Posts tagged ‘history’

Digging Deeper: Making Cross-Curricular Connections

We are kicking off the start of the new school year with a guest blog post by Michael Torguson, a teacher in Medford, Oregon who spent the summer teaching school at a juvenile detention facility. He used soil as a jumping off point for his students to study the science, history and geography of locations across the globe, widening their world. 

Teaching is a challenge under the best of circumstances. Teaching summer school at a juvenile detention facility, the challenge gets kicked up a notch (or two!).

When I asked the kids what they wanted to learn over the summer, they said they wanted to learn botany. So we did the usual: planted an herb garden, studied water ecology and how pollution affects the land (and by extension, plants), and the properties of soil. In a regular school setting, the usual procedure would be for students to scatter around the school grounds, locate their patch of soil, mark it on a school map, and do their analysis.

But how do you teach soil and plant biology when students cannot leave the building?  Answer: bring the soil from outside . . . in. I was originally going to take a weekend, drive around town, and collect soil from different areas. Then I had an idea: why not collect soil from all over the country? I reached out to various “famous places” and requested soil from their grounds for the kids to analyze. I got some very interesting responses, from “This is unprecedented!” to “You just want … dirt?”

Preparing for the soil tests.

Preparing for the soil tests.

Mixing the soil and chemicals.

Mixing the soil and chemicals.

I also got some happily unexpected responses, from “Soil from the Trinity Nuclear Test Site will always be radioactive” to the one from my new friend, Smithsonian Gardens’ own Supervisory Horticulturist Brett McNish. McNish said he did a similar project a while back and offered to send some soil that he was able to collect from overseas. So Brett sent me soil from the U. S. Embassy Grounds in Kabul, a Forward Operating Base in Iraq, sand from Omaha Beach, as well as from the garden near the National Museum of the American Indian.

In all, we received and tested soils from:

  • Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico
  • Central Park, New York
  • Dodger Stadium, California
  • Forks, Washington (We had a Twilight fan in class!)
  • Haleakala, Hawaii
  • Harvard Yard, Massachusetts
  • Los Angeles Coliseum, California
  • Monticello, Virginia
  • Mt. Vernon, Virginia
  • Old North Church, Massachusetts
  • Pike’s Peak, Colorado
  • The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
  • Trinity Nuclear Test Site, New Mexico
  • Very Large Antenna Array, New Mexico
  • White Sands Missile Testing Range, New Mexico
Extracting the chemicals.

Extracting the chemicals.

Reading the results of the soil tests.

Reading the results of the soil test.

A Social Studies teacher by training (and excitable by nature), I decided not to limit the science project just to science; I decided to add geography and history to the mix.  The project was getting really interesting!

The project evolved, and ultimately each student:

  •  Learned the Scientific Method and proper observation and documentation methods;
  • Performed Soil Properties Classification (all students classified all soils);
  • Conducted Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium (NPK) and pH testing;
  • Researched what each of the above tests mean in terms of soil health;
  • Researched the climate and geography of the region;
  • Researched the history of the location where they received the soil;
  • Created and presented their report to the class.

Best of all, the students rose to the challenge! Not only did they follow correct analysis procedures, but they also wrote very good historical and scientific summaries. As a bonus, they got to keep their dirt as a souvenir. (Except for the Trinity Soil – I didn’t want to have to answer questions about why I was giving radioactive material to students!)

In the end, the students had fun, learned a few things, and got to “visit” places they otherwise would not have been able to go. I also learned an important lesson about creatively teaching across the curriculum.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, the student who analyzed the Smithsonian soil reports that:

 “The soil was dark brown, with lots of small roots. It was rich and healthy. The Phosphorous level was low (0-50lb/acre), there were trace amounts of Nitrogen and Potassium, and the pH level is 7.0.”

 

-Michael Torguson. During school year Michael is a substitute teacher at Central Medford High School in Medford, Oregon.

