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The Smithsonian

A Peek Inside The Nation’s Attic

Composed of 19 different museums and even a zoo, the Smithsonian Institution is the largest research and educational complex in the world. Founded in 1846, the Smithsonian was created using the funds from Mr. James Smithson who left his estate to the US government. It was Smithson’s last wish to create “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge”. To this day the Smithsonian Institution holds true to this mission. They are committed to preserving old history, discovering new knowledge, and sharing it with the world.

Smithson was a wealthy Englishman who had travelled the world and amassed a fortune. His entire estate at the time of his death in 1829 was worth roughly 500 thousand American dollars. To put that into perspective, 500 thousand dollars in 1829 was equal to about 1/66th of the entire American federal budget. That amount would translate to billions of dollars of today’s money. Acceptance of the trust was debated by the US government for 8 long years. It was finally approved for the commissioning of the Smithsonian Institution by an Act of Congress and signed into law by President James Polk on August 10, 1846. Today, the Smithsonian holds a massive collection of 140 million objects. Almost anything imaginable can be found somewhere within the walls of its various museums.

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The museum has a set of core values; discovery, creativity, excellence, diversity, integrity, and service. Their goal, according to their strategic plan for the future, is to use the latest technology to digitize their collections and improve the experience of their visitors. The Smithsonian is more than just a collection of museums, exhibits, and research facilities. It is an active exploration into the power of art and design. It is a community of intellectuals dedicated to sharing the thoughts, ideas, and values of different cultures and times. The museum seeks not only to help us understand the history of America and the American experience, but also to understand our place in the world and witness the full range of the human experience. Humanity has a fascinating story to tell, and the Smithsonian Institution strives to document and share as much of that story as they can with the world.

One of the current exhibitions at the Smithsonian features the transformation of American Democracy, entitled “The Great Leap of Faith” which traces the great experiment of American government “of, by, and for the people” back to its very roots in the American Revolution. Other exhibitions take visitors much further from home, such as the African Art Museum which displays traditional as well as modern art from many rich and diverse African cultures. Or explore even further yet at the National Air And Space Museum to discover the history of man’s mission to fly, and eventually, go to space, the moon, and beyond.

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History is more than a collection of art and artifacts. It is the story of human endeavours to push the frontier of the unknown ever further. It is a snapshot of the ideas, struggles, and values of those that came before us. The Smithsonian isn’t just a collection of buildings with countless old items displayed on shelves, it is a record and a statement about who we are, who we were, where we came from, and where the future may take us.

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