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August 29, 2014

where the buffalo roam

On Saturday, August 30, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo will bring back the American bison in a new exhibit and habitat.  Zora and Wilma are not only beautiful animals, but they also serve as an important reminder about conservation and the Zoo’s inception. In 1887, American bison wandered the National Mall, helping to bring awareness to the endangerment of the species. Two years later, Congress passed legislation to found the National Zoo, celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.

Bison roam around the Smithsonian Castle

Bison roam around the Smithsonian Castle, 1887-89

At Affiliations, we are wallowing in the excitement of welcoming these magnificent animals to Washington. So we decided to scan our herd of partners, to see where else the mighty American bison are roaming among Affiliate plains. We found a virtual stampede of bison content in Affiliateland!

- It seems appropriate to start in Wyoming, at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. After all, it was “Buffalo Bill” Cody who offered the Smithsonian a herd of 18 bison in 1888. Painfully, the gift had to be refused for lack of space on the National Mall.  But today, you can find plenty of bison material at the Buffalo Bill Center in Cody. The Center’s museums house an impressive collection of art depicting “Nature’s Cattle,” including beautiful Audubon prints as well as Native artifacts made from the bison, and natural history specimens.

"Scout" at the Durham Museum in Omaha.

“Scout” at the Durham Museum in Omaha

- It was a Nebraska rancher who donated the very first bison to the Smithsonian’s collection, so it seems natural to travel on to Omaha to visit “Scout,” the beloved bison on view at the Durham Museum. At 7 ½’ high and 10’ long, this magnificent specimen helps to tell the important story of the Midwest’s history with the bison. As part of their bison interpretation, the Durham Museum uses the online resource Tracking the Buffalo from the National Museum of American History. Go ahead – take the site’s interactive test to guess what you could make from all the parts of the animal.

-  Some bison though, were revered beyond all that they could provide for Native people. A white bison is extremely rare, appearing once in approximately five million births. For this reason, these animals are considered sacred and possess great spiritual power to Native and non-Native people alike. Given this extreme rarity, where could you ever see one now?! The Montana Historical Society in Helena displays “Big Medicine,” a white buffalo who died in 1959. With blue eyes, tan hooves, and a brown topknot, there’s still plenty of reasons to revere the beauty of this extraordinary specimen today.

"White Medicine" on view at the Montana Historical Society

“Big Medicine” on view at the Montana Historical Society

- As rare as Big Medicine is, perhaps no bison has the hometown spirit of “On the Wind,” the massive bronze bison who greets visitors to the History Colorado Center in Denver. He’s been seen wearing bandannas when the stock show comes to town, a Broncos jersey during football season, and even a bike helmet during the recent Pro Challenge cycling race through the state. He’s also an important reminder of the stories told inside the Center about the historic relationship between bison and the peoples of the West.

- To travel even further back in time, check out the archeological remains of a gigantic Ice Age bison at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Excavated from the Colorado Rockies, this iconic specimen and its neighbors represent one of the most significant fossil discoveries ever made in Colorado.  How gigantic was it?  Twice the size of a modern bison!  How do we know?  It had a horn spread more than 7’ wide (compared with the 2 ½’ spread of the modern buffalo).

HistoryCObison

“On the Wind” in Denver reflects the community

- If you’re finding it hard to imagine the size of a modern bison without actually seeing one, the South Dakota State Historical Society can help you out.  They’ve devised a fun 30-page coloring sheet called How Big is a Buffalo. Bison make quite an appearance in the Society’s education kits, which include objects, lesson plans, worksheets and ideas for additional activities. The Buffalo and Plains Indians, Lewis and Clark, and Archeology kits are just a few that explore all facets of this great American species.

- Lest you think the Affiliate bison only roam west of the Mississippi, think again.  The Mashantucket Pequot Museum in Connecticut is currently displaying The Bison: American Icon exhibition, which explores “the dramatic changes that occurred to the bison and its habitat, and to the people who depended on it for their daily existence.” At the end of September, the Museum invites visitors to take the Bison Challenge – an outdoor activity that will test your speed, strength, and senses against the performance of a bison.  Good luck!

