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Smithsonian Magazine

Smithsonian Magazine June 2019

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

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United States
Smithsonian Institute
11 Issues

in this issue

3 min.
from the editors

OUR COVER STORY in May upended conventional wisdom on Neanderthals, whom our species has looked down upon for centuries. Kelsie Spears Johnson welcomed new research that is revealing “they had a lot more to offer than we realized. I’m so excited to see more information pushing against those Neanderthal norms!” Diane Alexander of Buena Vista, California, called the piece “eye-opening,” noting that it “prompted me to think of just how ancient the us-versus-them mentality is that it still exists on our planet. Why must we be so judgmental and disdainful toward people who aren’t exactly like ourselves?” Terry Phelan disagreed with our Prologue graphic on recreating a ninth-century monastery, which noted that the church towers had no practical purpose: “In an era before road maps, highways and GPS, those towers…

4 min.
unnatural wonder

NIAGARA FALLS HAS seen plenty of dramatic stunts over the centuries, ever since a local hotel owner sent a condemned ship with a “cargo of ferocious animals” over the falls in 1827. (Only the goose survived the plunge.) But no feat has attracted more visitors than a scientific survey conducted in 1969. That year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers turned off American Falls. The engineers wanted to find a way to remove the unseemly boulders that had piled up at its base since 1931, cutting the height of the falls in half. But the study itself proved more appealing than any improvement they could recommend. The first weekend after the “dewatering,” about 100,000 people showed up to see this natural wonder without its liquid veil. The performance will have an…

1 min.
cataract surgery


1 min.
pride and prejudice

IT BEGAN AS just another Friday night at the Stonewall Inn, a popular New York gay bar. The raid by the NYPD Public Morals Squad in the early hours of June 28, 1969, would have been routine, too—except this time, tired of harassment, the bar’s patrons fought back. The unplanned uprising launched the gay rights movement, but 50 years later, “Stonewall is one of those events that’s both remembered and misremembered,” says Carmen Hermo, co-curator of “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow” at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition looks at Stonewall’s legacy through the work of LGBTQ artists born after 1969. From reverent tributes to that night’s forgotten trans heroines to posters parodying the prejudice that sexual and gender minorities still face, these artists pick at the threads of an unfinished historical…

9 min.
the first computers were human

TRACY CHOU IS A 31-YEAR-OLD programmer—and “an absolute rock star,” as her former boss Ben Silbermann, the CEO and co-founder of Pinterest, once gushed to me. She’s a veteran of some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names. She interned at Google and Facebook, then was an early hire at the question-answering site Quora, where she coded key early features, like its ranking algorithm and its weekly emailer software. At Pinterest, she helped overhaul the entire code base, making the service speedier and more reliable. These days, she’s the founder of Block Party, a start-up making tools to help social-media users deal with harassment. Yet for all her street cred, Chou still finds herself grappling with one of the biggest problems in the industry: Female programmers are regarded skeptically, and sometimes even treated with…

2 min.
number crunchers

C. 300 B.C.: COUNTING BOARD Greek market vendors recorded sales by placing pebbles between lines in the sand; one column held ones, another tens and so on. Later versions used beads in grooved trays. C. 1200: ABACUS The first abacus was created centuries earlier, but the Chinese developed the divided counting frame we know today. The Chinese version shown here can handle calculations up to one billion. C. 1400: KHIPU These cords, often made of cotton, were used throughout the Incan Empire. Data such as census figures were encoded in the type, number and location of the knots. (Some believe that khipus were also used to communicate other, nonnumerical information.) C. 1560: SECTOR Credited to several inventors, including Galileo, the sector, or “military compass,” solved geometry and trigonometry problems, such as predicting the trajectory of a cannonball. 1617:…