Our Top 10 Stories of 2011

From Civil War mustaches to Mayan lost cities to myths about the brain, here are the most-read stories of the year

Articles about beer and web memes are featured in our top 10 but which article is the most popular? (Clockwise from top left: TongRo Image Stock / Corbis; Library of Congress; Landon Nordeman; Dave Yoder)

1. When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?

And when did boys start wearing blue? Smithsonian editor Jeanne Maglaty unpacks these questions with help from Jo B. Paoletti, an expert on the history of children’s clothing and author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America, to be published in 2012. As it turns out, the social convention did not take root until the 1940s.

From the story:

The march toward gender-specific clothes was neither linear nor rapid. Pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before World War I—and even then, it took time for popular culture to sort things out.

For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw's Infants' Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

2. Who Had the Best Civil War Facial Hair?

This playful photo essay serves up a healthy portion of information about officers who fought in the Civil War while presenting readers with an added treat—the ability to vote for their favorite beard, mustache, muttonchops or sideburns. Since we published the story, Gen. Ambrose Burnside, the namesake of sideburns, has held a commanding lead over the field, with Gen. J.E.B. Stuart a distant second.

3. Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful?

In 2000, Finland’s 15-year-olds received the highest scores in reading on a standardized test called Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, taken by students around the globe. In years since, the country’s students have similarly excelled in math and science. Veteran education journalist LynNell Hancock goes inside some schools to find out what makes the Finnish education system so successful.

From the story:

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