This half-moon soapstone bowl is much more than what it appears. Our catalog information indicates this stone lamp was attributed to the “Eskimo”, today known as Inuit, cultural group. This lamp was collected by Captain C.F. Hall in 1871 in Repulse Bay, Canada. The stone bowl would be filled with oil or blubber, then a wick made of dry moss or grass would be inserted and, voila, you have a lamp that is capable of providing light and heat for hours when properly maintained. This lamp is roughly 27 inches long, 14 inches wide, and 3-5 inches tall. Like many soapstone vessels in our collections, this lamp was broken at some point. It has been skillfully repaired with sinew and possibly some form of glue.
Americans, along with many other peoples around the world, have an obsession with their coffee. We drink it everyday, often in large amounts. We have ceramic mugs, travel mugs, color changing mugs, and even disposable stryofoam coffee cups. What does one do when none of these resources are at your disposal? This vessel, which comes from Lapland, looks similar to many other vessels found throughout the region but was specifically used to transport coffee! This coffee caddy was collected in 1893 by Hon. J.M. Crawford and was accessioned by the museum in October of that year. It is made of wood, and is ornately carved. While this caddy was most likely used to transport and hold dry coffee beans, it highlights the similarities and differences among cultures through the lens of something as simple as a beverage many people consume daily.
In modern times, if the weather turns bad and you get caught in the rain you grab an umbrella or perhaps a lightweight nylon rain jacket from a popular outdoor company. But what if you don’t have access to resources like those and you need to rely on something from nature? You can look no further than the inside of a seal or other marine mammal. Seal intestines, also known as “gut skin” is the traditional material used by Arctic indigenous cultures to provide them with an incredibly lightweight and versatile weatherproof shell to wear when hunting in poor weather or at sea, and it is even used in ceremonial dress.
This gut skin parka comes from St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, Alaska. Donated by Riley D. Moore in 1913, it is made from seal or walrus intestine and decorated with crested auklet feathers, fur, and even sports a drawstring hood. The waterproof seams are achieved by a process of using sinew thread and a technique that folds and reinforces the seam with a method of sewing that allows the material not to be pierced all the way through. To see how the gut skin is processed and used check out Material Traditions: Sewing Gut, from the Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum where three Native Alaskan artists demonstrate the proper techniques to manufacture this ingenious solution to keeping dry.
By: Ismelda R. Correa. Originally published in the ASC Newsletter, No. 22, pg. 77-78.
Isme with Henry the elephant in the rotunda of NMNH
I was in residence with the Arctic Studies Center as a social media intern as part of the University of Houston partnership with the Smithsonian for three-weeks. The idea of working on social media in an anthropology office was a new experience for me. While I am confident in my technical knowledge—my major is chemical engineering—I knew I was going to work on two subjects I had limited experience with: social media and the Arctic. Don’t misunderstand me. While I am active on social media as much as every other 20-year-old, I did lack a Twitter and Instagram account. Additionally, I did not know how a research center in the most visited natural history museum in the world used Facebook. Could they post memes?
With her cheerful and approachable personality, my mentor, Meghan Mulkerin, soothed my worries soon after meeting her. My assignment was to provide the Arctic Studies Center (ASC) feedback on their social media outreach, which ranged from their own website and blog, Magnetic North, to platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and to create some content of my own working with Meghan and Bill Fitzhugh. A few days after starting my internship, Meghan arranged for me to meet two other social media experts within the Smithsonian community; Maria Anderson, the Press Secretary for Latino Media and Adriel Luis, the Curator of Digital and Emerging Media at the Asian Pacific American Center. In our separate meetings, they discussed successful social media strategies and answered all of my questions. By the end of the meetings, I was better prepared to complete my assignment and amazed at the support the Smithsonian Institution offers to its interns.
As I was learning about the do’s and don’ts of the various social media platforms, I worked on honing my tweeting skills. In an attempt to use the information I had learned on successfully engaging with our followers on Arctic subjects, I came up with my first tweet. As the day progressed, I constantly monitored the amount of retweets and favorites. Needless to say, I am extremely proud of it. As a note, the Unangax/Aleut people live in the Aleutian Islands located in western Alaska.
Isme's first tweet!
One of the benefits of interning at the Smithsonian’s NMNH is the behind the scenes access interns and fellows have to the collections. While my internship was short-term, I got to see three different collections, the Burgess Shale, paleobiology (fossil marine mammals) and the birds collection. The tours were led by researchers within the departments that encouraged our questions.
As the end of my internship approaches, I appreciate social media is more than a form of entertainment. It is a powerful tool museums are using, and constantly improving, to engage with the American public; a public that has changed and is constantly changing the way they obtain information. Most of all, I have to praise the willingness of the Smithsonian Institution and the smaller research-divisions it is made up of (like the Arctic Studies Center) to embrace the use of social media to reach out to the American public in order to uphold their mission of increasing and spreading knowledge.
If you are interested in learning more about internships at the Smithsonian, please visit the Office of Fellowships and Internships. Watch the video below for more on what Isme and her fellow interns from the University of Houston had to say about their experiences at the Smithsonian!