“We Americans have yet to really learn our own antecedents,” Walt Whitman said, “and sort them, to unify them. They will be found ampler than has been supposed, and in widely different sources.” That was in 1883, and the task has grown immeasurably more difficult as our antecedents have multiplied. But sorting is a Smithsonian specialty, so you hold in your hands a brave new attempt, a special issue that tells the story of America in 101 objects. Our sources were, per Whitman, widely different, drawn from the 137 million artifacts held by the 19 museums and research centers of the Smithsonian Institution.
And we welcome alternative nominations. In fact, Richard Kurin (under secretary for history, art and culture) has selected 50 different items for his parallel book debuting this month, The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects. The Smithsonian Channel’s four-part series, Seriously Amazing™ Objects, premiering November 25, features surprising encounters with many of these objects.
—Michael Caruso, Editor in Chief
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America in the World