Dr. Monique Chism shares the fascinating history of the Smithsonian Institute and why she considers it to be one of the most accessible and relevant museums in the country. She talks about her role as the Undersecretary of Education at the Museum – what she does, the programming she is involved in, some of the fascinating people she gets to meet (she had just Mae Jamison the night before our interview). We talk about the intersection of art an science (which is at the core of the Smithsonian’s history) and the importance of both.
The Smithsonian Institution is made up of 60 museums – not all of them are located in the Washington DC area. It is the largest museum complex in the world. Dr. Chism explains about the educational programming the Smithsonian has (and there is a lot – almost all free!!) and their goal of bringing the Smithsonian to every American. There’s so much great work and programming going on at the Smithsonian, both on site and virtually!
(So, here’s a side note…I love the Smithsonian – I try to visit at least one museum everytime I’m in DC. I thought I knew a lot about it, but I have apparently just scratched the surface. I learned so much about the museum and the institute both by meeting Dr. Chism in person at the Smithsonian Castle where she works – I rarely have gotten to meet my guests in person and through our conversation)
Music used in the podcast: Higher Up, Silverman Sound Studio
Acronyms, Definitions, and Fact Check
Mae Carol Jemison is an American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut. She became the first black woman to travel into space when she served as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. (Wikipedia)
The space shuttle Discovery is the centerpiece of the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.
“The Smithsonian Institution”―When most people hear the name, museums, scientific research, even Dorothy’s ruby slippers and the Wright brothers’ plane come to mind. But many don’t know how, or for that matter, who created the Smithsonian. The Institution is now 169 years old, but its true beginning happened 250 years ago with the birth of a seemingly ill-fated boy named James Smithson. Smithson (c. 1765–1829), the founding donor of the Smithsonian, was an English chemist and mineralogist. He was the illegitimate son of Hugh Smithson, the first Duke of Northumberland, and the wealthy widow Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie. His exact birthday remains a mystery because he was born secretly in Paris, where his mother had gone to hide her pregnancy. He was born James Lewis Macie, but in 1801, after his parents died, he took his father’s last name of Smithson. Toward the end of his life, under a clause in his will, he left his fortune to the United States. It was to be used to found “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge…” in Washington, D.C. and it was to be named the Smithsonian Institution. Smithson died in Genoa, Italy, on June 27, 1829, and was interred nearby. It took nearly a decade for his bequest of more than $500,000 to arrive in America in the form of eleven boxes of gold coins; and with this gift, the building of the Smithsonian Institution began. (https://www.si.edu/stories/james-smithson-scientist-who-started-smithsonian)
Rep My City
The Smithsonian celebrated Women’s History Month in a big, bold way: by displaying 120 life-size, neon-orange statues of female scientists in several locations around the National Mall. The 3-D–printed figures honor a diverse group of women who have excelled in science and technology, from biologists that track endangered species to astronomers searching for extraterrestrial life. The project is a collaboration between the Smithsonian and If/Then, an initiative “designed to activate a culture shift among young girls to open their eyes to STEM careers.” The #IfThenSheCan exhibit will be appear on the National Mall from March 5 to March 27 and will be “the largest collection of statues of women ever assembled together,” according to the event press release. (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/smithsonian-honors-female-scientists-with-120-bright-orange-statues-180979579/)
Prince’s Paisley Park Tours: Paisley Park is Prince’s extraordinary estate and production complex in Chanhassen, MN. Fans have the unprecedented opportunity to experience first-hand what it was like for Prince to create, produce and perform inside this private sanctuary and remarkable production complex.(https://www.paisleypark.com/tickets)