August 26, 2014 at 11:22 am Leave a comment

The History of the Christmas Tree

What is the history of the Christmas tree? As far as common historical accounts are concerned, it all started with customs of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Scandinavians and other cultures that displayed evergreen trees, boughs and garlands during the winter. These decorations were symbols of everlasting life and reminders of the growth of spring, and they were also believed to ward off evil spirits, ghosts and illness.

The Christmas tree tradition as we now know it is thought to have begun in Germany in the 16th century when devout Christians began bringing trees into their homes and decorating them. Early decorations included nuts, fruits, baked goods and paper flowers. It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther was the first person to add lights to the tree. During a walk home one evening, he was struck by the twinkling stars through the evergreen trees and decided to recreate that feeling at home for his wife and children by erecting a tree and decorating it with candles.

Victorian Christmas Tree

The Illustrated London News print of Queen Victoria and her family around the Christmas tree was revamped for America and featured in the popular Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1850.

In the early 19th century, the custom of the Christmas tree began to spread to European nobility. It wasn’t until 1846, however, that the tradition gained widespread public adoption. In that year, the popular British royals, Queen Victoria and her German husband, Prince Albert, were sketched for The Illustrated London News standing next to a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle with their children. Being popular amongst the British people, the practice became very fashionable and soon spread to the east coast of the United States. Due to this rise in popularity, tree ornaments were manufactured in large numbers, and U.S. patents for electric tree lights (1882) and metal ornament hooks (1892) were issued.

Christmas tree on beach,

Underwood & Underwood. Santa Claus on beach with swimmers splayed around Christmas tree, 1927. Image courtesy of National Museum of American History Archives Center.

With their increasing popularity and acceptance, along with readily available ornaments and electric lights, Christmas trees began appearing in town squares and other public places and became commonplace in private homes.

Smithsonian Castle holiday tree, 2010.

Smithsonian Institution Castle holiday tree, 2010. Photo by Eric Long.

The most popular species of trees for the holidays are Scotch pine, Douglas fir, Fraser fir, balsam fir, and white pine. Although artificial trees are popular with some, growing, living trees clean the air and water, trap atmospheric carbon, and provide wildlife habitat. When they are ready to be discarded, they can be turned into mulch and recycled back into the environment.

-Greg Huse, Smithsonian Gardens arborist

December 18, 2013 at 7:30 am Leave a comment

Rapid Capture Open House at the Archives of American Gardens

Rapid Capture open house at Smithsonian Gardens.

Rapid Capture open house at the Smithsonian Gardens offices.

Here at Smithsonian Gardens we are celebrating American Archives Month throughout October. In August 2013, we participated in the first of a series of pilot projects, funded by the Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office, to create high resolution images of archival, museum and library collection items at a rapid speed. The pilot project included a week-long open house for Smithsonian staff, fellows, interns, volunteers and contractors, to showcase the rapid digitizating of over 900 historic glass-plate negatives from the Thomas Sears Collection at the Archives of American Gardens. The open house demonstrated all stages of digitizating a glass-plate negative collection, from moving each fragile plate in a custom carrier, capturing it, and performing quality control on the resulting image, to making the digitized output accessible to the public online. The overall process involved an outside contractor performing the image capture and image processing and two staff members from the Archives of American Gardens prepping the images, handling the glass-plate negatives, ingesting the images into the Smithsonian’s Digital Asset Management System and linking them to pre-existing catalog records in the Smithsonian’s online catalog, SIRIS.

Edgewood, Baltimore, Maryland.

Unidentified man, Edgewood estate, Baltimore, Maryland by Thomas Sears, 1914. Archives of American Gardens.

The 8×10 negatives, which had previously been digitized in the 1990s on a video disc at 640 pixels on the image’s longest side, were obviously pixelated in SIRIS. New scans of the negatives created by the vendor through rapid capture were digitized with an 80 megapixel camera. The quality of the new scans, measured at roughly 10,000 pixels on the longest side, ensures that the Archives will likely never have to scan the glass plates again. Rapid capture is not new, but the tools to measure the quality that can be achieved through rapid digitization are. For any large scale digitization projects of like materials, the Archives of American Gardens hopes to secure funding to digitize archival images through the rapid capture process instead of its current method of digitizing on a flatbed scanner.