Bison: American Icon exhibit on view at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum

The Bison: American Icon exhibit on view at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum

As the song goes, “oh give me a home… “  It’s gratifying to see how many Affiliate “homes” across America celebrate the iconic bison, and that the Smithsonian will soon provide two of them a home in the nation’s capital.

How does your museum interpret the mighty bison? (We’re looking at you Idaho and Oklahoma)  Tell us your stories!

 

(Footnote:  “bison” and “buffalo” are often used interchangeably.  Culturally this is correct; scientifically it is not.  Technically, bison and buffalo are not the same animal. Click here to compare their differences.)

 

buffalomeThe author is a National Outreach Manager in Smithsonian Affiliations, and a long-time buffalophile.

 

January 28, 2014

coming up in Affiliateland in February 2014

It may be chilly across the country, but the temperature is not stopping Affiliates from offering great programming in February!

NATIONWIDEnational_youth_summit
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, 12 Affiliates will join the National Museum of American History to hold a National Youth Summit, linking high school students across the U.S. in an engaging program on the history and legacy of the 1964 youth-led effort for voting rights and education, 2.5.

Participating Affiliates include:
African American Museum & National Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia, PA
American Jazz Museum, Kansas City, MO
Arab American National Museum, Dearborn, MI
History Colorado  Center, Denver, CO
Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio, TX
Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles, CA
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati, OH
Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City, OK
Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, PA
Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH
North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, NC

NEBRASKA

The Durham Museum opens The 1968 Exhibit featuring three Apollo 8 artifacts from the National Air and Space Museum, in Omaha, 2.8.

snakeThe University of Nebraska State Museum opens the Titanoboa: Monster Snake exhibition (SITES) in Lincoln, 2.22.
IOWA
The Putnam Museum opens Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964 (SITES) in Davenport, 2.15.

November 27, 2012

History Colorado Center Hosts Its First Smithsonian National Youth Summit

Special thanks for this guest post to Liz Cook, Environmental Educator at History Colorado.

We were thrilled that the History Colorado Center was to be selected as one of the nine Smithsonian Affiliate sites to participate in the National Youth Summit: Dust Bowl on October 17, 2012.  Over 150 high school and middle school students from around Colorado participated, including students from western Colorado, Denver, and the Colorado Springs’ neighborhoods that were impacted by this summer’s Waldo Canyon Fire.  Students watched the live broadcast from the National Museum of American History, which included insights from Dust Bowl survivor Cal Crabill, who grew up near Holly, on the plains of eastern Colorado.  In the second half of the Youth Summit, presenters made connections between current environmental issues in Colorado and the lessons of the Dust Bowl, including hydraulic fracturing, wildfire, climate change and water. Media partner Rocky Mountain PBS taped the presentations, which will be available online for future use by students and teachers.  The Youth Summit was a perfect opportunity for us to explore these topics, as our “Living West” exhibition (opening in 2013) will focus on how natural systems have impacted human history and how human choices have impacted the environment in Colorado, and will include stories of the Dust Bowl in southeastern Colorado, and current issues in our state.  

Schools Attending

  • Roaring Fork High School, Carbondale, CO (Garfield County Libraries)-10 students
  • Grand Valley High School, Parachute, CO (Garfield County Libraries)-10 students
  • Dora Moore School, Denver Public Schools, Denver-87 students
  • George Washington High School, Denver Public Schools-15 students
  • Coronado High School, Colorado Springs School District 11- 17 students 

Local Youth Summit Presentations

  • “Colorado’s Water Future”
    Kristin Maharg, Program Manager, Colorado Foundation for Water Education 
  • “Catastrophic Wildfires in Colorado”  
    Einar Jensen, Life Safety Educator South Metro Fire Rescue Authority
  • Hydraulic Fracturing: Folly or Fortune?
    Adrianne Kroepsch, Graduate Research Assistant, Center of the American West, and Doctoral Student, Environmental Studies, University of Colorado
  • “Snowpack in the Rocky Mountains”
    Ryan Vachon, Director at Earth Initiatives and affiliate with INSTAAR (Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado)

The National Museum of American History partnered with the National Endowment for the Humanities, WETA television, and Smithsonian Affiliations to present the National Youth Summit on the Dust Bowl. More information on upcoming National Youth Summits at http://americanhistory.si.edu/nys

 

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