The new issue of Smithsonian magazine has a report entitled, 101 Objects That Made America. The Smithsonian has also published a book by Richard Kurin, The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects.
How can a nation that spans a continent and beyond, that reaches into four centuries, and that has embraced peoples from all corners of the globe be defined by 101 objects?
Yet read this issue and consider at the objects the Smithsonian has chosen. Perusing this list of objects and reading their stories is a lesson for each of us. From the Star Spangled Banner to Neil Armstrong’s space suit, our past is here. And if our past is here, then so is our present and our future.
For me, some of the most poignant objects were those with a relationship to the American West. The American buffalo. Lewis & Clark’s compass. A gold nugget. George Catlin’s paintings. I think of the stories behind each of those items, and how they relate to the writing I do.
But others will find their own histories and concerns told in these 101 objects: From Thomas Jefferson’s desk to Sandra Day O’Connor’s judicial robe, from the Colt revolver to Enola Gay, from the light bulb to the Eniac computer, these objects reveal our political, social and technological history and diversity. What stories do you tell yourself about the objects in the list?
Each of us could quibble with something missing from the 101 objects. But this list provides everyone an opportunity to reflect on our history and our beliefs, on which objects we are proud of and on those we think shameful. Most of the objects will speak to every American in one way or another.
Which of these 101 objects brings a personal story to your mind? And what objects do you think might define our next 200 years?