To put it into concrete terms, the time that it takes to scan one image on a flatbed scanner is roughly 12 to 15 minutes. To digitize one image using rapid capture, it takes less than one minute. Rapid capture has opened our eyes to a highly efficient method that enables an entire collection to be digitized in a quantifiable time frame. The piece of the puzzle that remains to be addressed is the time-intensive process of cataloging that is needed to make the collections readily searchable online.

Background on Thomas Sears

Thomas Sears graduated with a degree in landscape architecture from Harvard University’s Lawrence Scientific School in 1906, where he also studied photography. He worked for Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects in the 1910s out of their Brookline, Massachusetts office before establishing his own landscape design office.

A set of images scanned during the rapid capture digitization project included the Edgewood estate in Baltimore, Maryland, photographed by Thomas Sears and designed by Sears and Wendell of Philadelphia.

Learn more about the Thomas Sears Collection.

Click here to learn more about the Archives of American Gardens.

-Kelly Crawford, Museum Specialist

October 23, 2013 at 9:24 am 1 comment

Armillary Spheres

This post was originally published on the Smithsonian Collections Blog.

Finale, Carmel, CA. 2009. Bonnie Brooks, photographer

Finale, Carmel, CA. 2009. Bonnie Brooks, photographer.

Like any number of inventions, the origins of the armillary sphere are debated, credited to everyone from an ancient Greek philosopher to a Roman mathematician to a Chinese astronomer. The one commonality: it was created with the faulty supposition that the earth was the center of the universe!

Armillary spheres served as a model of the heavens with intersecting rings marking everything from latitude and longitude to the tropic of Cancer. (No wonder the name was derived from the Latin word ‘armilla’ meaning bracelet or ring.) Early spheres were fabricated out of wood but as they became more complex they were made of brass which withstood the elements out of doors. As with most objects of science, armillary spheres progressed as new discoveries were made. The Chinese used them to make calendar computations and calculations. During the Middle Ages, they served as sophisticated instruments used to map the solar system. Soon rings were added to mark the equator and the rotation of the sun, moon and known planets, making these spheres some of the first complex mechanical devices.

Armillary Sphere

Marschalk-Spencer, Natchez, MS. July 2002. Sarah G. Tillman, photographer.

Because they were used outside where the sky was visible, armillary globes have become a common decorative feature in gardens. Today’s armillary spheres for garden use are strictly decorative in nature and much more streamlined than their ancient counterparts (think fewer rings inside the globe). While they no longer serve as a way to monitor the stars, they remain a symbol of progress and ingenuity throughout time.

Brittany Spencer-King
Intern, 2013

June 18, 2013 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Patiently Growing the Paradoxical Garlic

Photo by Luigi Rignanese.

Garlic lovers face a continual paradox. While flavorful garlic lends that special dish just what it needs, it can leave one’s breath smelling quite dreadful. Garlic has not always been disregarded because of its lingering odor, though. The ancient Romans and Egyptians held garlic in high regard as either a food or sacred plant. Thought to give them strength, Romans would eat raw garlic. As the Egyptians took an oath, they “ranked garlic next to the gods” (Taylor’s Guide to Heirloom Vegetables, Watson, 193).

In the past, many cultures did not use garlic for eating pleasure, but rather to heal ailments. Assyrians used garlic as an antibiotic. Thinking it would help relieve asthma, the Greeks consumed cooked garlic. During the Middle Ages, people believed garlic would help an individual avoid heatstroke. Amelia Simmons’s wrote of garlic in the 1796 American Cookery that  “Tho’ used by the French, [they] are better adapted to the uses of medicine than cookery.”(Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, Weaver, 228)  Today, garlic is thought to possibly help reduce cholesterol (Mayo Clinic).

