Paying Attention | Travel | Smithsonian

Paying Attention

Ten Sites and One Overlooked Hero

Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

Senior editor Mark Strauss took on our special 20-page, staff-written cover report—"10 Must-See Endangered Cultural Treasures"—with characteristic brio. "It's important to call attention to those treasures that people may not be aware of," he says. "I think people take seriously the idea that these sites belong to a common heritage."

In addition to choosing sites that are not so well known, Strauss selected only those that readers can actually visit, avoiding both those too fragile for tourist traffic or any in conflict zones. "We also wanted to give a sense of the incredible span of history," says Strauss, "so we have sites dating from 20,000-year-old rock carvings to contemporary Art Deco structures along historic Route 66. I think what our stories reveal is that the one strand that connects human beings from one generation to the next is a very powerful urge to create."

"Even after half a century, there are little nuggets of stories about World War II that have just not been told or have not been understood very well," says Peter Eisner, a former foreign correspondent and editor at the Washington Post and co-author of The Italian Letter, a 2007 critique of the Bush administration. Eisner came upon just such a nugget when a relative sent him a newspaper item about a new postage stamp bearing the likeness of American diplomat Hiram Bingham IV. "It started me off," he says, "on seeing how much I could find out about him."

The result of Eisner's research is the story we call "Bingham's List". Bingham, the son of the explorer long credited with discovering Machu Picchu—though there are new questions about that; see "In Dispute,"—worked in the U.S. Consulate in Marseille, France, during the German occupation. There, to the displeasure of his State Department superiors, he threw himself into the risky business of helping Jews and others flee the Nazis. For his efforts, he was yanked from his post and marked as too independent for his own good. "It's a story of personal responsibility," says Eisner. "That's the impressive thing. ‘I have a career. I want to be an ambassador. But I'm seeing suffering that I just can't accept.' That's what he was saying. ‘I'm going to give up everything for my own moral code.' I think that's an important lesson for everybody."

Our 7th Annual Photo Contest begins March 2, 2009 (to December 1, 2009). Go to Smithsonian.com/photocontest for rules, other contest information and to submit your photos. March 2 is also the day we announce 50 finalists from our just concluded 6th contest and invite readers to vote for their favorites. Get shooting!

About Carey Winfrey
Carey Winfrey

Carey Winfrey was Smithsonian magazine's editor in chief for ten years, from 2001 to 2011.

Read more from this author

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus