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Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful

Past and present play parts in this week's edition. You'll find topics ranging from the 19th-century roots of the audiobook to how the Smithsonian is meeting the challenges of rising anti-Asian racism, exciting archeological finds from the ancient world to the museum world's exploration of how best to serve visitors living with disabilities.

They're among the offerings designed to make sure you continue to enjoy what you,ve come to value from Smithsonian Associates: programs and experiences that are entertaining, informative, eclectic, and insightful.

Asian Voices

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center has assembled a timely variety of resources that address the surge of anti-Asian racism. They include the stories of Asian and Asian American women on topics ranging from restorative justice to coping with tragedy; the "We Are Not a Stereotype" video series aimed at breaking down Asian Pacific American bias; and learning resources that include strategies for raising awareness of Asian American identity and heritage with students in the wake of the recent Atlanta attacks.

In addition, an APA "Kindness Heals" activity toolkit for young people offers ways to meet the challenges of life during the pandemic through compassion and communication, and a "Care Package" collects poems, meditations, films, and other cultural nutrients for times like this.

Learning Resources

Care Package

The Audiobook's Ancestors

Thomas Edison with an early phonograph, c. 1870-1880 (Library of Congress)

You might not realize it, but there's a direct link between Thomas Edison's first mechanical audio recording-of his own voice in a snippet of "Mary Had a Little Lamb"-and the audiobooks you listen to on your walks or in the car. The inventor, who used spoken-word recordings in the public demonstrations that introduced his tinfoil phonograph, had high hopes for phonographic books, which he envisioned as being used "with great profit and amusement by the lady or gentleman whose eyes and hands may be otherwise employed." (It seems Edison also invented multitasking.)

Edison wasn't the only late-19th century visionary who found literary promise in the rapidly developing technology of sound recording. Essayist looking into the future and writers of utopian fiction imagined "whispering books" built into hats and "phonographed books" heard through a "two-pronged ear trumpet" plugged into a railway carriage. Cabinet magazine traces the fascinating roots of the audiobook in a period when the idea that "a man might take a walk along a busy street, and have the book of the season read to him" was a fantastic-but prescient-dream.

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Disability Visibility

Alice Wong, founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project (Photo: Eddie Hernandez Photography)

As museums across the nation plan for eventual re-openings, curators and other professional staff are looking back at how they digitally reached out to their audiences during the pandemic and how they'll welcome them back-particularly visitors living with disabilities. Beth Ziebarth, director of Access Smithsonian, and Melanie Adams, director of the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, were among the recent guests who discussed the topics on a recent Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU-FM.

How can museums best adapt in order to acknowledge and enhance the experiences of people with disabilities? Ziebarth is part of a Wednesday, April 14 Smithsonian Associates Streaming program that focuses on intersectionality in art, design, and the museum world through inclusive design and representation. She leads a conversation among panelists Alice Wong, a disabled activist, media maker, and author who edited the collection Disability Visibility: First Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century; s.e. smith, a Northern California-based essayist and journalist whose work examines social issues; and Riva Lehrer, an artist, writer, and curator who focuses on the socially challenged body. The Zoom event features ASL interpretation and closed captioning.

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Listen to the Kojo Nnamdi Show

Echoes of the Ancient World

Egyptologist Jacquelyn Williamson on site at Tell el-Amarna

In addition to the recent discovery of a potential new fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls, new finds from the ancient world continue to surface. A perfectly preserved large woven basket dating back some 10,500 years was unearthed in the Judean Desert, likely the oldest such piece ever found. It's rare for organic material to last that long, but the dry desert climate preserved the vessel through the centuries. An even more exceptional artifact was found at a site in Pompeii, a well-preserved ceremonial chariot that's been called the "Lamborghini" of ancient horse-drawn vehicles. Its metallic medallions depicting satyrs, nymphs, and cupids suggest to archeologists that it might have been used in marriage ceremonies.

Isolated in the desert of Egypt, the ancient city of Tell el-Amarna is one of the most exciting archaeological sites in the world. The "heretic" Pharaoh Akhenaten created the city to serve as the center of the cult of worship of a single deity, a sun god called the Aten. Due to its extraordinary level of preservation, Tell el-Amarna is the most revealing city from ancient Egypt, providing an unmatched window into daily life and religious practices. In a Saturday, April 10 Smithsonian Associates Streaming program, Egyptologist Jacquelyn Williamson, a senior member of the Tell el-Amarna archaeological team, examines the latest discoveries and reveals truths about life in this remarkable lost city.

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Musical Fertilizer

In the 1970 film version of the Broadway musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Barbra Streisand played a woman whose telepathic powers included coaxing the flowers in her rooftop garden to bloom at warp speed by serenading them with a song titled Hurry, It's Lovely Up Here. Plant lovers who lack singing skills (or telepathy) can turn to composer Mort Garson and his 1976 album "Mother Earth's Plantasia." Since its re-release in 2019, the collection of wordless synthesized songs that Garson calls "warm earth music for plants and the people that love them," has peaked on the Billboard charts. It's no wonder: Plant sales have soared since the beginning of the pandemic. And though it's debatable whether plants and music are a true match, that combination can indeed make a difference in the outlook of the human holding the watering can. The News Chant site dug into the story behind the album and its fans.

A number of upcoming Smithsonian Associates Streaming programs can transport you to somewhere that's green. From March 28 to May 9, take in several distinctive destinations in a Sunday series devoted to great botanical gardens of the world. On Wednesday, May 26, get an inside look at the 192-year heritage of the venerable Philadelphia Flower Show and learn about plans for the 2021 edition, the first ever to take place outdoors. And if a developing a green thumb is out of reach, spring studio arts workshops can teach you to craft a bouquet of felted blooms or create colorful gerbera daisies from cut crepe paper.

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