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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!

Coming up in Affiliateland in October 2019

Wow! Fall is fully underway with great events happening nationwide.

NEW JERSEY

The Morris Museum will publicly announce their affiliation with the Smithsonian, with remarks by Dr. Richard Kurin, Distinguished Scholar and Ambassador-at-Large in Morristown, 10.3.

TEXAS

The Irving Arts Center will present An Evening with Author/Archivist Grayson Dantzic, whose book on his late father’s work serves as the inspiration for the traveling exhibition Billie Holiday at Sugar Hill: Photographs by Jerry Dantzic (Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service) in Irving, 10.10. The Center will also host workshops on Teaching Ethnic Studies in Texas with the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, 10.15-16 and 10.29-30.

PENNSYLVANIA

Copy of the book A Fool's Errand with a picture of Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch, on creating the National Museum of African American History and CultureSmithsonian Secretary Dr. Lonnie Bunch will be discussing his new book A Fool’s Errand at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, 10.14.

MASSACHUSETTS

Framingham State University continues its Moon Landing in Context project with a talk by National Air and Space Museum curator Dr. Martin Collins on The Future of Space Exploration: An Ethical Perspective, in Framingham, 10.16.

NORTH CAROLINA

The Greensboro History Museum hosts a lecture by National Museum of American History conservator Dr. Sunae Park Evans on Conserving Democracy in Greensboro, 10/17.

 

Coming Up in Affiliateland in September 2019

As we fall into autumn, Affiliates are springing ahead with great programming across the nation.

TEXAS
The Irving Arts Center will open the SITES’ exhibition Billie Holiday at Sugar Hill: Photographs by Jerry Dantzic in Irving, 9.14.

NATIONWIDE
Over 90 Affiliates are taking part in the annual Smithsonian magazine Museum Day, offering free admission on 9.21.

SOUTH CAROLINA
The Children’s Museum of the Upstate will hold a teachers’ night featuring an educator from the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, in Greenville, 9.21.

RHODE ISLAND
The Rhode Island Historical Society will feature a lecture about sports history by National Museum of American History’s curator, Eric Jentsch, in Providence, 9.21.

Upcoming lecture in Framingham examines ‘More than “Just Uhura”‘

MASSACHUSETTS
Framingham State University continues its Moon Landing in Context series with a talk on Star Trek, civil rights, and space history by National Air and Space Museum curator Margaret Weitekamp, in Framingham, 9.26.

NEW YORK
National Museum of American History curator Madelyn Shaw will give a talk on the history of postwar American fashion at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, 9.26.

FLORIDA 
The Museum of Arts and Sciences continues its annual Septembers with the Smithsonian with concerts by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, in Daytona, 9.28.

OHIO  
Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission exhibition from SITES opens at the Cincinnati Museum Center, 9.28.

coming up in Affiliateland in May 2019

Happy Spring!

ILLINOIS
Smithsonian Distinguished Scholar Dr. Richard Kurin will give a talk on the History of America in 101 Objects at the Peoria Riverfront Museum in Peoria, 5.2.

NATIONWIDE
11 Affiliates will collaborate with the National Museum of American History to present a National Youth Summit on Woman Suffrage: The Ballot and Beyond on 5.21. Thanks to the Arab American National Museum (Dearborn, MI); Cerritos Library (Cerritos, CA); Conner Prairie Interactive History Park (Fishers, IN); the Durham Museum (Omaha, NE); Heritage Farm Museum and Village (Huntington, WV); History Colorado (Denver, CO); International Storytelling Center (Jonesborough, TN); Ohio History Connection (Columbus, OH); The Witte Museum (San Antonio, TX); Upcountry History Museum (Greenville, SC); and UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures (San Antonio, TX).

TEXAS
The Frontiers of Flight Museum will open the Art of the Airport Tower exhibition from the National Air and Space Museum in Dallas, 5.13.

the Moon is rising in Affiliateland in April 2019

Great events at Affiliates as spring starts blooming!

NORTH CAROLINA
The National Air and Space Museum has loaned three Apollo-related artifacts for the exhibition One Giant Leap: North Carolina and the Space Race opening at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, 4.5.

WASHINGTON
Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission exhibition, organized by the National Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, will open at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, 4.13.

ILLINOIS
As part of the Smithsonian Year of Music, the DuSable Museum of African American History will host A Celebration of Ella!!, a tribute event honoring the music and legacy of Ella Jenkins. At 94, Jenkins is one of the most revered singers and songwriters of the past century, with dozens of albums released through Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, in Chicago, 4.13.

PENNSYLVANIA
A protest armband from the 1960s, on loan from the National Museum of American History, will be part of the The Vietnam War: 1945-1975 exhibition at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, 4.13.


NEW YORK

Katherine Ott, curator at the National Museum of American History, delivers the last talk of the Questioning Identity lecture series, Poking at Normal: Museums and the History of Real People  at the Rockwell Museum in Corning, 4.24.

WASHINGTON, D.C.
Teens from five Affiliate communities will visit Washington with museum staff and parents, to meet with Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton and participate in person in the final meeting of the Secretary’s Youth Advisory Council. Thanks to the Rockwell Museum, Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Arab American National Museum, and the Upcountry History Museum, for helping us to include national teen voices in the work of the Smithsonian over the last two years!, in D.C.,  4.24.

IOWA
Smithsonian Affiliations Director Myriam Springuel and National Outreach Manager Aaron Glavas will participate in the affiliation announcement at new affiliate, the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids, 4.26.

MASSACHUSETTS
Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory will present the April talk Moon Race: The U.S.-Soviet Competition to Put a Human on the Moon as part of the year-long Moon Landing in Context lecture series at Framingham State University in Framingham, 4.27.

 

Coming up in Affiliateland in March 2019

Congratulations to Affiliates on these great programs!

NEBRASKA
The Durham Museum opens American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith, a SITES exhibition, on 3.2. National Museum of American History curator Dr. Barbara Clark Smith will deliver a public talk on her new book about resistance in revolutionary America in Omaha, 3.5.

RHODE ISLAND
National Museum of American History curator Dr. Claire Jerry will present a talk on Woman Suffrage with the Rhode Island Historical Society in Providence, 3.7.

NEW YORK
Mary Elliott, curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, will deliver the keynote address at the Long Island Museum‘s day-long symposium, Surviving Slavery on Long Island in Stony Brook, 3.9.

Diana N’Diaye of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage will give a talk on the Will to Adorn: Stories of African American Dress and Identity project as part of the Questioning Identity lecture series at the Rockwell Museum in Corning, 3.27.

FLORIDA
The Mennello Museum of American Art opens the Art of the Airport Tower exhibition from the National Air and Space Museum, in Orlando, 3.14.

MASSACHUSETTS

photograph

President Kennedy with VonBraun

Dr. Michael Neufeld, curator at the National Air and Space Museum, will present a lecture titled Space Hero or Nazi Villain? The Life of Wernher von Braun as part of the Moon Landing in Context project at Framingham State University in Framingham, 3.28.