tv Book Discussion on The Smithsonians History of America in 101 Objects CSPAN January 4, 2014 4:15pm-4:53pm EST
youth, my grandpa's time, and there was something in me that kind of yearned to be part of that. the craziest recollections. my parents had a lovely old secretary. anybody call it that? a wooden cub board, drawers with nooks and cran anies, and my mom left the drawers filled with old things of hadder father's. little knickknacks. it's true. i used to look through those and be captivated by them. and so it seems far fetched that's what lies behind a kid interested in history and decides he want to live in that world. i think that's what it is. every book you live for a time in the era of the past.
you get to know what the past was like. and the longing to go back, and for me, it's amazing character, the combination of medical thriller and political thriller and this figure at the center of it. that is what got me interested. and even though it took me way longer than i wanted to. and certainly than my wife wanted it to, i loved living with the roosevelts. i don't want to keep you on a rainy night. thank you very much for having me. [applause] you've you're watching 48-hours of non-fiction author and books on c-span two's booktv. well, booktv is on
location at the smithsonian newb museum. nder we're joined bit undersecretarye of the smithsonian who has a new book out. sonnian's history. first of all, mr. kern, what's your day job? >> great question, peter. well, my day job is helping take care of the smithsonian and the legacy that the american people give us. you know, we host over 30 million people to the museum. my job is to help make the museums work, help the directors do their job. i have to take care of budgets and politics and public relations and things, but also the content of the work, what we do, what we show, the kind of ways in which we want to help americans and people around the world understand the american experience. >> how long have you been with the smithsonian? >> i first worked here in 1976 for the bicentennial of the
united states, and then permanently since 1994. >> as the under secretary, are you the coo in a sense? >> well, we have three under secretary, one a earth science, one is finance administration, and i'm for everything else. i have a ph.d. in anthropology. >> all right. american history in 101 objects. where did you get the idea? >> well, there's a fellow who runs the british museum, ewen mcgregor, and he wrote a book that was successful, and he said, richard, do one on american history. well, i didn't have to think about it too long. my wife is a public schoolteacher in the dc area, and kids come from all over the world now. america is a much more diverse place, and we don't teach history that much. it's important in our sense of being american. i have to do it. well, i listened to my wife, and
so i wrote the book. >> how did you choose 101? >> not easily. you know, at the smithsonian there's hundreds of curators and scientists who are passionate. we put out a call to various museums to suggest what should be in the book. as you could imagine, people at the national postal museum had a slew of spam. there was a portrait for everything. i took those suggestions, but i looked at what the american people gravitate to, like, peter, when you come to the museum, they come to see neil armstrong's face, the star spangled banner, george washington's uniform and sort. i listened to the visitors, and i picked things totally behind the scenes, some never been on exhibition, but they round out the story of the american spirit. >> 101 objects, how many objects does the smithsonian have in the collection? how many are on display? >> at least 137 million objects.
that's specimen, artifacts, artwork, and living collections. remember, the pan that, no. 71 in the book, is one of the objects. we have a lot. at any one time, maybe 1% of the smithsonian collection is on display. now, we loan out to other museums around the country for research and exhibition work, but people just see the tip of the iceberg when they come to the museum. >> you have one here on exhibit that you have in the book, 101 octobers of american history, what is it? >> well, this is a wagon, being named after the river in pennsylvania, and it was created, we think, we don't know who exactly invented it, but it comes to us from the 1700s when people used these wagons. they were largely dramatic immigrants, and some of the decoration on the wagons mirrors
that german american folk art tradition. there was to railroad, no cars or airplanes, and so this is the means of transportation of moving goods. this is how good we move along the appalachian trail, along the appalachian trail, all the way new england to jazz, bringing food, items from the front tier, and so firs and raw materials in boston to the cities and the towns in the east, and the colonies, and brought british goods out to the frontier. this was the mode of transportation. these were the trucks of the colonial times. >> pretty ewe ubiquitous? >> pretty ubiquitous. we often had iron rims because these wagons went through tough times. there's no real road. you have mud and muck and mire,
and they had to be versatile. they were pulled by six horses, three on each side, and in teams, and they really weren't driven. you know, we have that image sometimes of the west of somebody giddy up and doing it, but usually the wag near walked along, sitting on the side bar, of course, taking care of the horses was important so there's a feedbox that you see in the back. the construction, you note, is very adept to road conditions, and, actually, it's bowed at the bottom so the goods, when you stack goods in there, whether it was bags of grain or pelts, whatever, they kind of shifted towards the middle keeping the center of gravity. you know, you had a solid balancing of the wagons. the wagons lasted in until the 1840s and 50s until replaced bid railroad. there were plans, you know,
congress planned the first national road to stretch, you know, from the original 13 colonies of indense, after we achievedded independence to st. louis. that really never happened because they delivered goods much quicker in an efficient matter. the wagons provided the model for the prairie schooner. because there was less water, they could not have horses. you needed mules, okay, or ox to pull the wagons. the prairie schooner was much smaller than that, a longer yolk with the whole team of ox because they accommodate and make do with less water. >> built in one place? >> no, in a variety of pregnant.
