A magnificent new history of America told through 101 treasures from the Smithsonian’s collections. The Deluxe Edition features eight videos that go behind the scenes at the Smithsonian for a closer look at some of the book’s most important objects, hosted by author and curator Richard Kurin.
The Smithsonian Institution is America’s largest and most cherished repository for the objects that define our common heritage. Richard Kurin, its Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, has for decades served as a driving force in the effort of our national museums to tell America’s whole story. This book is the culmination of a broad effort, led by Kurin and involving all the Smithsonian’s museums and more than a hundred of its top scholars and curators, to select a set of objects that could collectively represent the American experience. Strong deliberation honed literally millions of possibilities down to a careful selection of 101 remarkable objects that do justice to the history of our bountiful land and its people.
That history begins with remains from the earliest years of the pre-Columbian continent and relics of the American Revolution and Civil War. It includes the inventions of the industrial revolution, artifacts of the Depression, World War II and cold war eras; icons of pop culture and of the Civil Rights movements as well as the objects that now symbolize the digital age and the first years of the new millennium. Each entry pairs the fascinating history of each object with the place it has come to occupy in our national memory. Kurin sheds new light on familiar objects like the Star-Spangled Banner and Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, Dorothy’s ruby slippers and Julia Child’s kitchen, the giant pandas and the space shuttle Discovery, including the often astonishing tales of how each made its way into the Smithsonian. Other objects, like the suffragists’ “Great Demand” banner and the Tuskegee flyer, will be eye-opening new discoveries for many, but no less evocative of the most poignant and important moments of American history. Others, like Sitting Bull’s ledger, Cesar Chavez’s union jacket, and the Enola Gay bomber, illustrate difficult chapters in the nation’s history. Kurin also includes behind-the-scenes insight into controversies arising from their exhibition at the Smithsonian. In Kurin’s hands these marvelous objects come to vivid life, awakening a deep and tactile connection with our nation’s history.
A beautiful treasure in its own right, The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects is an incomparable journey through America’s collective memory, and a celebration of the resilient power of objects to illustrate who we are as a people.
“Kurin [has] done a masterful job. Even… well-known items have surprising and significant back stories. Unexpected selections… make the book even more engrossing, and… can make for some emotional reading. Kurin does a terrific job of expanding upon the story of each object, whether it’s a pair of slave shackles or a damaged door from one of the New York City fire trucks that responded to 9/11. This humanistic approach to storytelling makes for immersive, addictive reading.”
“Smithsonian Undersecretary Kurin’s tales are abundant, so much so that it seems almost a shame to stop at a mere 101 items….A well-conceived and well-illustrated pleasure to read, combining narrative history and keepsake volume.”
“A guide like this is all the more useful since such a small percentage of the Smithsonian’s holdings can ever be on exhibit. The book is much more descriptive than analytical, as Kurin sets each object, beautifully photographed, in its historical and institutional context.”