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Smithsonian MagazineSmithsonian Magazine

Smithsonian Magazine December 2018

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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11 Issues


3 min.
from the editors

AS IT HAPPENED, our November issue, which contained a package of stories about the Holocaust, “The Unforgotten,” was published just days before the killings at the Pittsburgh synagogue, said to be the deadliest attack against Jews on U.S. soil. “I can’t believe there could be a more timely read,” the Rev. Karl Giese of New Mexico wrote of “Hear, O Israel, Save Us,” the extraordinary diary by the Polish teenager Renia Spiegel, killed in 1942. “Renia will inhabit my mind for days to come,” Laura Keown said. “Thank you for not mincing words,” Donna Apidone of Sacramento said of the package, which included Dara Horn’s piercing essay about Anne Frank and anti-Semitism. Readers were also struck by the recent eyewitnesses to genocide described in “World, Wake Up!” John Thomas-Squire said,…

3 min.

Brittany Spanos As a kid, Spanos loved to read about her favorite bands, like Green Day and Nirvana. The young fan wanted to know everything about them, from what they were inspired by to what they were listening to. Seeing the film Almost Famous in middle school cemented her dream of being a music journalist. Today, Spanos is a staff writer at Rolling Stone. For our American Ingenuity issue, she profiled “one of the greatest artists of our generation,” Janelle Monáe (p. 42). Spanos says, “She’s found some of the smartest ways to combine activism and personal values with her art while also making really easily consumable pop music.” Jeffery Salter A former photographer for the New York Times, Salter has covered several conflicts abroad. The essential part of documenting survivors of painful…

4 min.
flake news

SHEDD, OREGON. December 25, 1948. “Dear Friends,” wrote Marie Bussard, a homesick mother of three. “Now that Christmas is here again … we find that there is too much news to fit into a note on each card. We have borrowed this idea of a Christmas News Letter from our friends the Chambers and the Danns.” So they’re the ones to blame. Without realizing it, Bussard was among the pioneers of a new practice that spread across the postwar landscape in the 1950s and ’60s, as more people moved away from their hometowns. A year-end ritual we have learned to love and hate simultaneously, the holiday newsletter has always been Americanish—efficient, egalitarian and increasingly secular. It got a big boost in the 1960s when photocopiers made rapid reproduction widely available (as long…

2 min.
frosty’s family tree

c. 7th century Giving new meaning to “winter wonderland,” one of the first known references to snow art appears in a Chinese monastic guide, the Fengdoa Kejie. It says that religious images may be “shaped in piled-up snow.” 1494 Snow sculpture gets its Michelangelo—literally. “One winter, when a great deal of snow fell in Florence,” Giorgio Vasari wrote, Michelangelo created “a statue of snow, which was very beautiful,” in Piero de’ Medici’s courtyard. 1500 1511 Residents of Brussels till the streets with satiric and sometimes lewd) snow sculptures of the ruling class. Icy forms of activism are still with us. After the violent Unite the Right rally in 2017, a bighearted snowman named Snooki became an anti-hate symbol in Catonsville, Maryland. 1600 1690 The first known snowmen in the Colonies are built to stand guard at the gates of…

1 min.
the other o’keeffe

SUE CANTERBURY, a curator at the Dallas Museum of Art, was visiting a collector when she noticed a dramatic painting of a lighthouse. The brushwork seemed familiar, yet the composition was wholly original. “I’m standing across the room thinking, ‘Who is that?’” It was Ida O’Keeffe (1889-1961), once considered by her family to be more talented than her eldest sister, Georgia, one of the biggest names in 20th-century art. Ida reportedly grumbled that she’d be famous, too, if she had a Stieglitz. Alfred Stieglitz, the legendary photographer, was Georgia’s husband, patron and gallerist. Ida, by contrast, supported herself as a nurse and teacher, painting about 70 known canvases in her life. Canterbury’s rediscovery led to an extensive hunt for Ida’s work and a major exhibition that raises tantalizing questions about…

10 min.
hitting the panic buttons

THIS SUMMER, a British firm that processes divorce filings discovered a startling fact. Of the 4,665 petitions for divorce they’d received in 2018, two hundred of them claimed the marriage had been destroyed because one of the partners had become addicted to video games like Fortnite. Or to put it another way, Fortnite and its ilk were responsible for fully 5 percent of all divorces the firm was seeing. Fortnite, for those who haven’t heard the news, is the wildly popular game du jour. Launched in 2017, by this summer it had already amassed 125 million users, all of whom love its most popular mode: You play as one of 100 combatants dropped on a bucolic island, where you scavenge for weapons and try to kill the others before they kill…