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Smithsonian Magazine

Smithsonian Magazine November 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

In this issue

3 min.
from the editors

“THE END OF THE LINE,” William T. Vollmann’s epic narrative marking the centennial of the armistice ending World War I drew an epic response from readers. “It only took a handful of covetous men to start, yet many millions suffered and died—only to be repeated two decades later,” Luke Speckman wrote on Facebook. “One of the most senseless, unnecessary wars in history,” Bryan Estell said. “Millions died for nothing.” Though some readers mistook Vollmann’s dark asides on the futility of war as flippancy, most had nothing but praise. “I was awestruck,” wrote Fred Fehlauer of Pensacola, Florida. “He evokes a very personal memory of what it meant to be a participant in this horrendous campaign, and what that means to us today.” As Merrie Sims Longbottom of Arizona put it:…

3 min.

Renia Spiegel “Sometimes I dream about being famous, about reaching great heights and flying across the world, not just in my imagination,” the Polish girl confided to her journal on June 18, 1942—her 18th birthday. One month after writing that entry, she was killed in the street by Nazis. Eight decades later, Spiegel’s perceptive, powerful poetry and prose is published in our pages for the first time in English (p. 46). The intimate words provide a remarkable firsthand account of life during the Holocaust. Her surviving family recently established the Renia Spiegel poetry competition to recognize young Polish-speaking poets. Ackerman + Gruber Tim, the second-half of the award-winning husband-wife photo team, was delighted when they got the assignment to accompany Jeff Mac-Gregor to a symphony in Kansas (p. 22). It was Gruber’s first…

4 min.
political animal

THIS WINTER, IF ALL GOES AS planned, a caravan of livestock trucks will carry dozens of American bison out of Yellowstone National Park on a 500-mile journey into the past. Unlike their ranched cousins, which are mainly the result of 20th-century attempts to cross bison with cattle, the Yellowstone animals are wild and genetically pure, descendants of the original herds that once astonished visitors to the Great Plains and made the bison the symbol of American abundance. Until, that is, rampant hunting made it a symbol of mindless ecological destruction. When the mass slaughter of 30 million or so bison finally ended at the turn of the 20th century, just 23 wild bison remained in Yellowstone, holed up in Pelican Valley. Together with a small number of animals saved by ranchers,…

11 min.
churchill disses america

THE GIFT OF A COMMON tongue is a priceless inheritance and it may well someday become the foundation of a common citizenship,” Winston Churchill prophesied in his famous speech at Harvard University on Monday, September 6, 1943. “I like to think of British and Americans moving about freely over each other’s wide estates with hardly a sense of being foreigners to one another.” His mother having been born in Brooklyn of American parentage, Churchill believed that he personified what he later called the “special relationship” between the United Kingdom and the United States. It was long a theme of his: He had been making speeches on the subject of Anglo-American unity of action since 1900, and in 1932 had signed a contract for his book A History of the English-Speaking…

4 min.
going with the grain

“THE CAVE WAS FILLED WITH RUBBISH AND THE DROPPINGS OF ANIMALS, TO A DEPTH OF 8 FEET.” SOMETIMES IT’S THE LITTLE things that count. Movie archaeologists are often pictured triumphantly extracting precious objects from the earth, instantly solving long-standing mysteries. Think of Indiana Jones’ Cross of Coronado, Staff of Ra and Ark of the Covenant. Real archaeologists mostly find small, almost valueless objects—and won’t know for years, or decades, what mystery they are resolving. Consider this ancient ear of maize, which Walter Hough pulled out of a New Mexico cave more than a century ago. Hough worked at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (the repository of this artifact) from 1886 to 1935. A kindly man with a staticcling memory who hunted arrowheads as a boy in West Virginia, he spent most…

2 min.
the gilded age’s #metoo moment

How was Madeline Pollard’s 1894 court case unusual? Pollard sued Congressman William Breckinridge for breach of promise. Such suits were not uncommon; they were designed to protect the reputation of respectable women. What was revolutionary was that Pollard admitted she was a “fallen” woman. She had been Breckinridge’s longtime mistress, and when his wife died, he did not marry her as he had promised. In those days, if a woman was “fallen,” she was a social pariah. She couldn’t get a respectable job or live in a respectable home. And she could certainly never make a respectable marriage. Why was the 1890s the right time for a lawsuit like this? This was a period when we saw a tremendous influx of women into the workforce, and society needed to rethink men…