New digs.

This month I started a new position as the Associate Director and Oral Historian for the Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society at the Hagley Museum and Library. I’m eager to continue the public and oral history work I began with Under Connecticut Skies, to have a chance to utilize my curatorial and digital media skills, and to work with the amazing people and collections here at Hagley. It’s also a delight to come each day to the stunning nineteenth-century industrial landscape that is the lower Brandywine. Come see our amazing machine shop if you’re in Wilmington!

Farewell, Smithsonian, for now…

Today was my last day as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Museum of American History. The good news: the weather was perfect for lunch with colleagues on our rooftop terrace, with stunning views reaching from the Library of Congress to the Washington Monument.

On the roof at NMAH on my last day at the Smithsonian.
On the roof at NMAH on my last day at the Smithsonian. Photo by Steve Velasquez.

Thanks to everyone who made my time at the Smithsonian so rewarding, productive, and valuable. I hope to come back someday.


It’s always reassuring to know that there are several of these on the shelf where you work…

McMaster catalogs in the trade literature collections, National Museum of American History.
McMaster catalogs in the trade literature collections, Smithsonian Libraries, National Museum of American History.

…although, of course, in a history museum we use them a little differently.

For more information on the amazing trade literature collection at American History, you can search the holdings, browse selected digitized items, or come and visit.

A marvelous weekend in DC.

A couple of weekends ago, my roommate and I proved that it’s easy to have loads of high-culture fun in DC on the cheap.

It began Friday afternoon, when I made my way over to meet Betsy at Dumbarton Oaks, where we took a turn around the gardens just before closing, the birds singing and the frogs in the lily pond poised to catch bugs. It was a hot day, so the shade of the gardens was a welcome respite from my traipsing all over the city (Georgetown, it turns out, is extremely inconvenient to get to, especially when you miss your bus transfer). We were able to have a drink and some food at a reception in the Orangery there, and headed home walking a goodly portion of the way (those pesky buses!).

Saturday was mostly quiet, but we had big plans for Sunday. Bets and I both had friends in town, and we had been planning to see the Pre-Raphaelites exhibit at the National Gallery, so we made a day of it. We had a brunch of omelets at home before heading to meet up with everyone at the NGA. We saw the Pre-Raphaelites first, then took a turn along the Mall, stopping for the first soft-serve of the season. It was such a lovely day that we were able to enjoy it on the grass as people flew kites and played frisbee around us.

A soft-serve twist on the mall.
A soft-serve twist on the mall. Photo by Dan Liu.

We then headed over to the east building of the NGA and wandered through the Dürer exhibit, before stumbling across an unexpected delight: the new exhibition on the Ballets Russes, which proved to be so rich that we’re planning to go back to let it all sink in with fresh eyes. There’s only so much you can do in one day!

As the museum was closing, we headed back over to the west building to stand in line for the free Dvorak concert being given by the Vlach Quartet Prague as a part of the NGA’s concert series and the European Month of Culture, sponsored by the EU Delegation and the Czech embassy. It was a marvelous program in a beautiful space, and when it was over we took the Metro up to Shaw to top off our day with a delicious dinner of Czech food and pilsner at Bistro Bohem.

Thanks to Dan, Sebastian, and Richard for joining us on our DC fine arts adventure.

A holiday visit to Dumbarton Oaks.

Yesterday evening I made my way over to Georgetown to attend the Dumbarton Oaks holiday party. It was my first time in that part of town, and let me say: woah. Fancy alert! Boutique-and-mansion city! It was after dark, so I was not able to truly appreciate the beauty of the gardens, about which I have heard so much; but I was able to appreciate the interior of the museum, where the reception was held.

The holiday party at Dumbarton Oaks.
The holiday party at Dumbarton Oaks.

As I said to my friend, who works there and who was kind enough to invite me for my first visit to DO, it reminded me of being at The Cloisters, what with the tapestries and the religious art and the lovely surroundings and all.

Tapestry detail.
Tapestry detail.
A painted ceiling at the DO museum.
A painted ceiling at the DO museum.

The food was tasty and substantial enough to constitute dinner: roasted meats, bread, cheese fruit, vegetables, and various spreads. Prosecco, wine, beer, and cocktails were free-flowing. And the desserts! The bûche de Noël was divine.

Christmas lights take the place of a roaring fire.
Christmas lights take the place of a roaring fire.

In the corner, there was a huge Christmas tree, adorned with lights, pinecones, and candy canes for the little ones. Santa made a visit, giving out presents. And I got my own more academic treat: getting to met several of the fellows and staff, who were all delightful. By all reports, it seems like an excellent place to do research — and, as my friend tells me, one of the few places where Byzantium lives.

At the DO holiday party.
At the DO holiday party.

On the way home, the charm of Georgetown was more apparent to me: quiet sidestreets, beautiful houses, the smell of woodsmoke in the chilly air. I will have to head back to see the gardens, and get a proper look at the museum, sometime during the day.

Collections management.

One of the great things about working at a major history museum is the proximity one has to really amazing artifacts. The fellows’ offices are in the basement, close to the loading dock. At first, I was a little disappointed at being in a subterranean lair with no light, far away from the curators’ offices on the upper floors, but I think that, today, I have made my peace with our location. Here’s what did it.

On my way out to eat lunch, I noticed that two enormous wooden crates had appeared in the hallway. Upon close inspection, I saw that they had information written on them.

The first, a crate about five feet by six feet by six feet, read:

SI, NMAH Work + Industry
Control Unit for GM-Fanuc
S-380 Robotic Car Arm

A) 1990.0593
C) 1990.0593.01

The second crate was even more impressive, in both its size and its contents. This one was about four feet by seven feet by ten feet, and on the side was printed:

Medicine + Science
Hanford Nuclear Control Console

A) 1993.0138
C) 1993.0138.02

When I got back from lunch, another crate, this one partially open, was being transported down to the basement. It was unlabeled, but contained another piece of electronics, about the size of the Hanford console, whose purpose I could not ascertain. But: woah.

Of course, each item is labeled with its acquisition and collection number, just like a box in an archive. Except these are huge wooden crates that need several people as well as special machinery to transport. One box, one huge electromechanical artifact at a time, please, researchers. Oh, and I hear that the off-site storage facilities are amazing, just what you’d imagine. I can’t believe I didn’t bring my camera today.

Nonetheless: cool. Very, very, very cool.

New job.

This past week I began a postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. Though my office itself is in the basement, I am rather fond of my new workplace, and its location right on the National Mall.

National Museum of American History

I’m still getting settled here in D.C., and will be traveling back to Connecticut regularly; nonetheless I am excited to take advantage of all our nation’s capitol has to offer. Particularly when you are right next door to so many amazing museums and sites.