The Smithsonian functions today under the same general principles under which it was founded. The institution arose from a bequest by an Englishman named James Smithson. (About, n.d) Smithson endowed the United States with his fortune to create “under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge…” (About, n.d) The path to what we know now as the Smithsonian Institution was not done in haste. Though Smithson died in 1829, it took until 1836 to get congressional approval for the funds, which would then be appropriated to establish the institution. Just like the present, congress often acted slowly in the nineteenth century and it took ten years for an act to be passed which would lead to the formal formation of the Smithsonian.
The mission of the Smithsonian still stands as the quote from James Smithson that arrived with his endowment, which is as follows, “under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge…” (About, n.d) In the Smithsonian’s more modern attempts to encapsulate their values and goals they have created a vision, values, and priorities, which are shared by all of the Smithsonian museums, research facilities, and cultural centers. In short, these principles are to preserve, encourage, and educate. These values relate not only to the vast collections among the facilities but also the incredibly important research, which is going on throughout the institution.
The National Museum of Natural History, where my internship takes place, became a separate Smithsonian facility in 1910. It now houses some of the largest individual collections in the world and has numerous facilities across the globe conducting research. I work in the collections facility in Suitland, Maryland where a majority of the museums objects live. Although, I work with the anthropology and archaeology collections the facility holds specimens, labs, and objects from the many departments within the Natural History Museum. I often walk by shelves of salamanders suspended in liquid or through rows and rows of mammal bones.
This past week has felt like it was centered on solidifying my daily routine. I’ve gotten my (relative) time frame down for when I should leave the house to arrive at the museum on time. I’ve also become more comfortable with using the metro for activities other than going to and from work. Importantly, I’m starting to feel a greater sense of confidence at my internship. I’m learning a lot more about the inner workings of the collections and the department. I got to go on an informal tour alongside an Artist in Residence at the African Art Museum, as he was using artifacts in the collection particularly those from trade route sites as a part of his studies at the Smithsonian. I got to peer into one of the repatriation collections during the tour, which was an assemblage of unique funerary objects from the Northwest U.S. The items that are awaiting repatriation are of deep importance to the associated groups and are often not visible even to museum staff so I was grateful for the opportunity to view the items. I also had the chance to meet the Director of the Department among other administrators within the museum. It was a great networking opportunity that was spontaneous. I learned that this could happen often and to harness any opportunity to better open myself up when presented with this type of situation.
About the Museum. n.d. Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History. Retrieved June 14, 2017, from https://naturalhistory.si.edu.
Our History. n.d Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved June 14, 2017, from https://www.si.edu/about/history.
Our Mission. n.d Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved June 14, 2017, from https://www.si.edu/about/mission.