Regardless of how garlic has been used in centuries past, it is evident that many cultures have found it helpful to cultivate for a multitude of reasons. Growing garlic is straightforward but requires patience during the winter and early spring months.

Fall Planting

Garlic is grown by planting cloves of garlic in the late fall months. Avoid rotting by selecting a soil that drains well. In loose soil, place the clove about two inches deep, pointy tip upright. Since garlic is asexually propagated, one can create a crop tailored to local conditions by carefully selecting the cloves that are planted. Simply save the biggest and best heads from the harvest to plant during the following fall season.

Photo by Ondřej Zicha

Spring Scapes

Hardneck cultivars such as Georgian ‘Chesnok Red’, Russian ‘Rosewood’, and ‘Ontario Purple Trillium’ will send up an elegantly curvedscape, or flower stalk, which can and really should be harvested for maximum bulb growth. If the scape is not harvested, the plant’s energy is directed towards the flower rather than towards producing a larger bulb. The scape itself can be sautéed or used to make pesto.

Summer Harvest

Once the leaves turn brown, it is time to harvest the garlic bulb. To harvest, loosen the soil around the bulb, being careful not to pierce or bruise it. After harvesting, allow the bulbs to dry for approximately two weeks. Once the garlic has dried, it can be used in various dishes or roasted alone.

Try to grow your own garlic and enjoy the bounty! As restaurant owner Alice May Brock once said, “Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good” (thinkexist.com)

Erin Clark
Horticulturist
Smithsonian Gardens

http://www.gardens.si.edu

October 19, 2012 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Reflections on Landscapes, Archives, and History Part I

Back in the warmer days of August, I had the opportunity to attend the Detroit Agriculture Network’s 15th Annual urban garden tour in Detroit, Michigan.  Hundreds of people gathered in the late afternoon at Eastern Market to board buses or take off on bikes to visit gardens and hear from gardeners on the east, west, and central areas of the city. Above all, it was an occasion to hear from passionate individuals and view the city from the ground up.

A garden tour stop at Manistique Community Garden on Detroit’s East Side
Image by Joe Cialdella

Even though my first experience seeing and volunteering with urban gardens in Detroit was in 2004, looking at the gardens in Detroit’s landscape – a compelling assortment of open space, roads, and buildings (many still inhabited and, yes, many long abandoned) – continues to be at once jarring and inspiring; a poignant and thought-provoking place because of the layers of time and meanings collected here.  As garden historian Kenneth Helphand writes,

“When we see an improbable garden, we experience a shock of recognition of the garden’s form and elements, but also a renewed appreciation of the garden’s transformative power to beautify, comfort, and convey meaning despite the incongruity of its surroundings. Gardens are defined by their context, and perhaps the further the context from our expectations, the deeper the meaning the garden holds for us.”[1]

As a historian, the context I look to when I see these gardens is often that of the past. How did social, political, economic, environmental and cultural conditions shape transform these spaces?   The seeming improbability of gardens as a part of post-industrial landscape challenged my expectations, and sparked my interest in learning what deeper meanings, and histories, gardening in Detroit might have.

Through this experience with a place, the landscape itself becomes an inspiration and an archive.  A record of changing tastes, values, style, and use, for example, is captured by looking closely at the location, age, and size of buildings.  Natural features, such as rivers and waterways often mark the original contribution to the archive of a landscape.

Yet in a place like Detroit, where seemingly endless redevelopment and decline are starkly juxtaposed, you cannot help but wonder what is missing from the landscape today.  This can be particularly problematic when digging deeper into the history of such fleeting spaces as small scale community-minded gardens in a constantly changing urban environment.