there were hub's of that, there's a rude break. >> you wear out that break pad quickly. you know, and again, people would, you'd have to break a, going into a river or be on a down slope, and you needed that. remember, these are crossing mountain passes, and when you think about the appalachia, look on the map, you see a settlement, you know, every few miles, and that was really the distance the wagons travel in a day. you get the settlements as a striping of pearls between the wagons. >> what's next? >> the invention that of the plant of the wagons.
the locomotive. >> let's go see it. so, richard, another one of the 101 objects right here. what are we looking at? >> well, this is the john bole steam locomotive. peter, when we see this right now today standing here in 2013, this does not look massive. if it was 1831, you'd look at this saying you'd never seen anything like this. this is a massive powerful machine. this is a steam locomotive. now, it was made in great britain because americans did not know how to make locomotives. we had the dream of making a steam engine to propel something. they went up the hudson river. we knew about steam engines, but the idea of achieving quick, efficient, major use of technology to move goods and people around the country was
just a dream. >> there's a fellow in new jersey with the idea, let me get a locomotive. the brits making locomotives, getting one there there, and this came in pieces to new jersey in 1831, and it was put together by a a crew of guys who had never seen a locomotive, just imagine getting this in pieces and put it together. they experimented, track was laid in new jersey, and the idea was do connect new york and philadelphia, the two biggest cities in the young united states. you had to do it in new jersey because the tariffs and taxes such. it went from south new jersey opposite new york to camden, opposite philadelphia. when they laid the track, they did it in a hurry because they needed to make money. they needed to make business. when they laid the track, they did it in a hurry, and so the americans found the train was
derailing, and so they had to invent o pertinent to the locomotive, and that's out front and guide wheels, and that's really an american invention. now, what we have at the smithsonian is first counts of -- firsthand accounts of what it was like to ride on the train in 1831. there's american sculptures, and we have the letters in the archives of american art, writing to his wife, drawing the train, writing to her, you cannot believe the belting smoke, the power of this. i'm getting a headache just listening to it, and then it started up, and we were off like a shot. going 15 miles per hour. you get this sense of the power and the excitement this steam loke moative brought. this is the first commercial venture with the railroads, led to the railroads spreading across the country, and you
needed an iron and steel industry to support it, and, of course, we know trains really opened up the whole u.s. from the settlement and built the commercial system upon which the u.s. depended for most itself life. >> richard, the one we look at, is this the original from 1831? >> it's the original, from 1831. at the smithsonian, we sometimes have fun with things. now, curators and scholars study this, and they understand what were the principles involved, and how did this evolve, and how did it get built, but the 150th anniversary of the john bole, our curators took this out of the museum, put it on tracks, in georgetown near the canal, fired up, stoked up the engine here, it worked, and they took off and rode the train 150 years later. it still works. >> let's continue our tour. >> okay.
richard, where are we now? >> one of the storerooms at the smithsonian in the national museum of american history. >> in 101 objects, 24 is one of the objects. what are we looking at? >> i love it. this is rca tv from 1939, the tra12. i don't know about you, peter, you may be younger than me, but growing up in the 1950s, was the center of the living room. this was new technology. this was bringing the world into our home. this is an earlier model from 1939 #. it premiered at the world fair in new york. these television sets, as you see, you didn't watch the tube. the tube was in the machine, in the casing, and you projected up and watched the mirror.
