Once upon a time there was a venerable museum and research establishment where scholars, curators and scientists labored in earnest in their mission to increase knowledge, publishing their research in various scholarly journals that rarely were seen by the general public.
Today, those scholars and scientists might likely have hundreds of friends on Facebook or update their followers throughout the day on Twitter. The Smithsonian Institution is home now to dozens of blogs where staff interact one on one with their audiences. Information that was exclusive only years ago is now diffused to and read by most anybody thanks to the Internet.
Beginning this week, we'll post a weekly roundup of the Smithsonian Institution's blogs and other online activities bringing our readers just that much closer to the behind-the-scenes happenings here—Around the Mall.
What Goes Up Doesn’t Have to Come Down: If your zipper works, that is. Learn all about the zipper’s history from the Smithsonian Libraries Blog. After reading the post, I have a new-found appreciation for the little tool, which beat out its competitor, the button, in the 1937 "Battle of the Fly." The smackdown prompted French fashion designers to incorporate the zipper into more of their pieces. And the rest is history.
Meanwhile at the Hirshhorn this month, the past is prologue. Until May 20, museum officials are bringing artist Yves Klein back to life (he died in 1962) via the Internet to share insight into his art, something we like to call Lessons from the grave, 2.0. Okay, so Klein didn’t actually come back to life to tell the world about the upcoming exhibit at the Hirshhorn, but his online personality is haunting Twitter and Facebook, where he does post artworks and quotes that illustrate his creative process (furthering my illusion that I’m having conversations with a dead man.) Follow Mr. Klein on Facebook or Twitter, or check out the online archive that the artist’s presence has created so far.
Digging around in the past: The Bigger Picture blog explores some of the letters and photographs sent to the Institution in the 19th century. Today, the archives highlights letter writers who hoped to tempt the Smithsonian to purchase some of their artifacts. The offerings? A three-legged boy, whose potential donor called him "“the greatest freak in the country,” and a two-legged dog, whose owner wanted to sell him to the Smithsonian for $800. "There is no indication the Smithsonian responded," wrote archivist Tammy Peters pf the offer of the boy. The dog, however, was politely declined.
And speaking of animals, they too need a census of their own. The species that travel in and out of Maryland’s Muddy Creek could be some of the best counted “residents” in the country's waterways. Every week for more than 25 years, researchers from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) have surveyed the animals and collected information, amassing a database that goes all the way back to 1983. Visit the SERC's Shorelines blog to see some pictures of what the researchers have found lately—and to figure out exactly how they temporarily catch all those fish. It’s called a fish weir. (If that doesn't intrigue you, what will? Tell us below. We're all about peer-to-peer here.)