Smithsonian Magazine

Smithsonian Magazine April 2019

Smithsonian Magazine takes you on a journey through history, science, world culture and technology with breathtaking images from around the world.

United States
Smithsonian Institute
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$5.61(Incl. tax)
$28.11(Incl. tax)
11 Issues

in this issue

3 min.

James L. Swanson & Erica Munkwitz James L. Swanson (“Dinner With the Emperor,” p. 24) has written books about the last days of Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Erica Munkwitz is a historian specializing in modern British and European history who lectures at American University. Given those backgrounds, it’s no wonder they’re both fascinated by Napoleon’s final years. But it’s extraordinary that they would travel thousands of miles to experience St. Helena firsthand and, while there, become engaged to be married—a proposal and acceptance witnessed by an ancient tortoise named Jonathan. Pierre-Elie de Pibrac The French photographer, who has undertaken projects in New York, Cuba and Myanmar, didn’t have to go far for his first Smithsonian assignment, “Haunted by History” (p. 46). He stayed in his native city…

3 min.

FROM THE EDITORS IN HONOR OF the Smithsonian Institution’s new American Women’s History Initiative, our March issue showcased women’s achievements. “Written Out of History” showed that education standards throughout the nation require students to learn about significantly fewer women than men. “It’s way past time for schools to reinforce the intelligence, talents and independence of females in this country,” Lois Ford Coleman said on Facebook. “Until society and our leaders acknowledge and accept that women are equal in all areas, we will continue to struggle to prove our value.” Others wished the magazine had gone even further: “I enjoyed the focus on important and interesting women in history, as well as the discussions of gender inequality in research and publishing,” wrote Marlowe Daly-Galeano of Lewiston, Idaho. “I just wish you had…

4 min.
lawn and order

IN LITTLE TAYLOR, MISSISSIPPI, outside Oxford, a developer named Campbell McCool is building Plein Air, a 64-acre community that, in time, will include 200 wood-frame residences. Each house is advertised as traditionally Southern, most featuring wide front porches you can imagine sipping lemonade on. They have all the modern amenities a home buyer could desire, but if a customer wants a fence—and about a third do—it must be of white wooden pickets 40 inches high. Scratch-built and painted, that fence costs about $2,500, which buys not only a practical enclosure but a complicated piece of the American Dream. Plein Air is a familiar vision of suburbia, one we’ve seen in countless movies, advertisements and television shows for more than half a century. But while the pickets remained a constant, our attitudes…

2 min.
going to seed

1800 1868 Frederick Law Olmsted designs the nation’s first planned suburb, Riverside, Illinois, with an unusual amenity: a lawn in front of each house. 1871 Joseph Lessler of Buffalo, New York, receives the first U.S. patent for a lawn sprinkler. His invention includes a small figurine of a man, which held the sprinkler hose. 1900 1918 Lawns lose ground to veggies as an estimated 5.2 million homes plant “victory gardens” to support the war effort. 1928 “Know-how is a prime ingredient of a good lawn,” declares the first issue of Lawn Care magazine, produced by O.M. Scott & Sons Company (now Scotts Miracle-Gro). The publication has more than four million subscribers by 1961. 1945 DDT—“the wonder insecticide” of the war—becomes commercially available. More than 1.3 billion pounds will be applied to lawns and crops to control grubs and other pests before…

1 min.
conjuring history

DURING THE DEPRESSION, the Works Progress Administration hired unemployed writers to gather oral histories from people born into slavery more than seven decades earlier. Now, those gripping accounts of suffering and survival have inspired Daesha Devón Harris’ bold series exploring exodus and redemption. To create her richly layered works, Harris gathers antique portraits from flea markets, makes transparent versions of them, and photographs the transparencies floating in a river or lake, a reference to both baptism and the waters that enslaved people crossed to find freedom. The photos are then paired with found objects and sealed under glass etched with text by Harlem Renaissance figures. The series’s title, Just Beyond the River, comes from a hymn popular in black churches, like the one Harris’ family has attended for generations in…

11 min.
the myth of fingerprints

AT 9:00 A.M. last December 14, a man in Orange County, California, discovered he’d been robbed. Someone had swiped his Volkswagen Golf, his MacBook Air and some headphones. The police arrived and did something that is increasingly a part of everyday crime fighting: They swabbed the crime scene for DNA. Normally, you might think of DNA as the province solely of high-profile crimes—like murder investigations, where a single hair or drop of blood cracks a devilish case. Nope: These days, even local cops are wielding it to solve ho-hum burglaries. The police sent the swabs to the county crime lab and ran them through a beige, photocopier-size “rapid DNA” machine, a relatively inexpensive piece of equipment affordable even by smaller police forces. Within minutes, it produced a match to a local…