Experiencing America: A Smithsonian Tour through American History
Dr. Richard Kurin is the Smithsonian's Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture. In this position, he oversees most of the Smithsonian's national museums, libraries, and archives, as well as several of its research and outreach programs. Dr. Kurin holds a B.A. in Anthropology and Philosophy from the University at Buffalo-The State University of New York. He earned both his M.A. and his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago.
Dr. Kurin has worked at the Smithsonian for almost four decades, starting with the Bicentennial of the United States in 1976. For decades he directed the Smithsonian's Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, representing the diversity of America's cultural traditions at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall, in Folkways recordings and other publications. He has produced programs on American history and culture for several presidential inaugurations and for the Olympics, as well as the National World War II Reunion for the opening of the World War II Memorial. Before becoming Under Secretary, Dr. Kurin directed the Smithsonian's National Programs, sending exhibitions and educational offerings across the United States. Dr. Kurin has served on the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, and drafted an international treaty on safeguarding the world's living cultural heritage. He represents the Smithsonian on the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, as well as the White House Historical Association. He has been awarded the Smithsonian Secretary's Gold Medal for Exceptional Service and numerous other honors.
Dr. Kurin has taught at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and frequently lectures at The George Washington University, as well as at universities and museums across the country and around the world. He regularly blogs for Smithsonian magazine and Smithsonian Journeys, has given hundreds of speeches, and has appeared on numerous television and radio programs.
Dr. Kurin is the author of scores of scholarly articles and several books, including Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem; Reflections of a Culture Broker: A View from the Smithsonian; and Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Culture of, by, and for the People. His latest book is The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects, a national bestseller that provides the basis for this Great Course
01: Star-Spangled Banner-Inspiring the Anthem
Begin your tour of national treasures from the Smithsonian with the artifact that inspired our national anthem: the flag that flew over Fort McHenry when Francis Scott Key penned "The Star-Spangled Banner." Hear about the battle for the fort and the later history of the flag, including how it was almost "loved to death."
02: Presidents and Generals-Images of Leadership
Learn how some of the country's greatest leaders have seen themselves and been seen by the nation. Inspect Washington's uniform, swords, and portraits. Also look at notable photographs of Lincoln, and trace the history of Eisenhower's distinctive army jacket and his presidential "look."
03: Conscience and Conflict - Religious History
View Smithsonian artifacts that tell the story of the quest for religious freedom in America-from a rare religious portrait from the colonial Southwest, to a chunk of Plymouth Rock, to Thomas Jefferson's unique compilation of the Gospels, to the symbolic sunstone on the original Mormon Temple in Nauvoo, Illinois.
04: The Growth and Spread of Slavery
Starting with a set of slave shackles, chart the history of slavery in the Americas. Discover how the invention of the cotton gin helped expand slave labor. Then follow the story of African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman, as told through some of her treasured personal belongings.
05: Emancipation and the Civil War
Study relics and documents related to the emancipation of slaves during the Civil War era, culminating with General Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Also hear poignant stories told by a selection of artifacts from the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.
06: Gold, Guns, and Grandeur-The West
Hear the tale told by a tiny gold flake, smaller than a fingernail, which launched the California Gold Rush in the late 1840s. Encounter another artifact that had a profound impact on the West: the Colt revolver. And view the West through the eyes of both settlers and natives in the art of Albert Bierstadt and the sketches from Sitting Bull's drawing book.
07: The First Americans-Then and Now
Inspect stone points produced at the end of the last ice age by the Clovis culture of early hunter-gatherers in the Americas. Then probe the mystery of the birdman carving found in an ancient Native American burial mound. See how tribal traditions continue to inspire Indian artists.
08: Planes, Trains, Automobiles ... and Wagons
Examine four key artifacts that tell the story of America on the move: the Conestoga wagon; the John Bull steam locomotive; the Ford Model T; and Charles Lindbergh's airplane, the Spirit of St. Louis. Each represents a technology that profoundly altered the nation.
09: Communications-From Telegraph To Television
Focus on inventions that radically transformed how people communicate, beginning with Samuel Morse's telegraph. Then look at a historic telephone used by Alexander Graham Bell, and listen to one of his early recording disks. Finally, witness the birth of mass media through the inventions of radio and television.
