We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. Accept | Find out more


The Month Ahead: Books

Going on a souvenir hunt in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History


There’s nary a tacky tourist T-shirt or improbable snow globe to be found in William L. Bird Jr.’s new history book, Souvenir Nation, and with good reason: As a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, he had access to mementoes of a more monumental nature. Here, a peek behind a few of his finds. APRIL 17

Piece of the Bastille: “Years ago, this sugar cube–size fragment narrowly managed to survive ‘condemning’ [removal from the museum’s collection]. Just imagine this tiny little black cube sitting on a table surrounded by heavyweight curators all looking at it like, J’accuse!

Plymouth Rock fragment: “This one I literally found in the collection, overlooked among a cache of items belonging to Lincoln’s assistant secretary of the Navy. Its inscription doesn’t say ‘Plymouth Rock’ but ‘Broken From the Mother Rock’—so you had to pay attention to make the connection.”

Relics of the recount: “Broward Circuit Judge Robert Rosenberg came to see an exhibit I’d curated on voting machines, and he gave me one of his business cards. Stapled to it was a bag of chads from the Broward County 2000 presidential election recount. I thought, You can’t make this stuff up!

– – – – – – – –


“There was nothing aesthetically astute in Dennis, nothing all that subtle except for his bashfulness, which was lovely. He crashed quietly through the world.”
—From The Interestings by U.S. novelist Meg Wolitzer, bestselling author of The Ten-Year Nap. APRIL 9

Leave your comments