providing essential services.

AWARDS & RECOGNITION

The Indiana Historical Society (Indianapolis, IN) was the recipient of the Best Practices Award from the Association of Midwest Museums. The award recognizes the Heritage Support Grants program for its support of regional historical societies, museums and sites across the state. Created in 2016 with support from a $3.48 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the program provides grants and workshops to Indiana organizations, allowing them to raise the bar when caring for the state’s history. The grants help meet high-priority needs while workshops provide education on fundraising.

The Association of Science-Technology Centers awarded its first Leading Edge Overcomer Award to the American Museum of Science & Energy (Oak Ridge, TN) for the collaborative ways the Museum engaged its local community partners during a move into a new building with state-of-the-art exhibits.

Science Museum Oklahoma (Oklahoma City, OK) has been recognized with a 2019 Reader’s Choice Award as a top venue for special events in Oklahoma City by the publishers, editors and readers of ConventionSouth, a national multimedia resource for event planning.

The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, part of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (Jackson, MS) was honored at the international museum conference Best in Heritage. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum was selected for its Chaney Goodman Schwerner Theater that received the 2018 MUSE Gold Award from the American Alliance of Museums. The award winning theater examines story of the murder of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner during the 1964 Freedom Summer.

From left to right: Denice Blair (MSU Museum Education Manger), Chong-Anna Canfora (MSU Museum Development Director), David Mittleman (Grewal Law), Amanda Smith (Sister Survivor), Mark Auslander (MSU Museum Director), Mary Worrall (MSU Museum Curator), Elena Cram (Sister Survivor)

Michigan State University Museum’s (East Lansing, MI) “Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak” exhibit was awarded the 2019 Peninsulas Prize for its impact and exceptional programming by the Michigan Museums Association.

LEADERSHIP

The Saint Louis Science Center (Saint Louis, MO) has hired Todd Bastean as its next president and CEO, effective October 7. Barbara Boyle, who has served as the center’s interim president and CEO for the past year, will resume her role as chief operating officer and chief financial officer.

Welcome 2019 Affiliate Visiting Professionals!

Smithsonian Affiliations welcomes its 2019 Visiting Professionals Program (VPP) cohort to Washington, D.C.! With support from the Getty Foundation, the VPP reaches a diverse group of Affiliate colleagues working in organizations with art collections and serving diverse audiences.

Coming up in Affiliateland in November 2019

We are thankful for our amazing Affiliates and all that you do!

WASHINGTON
The Museum of History and Industry will open SITES’ Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation exhibition in Seattle, 11.2.

Group of women in colorful saries,

The Museum of History and Industry will host ‘Sari Stories’ featuring personal stories and a draping demonstration.

OHIO
National Museum of American History curator Frank Blazich is giving two talks at the Ohio History Connection for Veteran’s Day on Navy Pontoon Technology and on the Army’s Pigeon Service, in Columbus, 11.9.

MASSACHUSETTS
The Moon Landing in Context series continues at Framingham State University with a talk by National Air and Space Museum curator Teasel Muir-Harmony on The Future of Space Exploration: The Policy Perspective, in Framingham, 11.14.

MARYLAND
National Air and Space curator emerita Valerie Neal will moderate a discussion of three former and current astronauts in a program commemorating the Apollo program with Historic Annapolis and the U.S. Naval Academy, in Annapolis, 11.17.