Tag Archives: Smithsonian Magazine

The Quest to Protect California’s Transcontinental Railroad Tunnels | Travel | Smithsonian Magazine

Built by Chinese immigrants in the 1860s, the caverns cutting through Donner Summit helped unite the country

By Shoshi Parks, Freelance writer, January 12, 2022

The Donner Summit tunnels and 13 others in the Sierra Nevada built by Chinese railroad workers remain a testament to ingenuity and industry.  Shoshi Parks

A summer hike led me straight to the yawning maw of the Donner Summit tunnels high above Donner Lake in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Not even the longer of the two, a man-made cavern 1,659 feet in length, appeared on my map. There was no historical marker, no plaque, no interpretive signs—no signage of any sort.

I had no way of knowing that I’d accidentally stumbled on one of the most important engineering marvels of the 19th century, the one that united America.

The Sierra Nevada, the 400-mile-long range of granite peaks that form the backbone of California, was the most formidable obstacle in the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.

The only way past them was through. But in the mid-1860s, an era without dynamite or heavy machinery, the task seemed insurmountable. The granite was too hard, the mountains too steep, the 7,042 foot elevation where snow arrived early and stayed late was too treacherous for train travel.

Source: The Quest to Protect California’s Transcontinental Railroad Tunnels | Travel | Smithsonian Magazine

How Memphis Created the Nation’s Most Innovative Public Library | Innovation | Smithsonian Magazine

You can play the ukulele, learn photography or record a song in a top-flight studio. You can also check out a book

By Richard Grant, Photographs by Ariel Cobbert

Cloud901’s maker space is equipped with such high-tech tools as laser cutters and 3-D printers. The workshop is open to all ages, not just teens. Ariel Cobbert

The Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, a building of pale concrete and greenish glass, rises four stories in midtown Memphis. Walking through its automatic doors on a weekday afternoon, I hear unexpected sounds, muffled but unmistakable, almost shocking in a library context: the deep, quaking bass beats of Memphis hip-hop, plus a faint whine of power tools cutting through metal.

It’s difficult to summarize the myriad changes taking place in American public libraries, but one thing is certain. Libraries are no longer hushed repositories of books.

Here at the Central branch in Memphis, ukulele flash mobs materialize and seniors dance the fox trot in upstairs rooms. The library hosts U.S. naturalization ceremonies, job fairs, financial literacy seminars, jazz concerts, cooking classes, film screenings and many other events—more than 7,000 at last count.

You can check out books and movies, to be sure, but also sewing machines, bicycle repair kits and laptop computers. And late fees? A thing of the past.

Source: How Memphis Created the Nation’s Most Innovative Public Library | Innovation | Smithsonian Magazine

Rediscovered Medieval Manuscript Offers New Twist on Arthurian Legend | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine

By Livia Gershon, Daily Correspondent, September 17, 2021

The pages were disposed of as scrap and pasted into an unrelated book.   Don Hooper

Thirteenth-century manuscript fragments discovered by chance at a library in Bristol, England, have revealed an alternative version of the story of Merlin, the famed wizard of Arthurian legend.

A team of scholars translated the writings, known as the Bristol Merlin, from Old French to English and traced the pages’ medieval origins, reports Alison Flood for the Guardian.

The manuscript is part of a group of texts called the Vulgate Cycle, or the Lancelot-Grail Cycle. Using handwriting analysis, the researchers determined that someone in northern or northeastern France wrote the text between 1250 and 1275. That means it was committed to parchment shortly after the Vulgate Cycle was first composed, between 1220 and 1225.

Source: Rediscovered Medieval Manuscript Offers New Twist on Arthurian Legend | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine

Smithsonian Artifacts That Tell the Story of 9/11 | At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian Magazine

From a Pentagon rescuer’s uniform to a Flight 93 crew log, these objects commemorate the 20th anniversary of a national tragedy

By Meilan Solly, SMITHSONIANMAG.COM | Sept. 8, 2021, 8:43 a.m.

Screenshot…

Following the tragedies that took place on September 11, 2001, curators at the Smithsonian Institution recognized the urgency of documenting this unprecedented moment in American history.

After Congress designated the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History as the official repository for all related objects, photographs and documents, staff focused their attention on three areas: the attacks themselves, first responders and recovery efforts.

As time passed, curators expanded their purview to include the nation’s response to the tragedy, recording 9/11’s reverberations across the country. “This effectively put a net over the story, covering what happened on that day, then plus one month, plus one year,” says Cedric Yeh, curator of the museum’s National September 11 Collection.

“But [this net] had a lot of holes. I don’t mean holes in the curators’ work, but [rather], there were areas not covered because it was impossible to cover the entirety of the story.”

Source: Smithsonian Artifacts That Tell the Story of 9/11 | At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian Magazine

Puppies Are Born Ready to Communicate With Humans | Science | Smithsonian Magazine

A new study finds very young dogs with little human contact can understand pointing gestures—and that the ability has a strong genetic basis

By Alex Fox smithsonianmag.com
June 3, 2021

A young puppy responds to a human pointing to a treat during an experiment conducted by scientists at the University of Arizona. (Canine Companions for Independence)

Dog owners might not be too impressed when they’re able to point out a fallen piece of chicken or a thrown stick to their pooch, but dogs’ ability to follow that seemingly simple gesture places them in rare air in the animal kingdom.

Some research suggests that even chimpanzees, our closest evolutionary relatives, don’t understand pointing as well as dogs.

For decades, researchers have debated whether dogs obtain their ability to understand pointing by spending time with humans and learning it or if our furry companions are born with a capacity to comprehend this deceptively complex feat of communication.

Source: Puppies Are Born Ready to Communicate With Humans | Science | Smithsonian Magazine

Why Ecologists Are Haunted by the Rapid Growth of Ghost Forests | Science | Smithsonian Magazine

A study in North Carolina of dying trees may represent a foreboding preview of what
may come to coastal ecosystems worldwide

By Jim Morrison, smithsonianmag.com, May 17, 2021

Google Earth image of a healthy forest on the lower right and a ghost forest full of dead trees on the left. (Emily Ury)

For years, Emily Ury traversed North Carolina’s coastal roads, studying patches of skeletal trees slain by rising seas that scientists call “ghost forests.”

Killed by intruding saltwater along the Atlantic Coast, they are previews of the dire fate other forests face worldwide.

Related Content Haunting ‘Ghost Forest’ Resurrected in New York City

Ury knew that ghost forests were expanding in the region, but only when she began looking down from above using Google Earth did she realize how extensive they were.

“I found so many dead forests,” says Ury, an ecologist at Duke University and co-author of a paper on the rapid deforestation of the North Carolina coast published last month in the journal Ecological Applications. “They were everywhere.”

Source: Why Ecologists Are Haunted by the Rapid Growth of Ghost Forests | Science | Smithsonian Magazine