that's how you saw tv. as franklin roosevelt was on tv at that time in 1939, rca and nbc broadcast baseball games. you can only imagine what they looked like on this. it was perfected technology as i knew in the 50s, and, of course, we know now with wide screen tvs, but you can see the case. this is an art decco-type design. he designed all sorts of thicks, lunch counters, restaurants in new york, art decco was very big in the 1930s, 1940s. had a short wave radio in it, had various controls, and now here you're seeing this model at the smithsonian that we acquired later from an rca executive who owned this in the 1930s.
there's -- up fortunately, it does not work today. >> 5,000 built? >> not many. there was a little watch. they went for, at the time, 600 bucks a piece. in the 1930s, that was a lot of money. very few people could afford it. you had television broadcast in new york and then los angeles, and in world war ii, you had six or seven cities doing television. again, very, very limited. television does not take off until the late 1940s after world war ii, in the 1950s when my parents watched milton and captain kangaroo and this was the beginning, though, this was the beginning of a worldwide phenomena that brought people in the united states closer together who gave them a plan on what was happening. >> radio comes in.
radio in the 1920s, and radio really takes off amazingly, tens of thousands of radios because remember with radio, people bought them on installment plans and all things. that was popular, also, about this time, remember when franklin roosevelt comes in as president and starts the fireside chats with microphones that we also have in the smithsonian. i mean, the american people are living to that, and they said the president came into our living room. >> has this been on display? >> yes. most recently, we did an exhibit on 1939, so many things happening in the late 30s. i'm fond of, again, given the world fairs, the wizard of oz, come out, superman comics, and this television set was on display. >> something else you wanted to show us back here that displayed
in your book, the smithsonian history of american objects. this jacket. >> yes. this is a very poignant gadget. it's -- this was the union jacket of chavez who led the movement, a movement for social and economic justice in our country in the 1960s and in the 19 70s. he was a farm worker putting together that union was a tremendous task and difficult one in the country. many remember the grape boy talks with farm workers who were working for really under minimum wage and working a very tough life. the the living conditions were poor, lack of sanitation of running water, hours long, pais was poor, and there were no benefits, and so chavez had to
organize farm worm workers across the state in california, largely, and reached out to other states as well so that those workers would be treated with justice and dignity. >> and richard, another item associated with chavez that you have here at the museum. >> well, one of the things that chavez was doing an advocating for the rights of farm workers was dealing with their living and working conditions. this is known as the shorthand led hoe, used by farm workers to tend the fields. you know, they use this from morning to dusk. you can see it's very short. peter, if you and i hold back at home, we have a long hoe, and prevents back ware, but use this, you kneel down close to the ground. it's back breaking work. the other thing was if you have a number of farm workers in the field, the supervisor, it enabled you to see whether people were working or not because if people were standing
up, that means they were not pending those grapes or crops. based on union efforts, this hoe was, there's especially poignant because it was owned by the chavez family. this is a hoe, whose dad rntion himself, likely used in terms of its own efforts. >> why did you choose the jacket and this 1939 tv to be included in the book? >> well, i chose them among 99 other things and 137.9 million things that i didn't choose from the collection. i wanted to give a panfully -- a sense of the sweep of american history and our different themes. television represents
technology, married with popular culture that reached americans, but part of our national heritage has been the fight for civil rights for the very beginning and human rights. look, we had our war, revolutionary war. we have the right over our own destiny. we've had various movements in terms of abolition, slavery, about voting rights of people for women, for others, and civil rights in the 196 # 0s. i think he remits the rights of the people, the poorest among us who work for a living, and deserve a measure of human dignity any. >> richard, let's see other exicts. >> sounds good.