10: Immigrant Dreams and Immigrant Struggles
Investigate objects linked to the experiences of America's immigrants: an original model of the Statue of Liberty, a painting highlighting the injustice of internment for Japanese Americans during World War II, and two artifacts connected to Caesar Chavez and his battle for the rights of Mexican-American farm workers.
11: User Friendly-Democratizing Technology
The Singer sewing machine, the Kodak Brownie camera, and the Apple Macintosh computer each exemplify the transformative effects of functionality and good design. View early models of these pioneering inventions, and explore the social revolutions they set in motion.
12: Extinction and Conservation
The Smithsonian's many facilities include the National Zoo and its living collections. Focus on four animals' stories that shed light on extinction and conservation of species in America: Sandy the buffalo, Tioga the bald eagle, Martha the passenger pigeon, and a pair of pandas-Hsing Hsing and Ling Ling.
13: Kitty Hawk to Tranquility-Innovation and Flight
Review the rich tradition of innovation in America. Then zero in on two remarkable achievements: the Wright brothers' airplane and the Apollo flights to the Moon. View an actual astronaut glove worn on Apollo 8, the first mission to orbit the Moon.
14: Cold War-Red Badges, Bombs, and the Berlin Wall
Survey selected Smithsonian artifacts that capture the trajectory of the Cold War-from a 1930s patriotic union badge worn by labor leader John L. Lewis, to the Enola Gay bomber that ended World War II, to a 1950s fallout shelter and a piece of the shattered Berlin Wall.
15: National Tragedy-Maine, Pearl Harbor, 9/11
Nothing speaks more powerfully than an object that has weathered tragedy. Look at simple, eloquent relics from the explosion of USS Maine in 1898, the sinking of USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the destruction of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001.
16: For the Greater Good-Public Health
Guided by key artifacts at the Smithsonian, see how grassroots efforts, social activism, and the care and determination of the American people helped fund a cure for polio, led to birth control for women, and combatted the bias against those with AIDS.
17: Women Making History
Explore the struggle for an inclusive role for women in American society. Chart the history of the women's suffrage movement; witness Helen Keller's miraculous story; follow Amelia Earhart's heartbreaking career in the air; and get a glimpse into Julia Child's life as a television pioneer and cultural icon.
18: The Power of Portraits
Peer into powerful faces from the past, including those of Pocahontas, Frederick Douglass, and the female factory worker apocryphally known as Rosie the Riveter, who appears on an iconic poster from World War II. Also inspect another icon: the signature stovepipe hat worn by Abraham Lincoln.
19: Two Centuries of American Style
Delve into examples of American style, starting with Benjamin Franklin's cane and Andrew Carnegie's innovative New York mansion (now itself a Smithsonian museum). Then view memorabilia from Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, and Louis Armstrong. Close with Jacqueline Kennedy's simple but stunning inaugural gown.
20: Hollywood-The American Myth Machine
The Smithsonian has been farsighted in acquiring artifacts from America's modern myth machine: Hollywood. View some prime specimens-from the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz to the costumes for the robotic sidekicks in Star Wars.
21: The Hope Diamond-America's Crown Jewel
Follow the saga of the Hope Diamond, which has led a storied career since it was mined in India in the 1600s. Learn about its alleged curse and the unusual way it arrived at the Smithsonian in 1958, where it has remained a perennially popular exhibit.
22: Sing Out for Justice-American Music
Americans have always blended politics and song. Trace the rise of three great voices in this tradition: Marian Anderson, Woody Guthrie, and Bob Dylan. Among other touchstones of their era, see the mink coat that Anderson wore at a celebrated concert on the National Mall in 1939.
23: Exploring the Land, Exploring the Universe
Cross the expanse of the continent with Lewis and Clark, then leap into space with the Mercury, Apollo, and Space Shuttle programs. Discover how Smithsonian scientists will continue exploring the limits of the cosmos with the Giant Magellan Telescope.
24: "All Men Are Created Equal"-Civil Rights
Close the course by returning to the Declaration of Independence and its pledge that "all men are created equal." Trace the struggle to realize this promise from the turmoil of Reconstruction to a lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., site of sit-ins during the Civil Rights era, and now on display at-where else?-the Smithsonian.