Living US History and the National Museum of American History

Welcome to Living U.S. History! Michael Drayne and I are U.S. History teachers in Maryland. With this blog, we hope to help make history come alive for our students. We believe that learning about history can and should extend beyond the classroom and textbook. We’ll write about what we’re learning in class and connect it to historical places to see and things to do in our area. Living in Maryland, we have the unique opportunity to visit historical sites and participate in historical experiences that are prevalent in the mid-Atlantic region and beyond, such as taking the four centuries walking tour in Annapolis, investigating the fascinating exhibits at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., or touring the haunting Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland. We hope that through these visits and experiences our students will live history — enriching their learning experience and expanding their knowledge of our nation.

My first recommendation is a classic. The National Museum of American History is one of my favorite Smithsonian museums and a great place to see a survey of our American history. From the Star Spangled Banner, to Abe Lincoln’s hat, to Julia Child’s kitchen, this has some of the best Americana out there. The museum is huge and it’s impossible to see and read everything in one day. I go armed with a short list of things I want to see (check out in advance from the museums website) and make sure I save time and energy for those exhibits.

Photo credit: The National Museum of American History

My favorite exhibit is the Star-Spangled Banner display. It is almost spiritual to be in the presence of a flag that has existed since 1814 and to read the original copy of Francis Scott Key’s poem. The Presidential exhibit is informative and has some fascinating artifacts. The First Lady exhibit is charming, especially seeing how fashions have changed over the years. Teenagers love seeing Harry Potter’s robe on display. I also recommend trying out the many different experiences offered by the museum from live musical and theatrical performances to interactive carts and spotlight tours. At the interactive carts, you can get your hands on history and learn about the museum’s collections through activities such as operating a cotton gin, experiencing what it felt like to wear a corset, or copying a letter the way Jefferson did. You can also meet wheelwoman Louise Gibson—a female bicycle rider from the 1890s—as she pedals around the Museum on her safety bicycle on both a jaunt around the nation’s capital and a journey to discover the place of women in the modern world.

I recommend checking the museum’s website in advance for the daily program schedule. The museum does have some renovations underway limiting some of the galleries, but there is still plenty to do and see, including the things I highlighted. Take an afternoon and check it out. It’s worth a visit.

~ Ms. Andi Maples

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