everything we are seeing available online? >> yes, it is. and with a we're doing now is trying to actually double down on the earths by making it so, r on display. we are trying do 3 3-d imaging. smith san. hea work but i think we'll be but marvelous for teachers across the country to bring theteachs c treasures of the smithsonian of american history. >> well, this is the -- this is the greensboro lunch counter from north carolina. which four students sat down on february 1st, 1960, and they sat
down to sit down for their rights. they wanted to be served. the counter we have is just a section of it. it's an eight foot section. >> all original? >> all original. the counter actually sat about 16 people, and so when woolworth was closing up, they knew we were interested in the counter. for them, it was a lunch counter. for us, it was an artifact of american history, a poignant one at that. when they closed up, they got in touch with us, very accommodating, and they let us take a section of the lunch counter. we also took some pertinences of the behind the counter, and we are really document the time. now, understand, at that time in 1960 in greensboro, north carolina, african-americans could come in, buy at the woolworth, they could take takeout, get a takeout meal, but they could not sit down, and
these students, again, it was a time of some moments, but, again, the beginning of the civil rights movement in the country, and they felt -- used to being treated at other places where they were not facing jim crow segregation, and so they talked amongst themselves and decided to do this. they came in late that day, the first day, on february 1st, sat down, of course, they were denied service. they went back them. woolworth's closed. the next day, more students came, and over the ensuing days, females came as well as males, blacks as well as whites came, and soon you had pretty much a full sit-in. this is what really gives us the term, and people were advocating for rights to be served. well, it took months to be resolved. the elders in the african-american community had really not seen or taken that type of action before. i think they were inspired over
time by the youth who really were faced with the gross injustice. by the summer time, dwight eisenhower was president, weighed in, and said, yes, should be served. people weighed in, and woolworth realized in light of boycotts and other department stores, similar department stores facing similar boycotts through the south. they felt it was time to integrate the lunch counter, and so on the first day they opened up, they served the african-american employees, woolworth employees, and the next day, they opened up to the public. that's where students began, i think, a movement, and they began a pursuit of justice that actually was literal. >> all that is documented in richard's book, "the smithsonian history of america in 101 octobers". february 1st, 1960, this is occurring, at what point did the
smithsonian contact woolworth saying we are interested? >> i think this was the chief curator at the smithsonian american history museum, loneny bunch, and i don't know exactly when he first contacted woolworth. i believe we got this in the 1990s when woolworth was going out of business. what we do in order to capture the time every day at the smithsonian, several times during the day, we actually staged sit-ins at the counter, and we engaged the public, have people of our staff who try to describe the context of what it means not to be served. what it was like at that time, and i had the good forkhan. we did a program on the 50th anniversary of the lunch counter, lee living members of the initial four, and look at the counter in the museum. >> when people see this, what's reaction? >> well, i think, you know, many of our youths don't get it now.
i mean, many people have grown up. my daughter's grew up in a time where they can't fathom people are treated like that. it's a good reminder. now, i think those of us who are older remember times and remember the images, maybe people were involved in one way or another, and you get a sense of what people struggled forment i think it's important, just like reminding people of what it was like to be george washington and benjamin franklin and fight for the rights of the nation. it's repeatedly important we let people know about injustices of our country, the struggles, and our ability to overcome them. it's a better country. >> speaking of george washington, another object in the book you want to show us. >> absolutely. >> what are we going to see? >> we're going to see george washington's uniform. >> one of the displays at the smithsonian museum of american history was the price of freedom, americans at war,
several items in this exhibit are featured in richard's book, "the smithsonian's history of america in 101 objects," and how did you decide which objects from americans at war to put in your book? >> well, i knew i needed a cover of a major war, a major conflict that absorbed the country. certainly, the american revolution giving our country independence from britain, the civil war that we're marking at this period, 150 years after the civil war, which had a great consequence in terms of our country. from the different wars, you pick those objects, really resinated with the experience, the soldiers, the popular leaders to help explain why we fought that conquest, what it was about, and how we digested it and processed that. >> well, what are we looking at
now? >> well, here we have a uniform of george washington. this is, of course, before he was president. he was, you know, george washington was in the virginia militia, a british officer, serving at the front, and in the 1750s, 1760s, george washington, and there were models of british soldiers, and washington then, of course, became one of the leaders of the freedom movement, the revolution, and he was picked to command the continue thenal army in 1775. that is the year before we had the declaration of independence. we were already at war with the british, and we were fighting our revolutionary war. washington was very attuned to