Old and new features of the landscape meet where the Greening of Detroit’s “Detroit Market Garden” borders an industrial building.
Image by Joe Cialdella

Gone from Detroit’s landscape is the rich tradition of gardening culture that came before the contemporary movement. For example, during the 1890s, Mayor Hazen S. Pingree started a municipally-supported gardening plan to feed unemployed workers (many of whom were Polish and German immigrants).  The Garden Club of Michigan was one of the 12 founding members of the Garden Club of America in 1913.  During the Great Migration, African Americans moving to Detroit used gardens as a means of providing food and improving the appearance and value of their neighborhoods. And in the 1930s, thrift gardens again provided sustenance to many of those left unemployed by the Great Depression.

As the Haupt Fellow at Smithsonian Gardens, I’m in the process of digging up the details of these gardens using more traditional archives to better understand the history of what it means for people to contribute to an urban-industrial landscape by gardening. This can be a difficult task since the spaces themselves are often fleeting and records of them scarce, unlike many of the design plans and photographs of more famous landscapes.  Looking back to the 19th and early 20th centuries, sociological surveys, government reports, meeting minutes, scrapbooks, maps, newspapers, magazines, and photographs are often surprisingly detailed documents that provide us with a way to re-imagine what these types of gardens looked like, their contexts, and how they were used in the past.

Map of “Pingree’s Potato Patches” from an 1894 government report

Together, the actual landscape and the two-dimensional records of experiences long removed from the land lend themselves to a fuller garden history that contributes not only to understanding gardens themselves, but also how gardens can reflect changing social, political, economic, environmental, and cultural contexts that give more people a way to consider the role of gardens and landscapes in their own lives.

The fleeting, seasonal nature of gardens also points to the importance of documenting garden spaces today. While we all hope they will last forever, proactively considering how you can preserve a garden or landscape’s history for your family, community, or organization provides an opportunity for reflection and sharing of information between one another that can often help to create connections and networks of support that will help these spaces exist into the future.  One way of doing this is through creating a collection of photographs, such as those found in Smithsonian GardensArchives of American Gardens.  Look for more on this in my next post.

Tomato Plants and Detroit’s Skyline.
Image by Joe Cialdella

- Joe Cialdella, Haupt Fellow, Smithsonian Gardens

For more information on being a part of preserving garden history or beginning your own research, check out the resources below.  

Take 10 minutes to “tag” an image form the Archives of American Gardens to help make their extensive collections more accessible to the public, researchers, and landscape designers!

These websites offer good tips and instructions for beginning your own archival adventure into the history of a garden or landscape near you:

http://www.williamcronon.net/researching/landscapes.htm

http://envhist.wisc.edu/cool_stuff/landscapetips.shtml

http://www.ultimatehistoryproject.com/early-detection.html


[1] Kenneth Helphand. Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime, 2006, pg. 9.

October 11, 2012 at 2:06 pm 4 comments

History is Blooming at Smithsonian Gardens

Are you a garden enthusiast who enjoys history on the side, or perhaps a history buff with an interest in the outdoors? Well now you’re in luck! Come on down to the Enid A. Haupt Garden behind the Castle on the National Mall and join our garden interpreters for Smithsonian Gardens’ newest educational program, History in Bloom.

Bison in the South Yard.

Through fun and interactive activities you can learn about the Smithsonian’s history of collecting exotic plant species from around the world and experience Victorian-era culture preserved right here in the Haupt Garden. Whether you are using historic photographs to explore the garden’s changing landscape or embarking on a global scavenger hunt, you will enjoy discovering the many hidden treasures this garden has to offer!

Enid A. Haupt Garden

Look for our garden interpreters in the Haupt Garden on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10:30 to 1:30 to explore the history of Smithsonian Gardens. Our interpreters will facilitate activities that teach visitors about the history in the Haupt Garden and give them the tools to investigate the garden like explorers throughout history.

To learn more about this program visit Smithsonian Gardens’ website. Now go ahead and take an outdoor journey through time!

Corey Colwill, Education Volunteer

May 1, 2012 at 10:00 am Leave a comment


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