ICYMI: Highlights from the week that was Dec. 4 – Dec. 10, 2016

No one can keep up with everything, so let us do it for you. We’ll gather the top Smithsonian stories from across the country and around the world each week so you’ll never be at a loss for conversation around the water cooler.

This week, we learned that outer space may hold the key to life on earth and sadly said goodbye to the first man to venture there.


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Library of Congress and Digital Public Library of America Launch Partnership with Maps

The Library of Congress has joined the Digital Public Library of America as a content hub and is sharing around 5,000 objects from its map collections.

Hyperallergic, Dec. 7

colored overhead view

Panoramic map of the World’s Fair, St Louis (1904) (via Library of Congress Geography and Map Division)

Since its launch in 2013, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) has grown as an online platform connecting thousands of items from libraries, museums, and other institutions across the country. The idea is to make digitized content centrally available to researchers and the greater public, whether it comes from large organizations like the Smithsonian Institution or regional libraries. Read more from Allison Meier for Hyperallergic.

The ‘Harvard Computers’ Who Changed Our Understanding Of The Stars

WBUR-FM Radio Boston

Dec. 6, 2016

Black and white photo of women working at desks

The female “Harvard Computers” at work

In the 1880s, Edward Charles Pickering began collecting what would eventually become the largest archive of celestial glass plates in the world. As the director of the Harvard College Observatory — now the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics — he shipped plates from around the world to advance the study of the stars.

The center now houses a century’s worth of observations, from the mid-1880s to 1989. But even more impressive than the collection itself are the people who were hired to analyze it: the Harvard Computers.

These were dedicated, intelligent women who, crucially, could be paid less than their male counterparts. They spent decades poring over the plates, discovering variable stars, counting galaxies, and developing the star classification scheme that is the basis for the system we still use today. Read more from Alsion Bruzek and Meghna Chakraba for WBUR.

Working to tell story of all Americans, Smithsonian secretary says

USA Today, Dec. 7

Screenshot of David Skorton talking to USA Today editor

David Skorton taks to USA TODAY Editorial Paged Editor Bill Sternberg about the Smithsonian Institution’s future, and desire to highlight contributions of women and Latinos within existing museums. Watch the full interview.

Exhibit illuminates the divine art of the Quran

PBS NewsHour, Dec. 7

A major exhibition on the art of the Quran is being billed as the first of its kind in the U.S. Sixty-eight of the most important and exquisite Qurans ever produced are on view now at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. Jeffrey Brown reports on the vast variety of manuscripts on display and the beauty, history and hard work behind each masterpiece. Read the complete transcript from PBS.

The Best Art of 2016

The New York Times, Dec. 7

The art critics of The New York Times — Holland Cotter and Roberta Smith — share their picks for the best art of the year.

Montage of four photos

Clockwise from top left, the exhibition “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry” at the Met Breuer; “Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Maintenance Art” at the Queens Museum; “Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest” at the New Museum; the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. (Credits: Agaton Strom for The New York Times; Andrea Mohin/The New York Times; Philip Greenberg for The New York Times; Lexey Swall for The New York Times)

Read the entire article.

These 17,000 rocks from the bottom of the world could unlock the secrets of existence

The Washington Post, Dec. 7

Corrigan wearing protective clothing in clean room

Cari Corrigan examines a meteorite in the NMNH clean room. (Gillian Brockell / The Washington Post)

Everything in the lab gleams. There is no smell and no sound but the insectlike whir of the machine that pumps nitrogen gas into the dozen or so glass storage tanks lining the walls. The pressure of the gas inflates the white rubber gloves attached to the tanks and makes them reach, ghostlike, toward the center of the room.

The National Museum of Natural History’s support center in Suitland, Md., contains some of the rarest and most precious objects owned by the American people: 17,000 rocks. They represent the bulk of the nation’s Antarctic meteorite collection, an assortment that includes pieces of other planets, shrapnel from the collisions that shaped the solar system, rubble older than anything on Earth and crystals possibly older than the sun. Read more from Sarah Kaplan for The Washington Post: Speaking of Science.

John Glenn, American Hero of the Space Age, Dies at 95

The New York Times, Dec. 8

John Glenn, a freckle-faced son of Ohio who was hailed as a national hero and a symbol of the space age as the first American to orbit Earth, then became a national political figure for 24 years in the Senate, died on Thursday in Columbus, Ohio. He was 95.

Ohio State University announced his death. Mr. Glenn had recently been hospitalized at the university at the James Cancer Center, though Ohio State officials said at the time that admission there did not necessarily mean he had cancer. He had heart-valve replacement surgery in 2014 and a stroke around that time. Read John Noble Wilford’s obituary for The New York Times.






Posted: 19 December 2016
About the Author:

Alex di Giovanni has been editing The Torch since August 2006. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, she worked as a writer and editor for the National Geographic Society, Plexus Scientific, The Nature Conservancy, The National Foreign Language Center and St. Martin’s Press, among others. She has the best job in the world.