the dignity that americans projected in terms of concept of liberty and independence they had. they wanted to do it in a dignified way that reflected what he thought was the bearing of americans. he looked at the american troops, american officers, and he didn't want them to be a rag tag bunch of revolutionaries, but show the british these americans, even though they live on the frontier, live on the edge of british power, nevertheless have bearing, dignity, and standing and are capable of fighting against the british as a worthy opponent. he personally designed the uniforms. he did it in such a way, writes about it, he ordered cloth from london from the uniform of officers to look a certain way, and, of course, washington was tall, had a wonderful bearing,
and they helped reflect that standing. a lot of thought went into the buttons, the brichs, and the coat, and that he used these colors and design well into the civil war, so it was a popular use. now, washington, in terms of doing this, this particular uniform comes to us in different pieces. washington did not wear the ensemble that was being here, but they come from different times in the military career, but he dawned the uniform again as president, and he would do review as, you know, the commander in chief to review the troops, and he wore this ensemble. >> one other thing you want to show us from one of the lesser known conflicts. >> yes. >> what is that? >> well, that is the bugle from the u.s -- uss main. >> what made you choose the bugle to the uss maine to
include in the book? >> well, many people do not now know about the spanish american war of 1898, but it was important in terms of american foreign policy. at that time, america was exercising its muscle, and it was getting used to being a world power or aspiring to be a world power. it was looking for an empire, looking for colonies, looking for competing against the european powers to show we, too, americans, were a force in the world. the -- there was a revolution going on in cuba, the cubans were fighting the spanish for independence, and there were people pro and con, and americans liked the fact there was a revolution going on because they didn't -- they wanted spain out of america, and we thought we had a lot of investment in cuba, wanted to trade with cuba, and we sort of would be good if cuba was more open to u.s. influence and
exchange. there was pro-spanish riots in havana, in january, and so teddy roosevelt and others sent the uss maine to havana harbor in february, and the idea was the show the spanish sthorts in cuba that america was intent on at least helping these revolutionaryies overthrow the government. maine was in havana harbor, and then it was in a big explosion. the bugle is poignant because the captain of the maine, fikse, was writing a letter to his wife, and he heard back that night, 9:30 at night, he heard the bugler sound taps, which in any military outpost, you know, is a sign of, well, there's a peaceful and soothing quality to it. he heard taps, and then just
after that, the maine exploded. most of the men on the maine were killed. over 215 men killed that night in that explosion. he described it as calamitous noise and black smoke and really chaos aboard the maine. the maine went down in havana harbor, and we went to war in april of 18898 with spain and won puerto rico, philippines, had control over cuba and so on. the navy established items for next year, and then in 1910, brought up the maine, started to bring up the maine, and in 1912 after taking off all the items, and, certainly, all the sailors that were still on it, then
towed it out, and sunk it in a solemn ceremony. a number of the things came to the smithsonian, and it was put next to george washington, regarded at that time in the early 1900s as a great cymbal of the american nation, and, of course, remember at the time, well, remember the maine was the saying, and so it really precipitated the war. the bugle is a lovely artifact because enresistented. this was at the bottom of the harbor, and it almost looks like, i don't know, something you might dredge up, and sometimes in the imagination, it looks like a type of art work or something, but, really, this is a piece of history. this is a piece of history. with that bugle call, those taps playing, and a war soon, this really takes you right there to that night.
>> 101 octobers in american history, the book available here in the gift shop, amazon, bookstores. tie the abouts together for us. >> well, i was trying to create a narrative of american history, something that would provide any american a way in. you don't have to be a ph.d. in history to understand history. you can be a newcomer too, but i try to tell stories about these objects. i think objects are accessible to us, and you look at an object, say, why was that made? who made it? why did they wear it? why did they use it? how did they come to the smithsonian, why is in it in a case and regarded as important? i think the object is a wonderful and easy way to get to history and understanding it. i try to create a necklace of objects in the smithsonian so people use the book as a tour of the smithsonian and get a sense who we were as americans.
>> 101 octobers, name of the book, under secretary of the smithsonian, richard, is the author, and proceeds? >> proceeds go to the smithsonian, so we're grateful, grateful to the american people for their support of the museums every day, and this book helps us out. >> what's it cost to come into the museum? >> nothing. it costs -- the american people have maintained the smithsonian. it was a gift from an englishman, a great agent of philanthropy, and they believe that he wrote the will in 1826. they believed that the american people in combining a democratic spirit with the idea pursuing knowledge and distributing knowledge among its people, that that was a great recipe for a ro