Readers Respond to the December 2023 Issue

Your feedback on robot artists, marsupial frogs and abolitionist icons

Dignity and Respect

I was pleased to see the column by Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch in the December 2023 issue (“Course Correction”). Repatriation of human remains now held in the Smithsonian’s collections is something that all museums and other historical organizations should be pursuing. How many people today would think it appropriate sometime in the future for their bodies or the bodies of their family members to be dug up from their “final resting place” and carted off for that future generation to study? All remains, but particularly those of sentient beings, should be managed with dignity and respect for the lives they represent. My thanks to Mr. Bunch for presenting this important information. —Jay Paulsen | Hillsboro, Oregon

Thank you for recognizing the harm and damage that has been done in the name of science studying human remains. Realizing the unethical practice of finding and removing human remains to proclaim white supremacy and now looking to find ways to repatriate the remains is admirable and welcome. I trust that the Smithsonian will do so in a most honorable and sensitive way to any known descendants and original communities. —John Connell | Cheshire, Connecticut

Survival of the Fittest

What an unusual saga Danna Staaf has detailed in “Clinging to Life” (December 2023), about the horned marsupial frog. The frog, with its embryonic process in a pouch on the mother’s back, has survived the Central American extinction challenges of jungle logging and plantation clearing. —Landy Anderton | Raleigh, North Carolina

What Is Art?

Move over, Michelangelo? (“State of the Art,” December 2023). Why not “Move out, A.I.”? With respect to works of art, it is quite evident that artificial intelligence is brainless: It does only what it is told to do, without even a hint of thinking or of being gifted. The article states that the robot can’t match the “finest subtleties of human artisanship.” The devil is in the details. Isn’t hard work what drives an artist to possibly create a masterpiece? —Ben Dussan | Holland, Pennsylvania

Rightful Recognition

I was deeply moved and grateful to learn more about Thaddeus Stevens in the December 2023 issue (“Freedom Fighter”). Abraham Lincoln has been credited as “the great emancipator” with good reason, but Tracy Schorn’s article demonstrates clearly that Stevens was the man in the trenches who brought freedom and justice to the American slaves. I was introduced to him via the film Lincoln, so heartily portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones, but this deeper look at Stevens’ life, especially his hardscrabble beginnings, evidences the fire in his belly for people without money or power. Thanks to the citizens of Gettysburg and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for resurrecting his legacy. —Robert M. Randolph | Swannanoa, North Carolina

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This article is a selection from the January/February 2024 issue of Smithsonian magazine

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