Smithsonian Unveils New 'American Stories' Exhibit | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

WAMU 88.5 : Morning Edition

Filed Under:

Smithsonian Unveils New 'American Stories' Exhibit

Play associated audio
A jar made by a former slave in South Carolina serves as part of the section on slavery in the new "American Stories" exhibit at the National Museum of American History.
Courtesy of National Museum of American History
A jar made by a former slave in South Carolina serves as part of the section on slavery in the new "American Stories" exhibit at the National Museum of American History.

A new exhibit called American Stories officially opens today at the National Museum of American History. The exhibit aims to provide a chronological overview of American history using objects and stories that from the museum's existing collections, according to Bill Yeingst.

In one case near the beginning of that chronology is a big piece of granite inside a plexiglass case. It's a piece of Plymouth Rock, the Massachusetts site said to be the site of the Pilgrims' landing. 

Whether or not they landed right there is still in question, however. "There's no record until 1700s of the rock when it became a symbol of American independence," says exhibit curator Bonnie Lillianfeld. 

Near the rock is a shell necklace made of wampum, shell beads that were used as currency by Native Americans an settlers alike. "It allows us to tell a complex story of the interactions between the Native Americans and the settlers who came here," Lillianfeld says.

Other areas of the exhibit, including a ship manifest from 1833, call up more painful chapters in U.S. history. The manifest, which is on a scroll that's about 2.5 feet long, includes the names of slaves listed among the ship's cargo.   

"This is an amazing survival," Yeingst says. "What's remarkable is that it lists 83 enslaved individuals by name and description. They were a cargo being shipped from Alexandria, Virginia down to the deep south." 

Another remembrance of U.S. slavery lies nearby, with an enormous earthenware jar signed "David Drake." 

Explains Lillianfeld: "It's a magnificent piece, one of our treasures. It records the life of one specific slave, David Drake, who worked as a potter in Edgefield, S.C. before the Civil War.

"He was amazingly allowed to sign and date most of his wares, on some he even wrote original two-line couplets," continues Lillianfeld. "This one says, "I made this jar, all of cross, if you don't repent, you will be lost." 

The exhibit opens today and will be on view indefinitely. 

NPR

David Fincher Talks 'Gone Girl,' Avoids Spoilers (Hooray!)

The director, whose previous work includes Fight Club and The Social Network, talks to NPR's Audie Cornish about the challenges of taking Gillian Flynn's intimate drama from the page to the screen.
NPR

From Kale To Pale Ale, A Love Of Bitter May Be In Your Genes

Researchers have found a gene that affects how strongly you experience bitter flavors. And those who aren't as sensitive eat about 200 more servings of vegetables per year.
NPR

Top Spending PAC Aims To Keep The Senate In Democratic Hands

Senate Majority PAC, run by allies of Senate Majority Leader Reid, is the top-spending superPAC in the midterm election season. Its donors are essentially a compilation of the party's big-donor base.
NPR

Tech Firms Chip Away At Credit Cards' Share Of Transactions

Companies including PayPal and Apple are competing to convince merchants and consumers to use their swipe-and-go mobile payment systems. Credit card breaches may speed up the use of digital wallets.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.