Posts Tagged ‘richard kurin’

Around the World in 20 Days

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Moai with concrete eyes. Photo: Richard Kurin

What’s on your life list? A safari in the Serengeti? The Sphinx in Egypt? Easter Island? The Great Barrier Reef? What if you could explore all of this (and much, much more) in three weeks? Now you can make it happen, and make it happen in style on our one-of-a-kind journey, Around the World by Private Jet.

What really happens on this kind of journey? Is there really time to learn anything? Is there time to meet any of the local people, to really connect? There sure is.

Last year, Richard Kurin, Smithsonian’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, led our journey and wrote seventeen blog posts about it. Click here to to read them.

Where would you like to go most in the world? Share please!

Best of the Blog: 2009

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

We’re celebrating our first year of the Smithsonian Journeys blog! We love traveling, but we love sharing our stories even more. Take a look at some of our favorites from 2009.

From all of us here at Smithsonian Journeys, we wish you a Happy New Year!

Self portrait: Petra  Photo by Richard Kurin

Self portrait: Petra Photo by Richard Kurin

Richard Kurin, Under Secretary of Art, History, and Culture here at the Smithsonian, blogged his entries from our Extraordinary Cultures – An Epic Journey around the World tour. Read his testimony that cultural diversity is alive and well in what seems like an increasingly globalized world.

A boy in Bhutan

A boy in Bhutan

Amy Kotkin, Director of Smithsonian Journeys, has been around the world several times over. But traveling from the National Mall to Bhutan had a few surprises. People in Bhutan speak… English?

The tomb of Ramses II on the West Bank

The tomb of Ramses II on the West Bank

Senior Program Manager Jean Glock will never tire of traveling to Egypt, home of some of the greatest archaeological finds the world has ever known. Here’s why.

Mont -St-Michel sits dramatically off the coast of Normandy

Mont -St-Michel sits dramatically off the coast of Normandy

Explore Mont-St-Michel with Sadie McVicker, Education Manager, who beautifully illustrates walking through the gates of the abbey as strolling back in time.

Future Racer   Photo by Alyssa Bobst

Future Racer Photo by Alyssa Bobst

If you adore animals, you’ll love Alyssa Bobst’s personal experience with the dogs and mushers from the Iditarod in Alaska. As our Program Support Coordinator, she’s amazing juggling multiple projects. With 16 dogs on each team and 67 teams competing, she found her calling assisting mushers with their dogs as a volunteer right before the competition.

Our commitment to World Heritage sites is serious business, but traveling to them is so much fun. Here are some of our favorite sites from around the world.

Which World Heritage site will you visit in 2010?

Video: Birthplace of the Hope Diamond

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Say you were on a game show and they asked you, “In what country did the Hope Diamond originate?”

Would you know the answer?

The answer is India, but the details are sketchy at best. It was most likely found in the very productive Kollur Mine located in south central India, which operated between the 16th century and the mid-19th century. The diamond was first owned in the mid-17th century by Jean-Baptiste Tavernier as a roughly cut 112 3/16-carat gem, where it was then known as the “Tavernier Blue” until it was sold King Louis XIV of France in 1668 with 14 other large diamonds and several smaller ones. It has been recut by different owners since then and is now 45.52 carats.

Eventually Golconda, India’s Kollur Mine was depleted of its diamonds and interest shifted to mines in Brazil. But the Kollur Mine provided the world with several notable diamonds such as the Koh-i-Noor Diamond (meaning Mountain of Light), which is 105.6 carats and is part of the British Crown Jewels.

Today, The National Museum of Natural History has provided the Hope Diamond a home for the past 50 years, but the iconic gem has a long history, full of twists and turns. It’s surrounded by mythology, and has changed hands again and again over time. You can read more in Richard Kurin’s book The Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of the Cursed Gem.

See the original home of the Hope Diamond on our Mystical India Signature Tour.

If given the opportunity, would you wear The Hope Diamond?

Reflections Homeward Bound: Final Dispatch from Extraordinary Cultures Tour

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Richard Kurin is the Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture here at the Smithsonian Institution. He is a cultural anthropologist specializing in the study of knowledge systems, folk arts, museums, and development. He is currently Study Leader on our Extraordinary Cultures – An Epic Journey Around the World tour, and will be blogging periodically while traveling. This post is the final post in a series. To see the other posts, click here.

The Smithsonian Journeys Extraordinary Cultures trip has itself been extraordinary.

Huli men performing a Sing Sing. Photo: Richard Kurin

Huli wigmen of Papua New Guinea. Photo: Richard Kurin

We have seen wonders of the world and met equally wonderful people around the globe.
I, my fellow Smithsonian scholars, and our colleagues in other nations have given some three dozen lectures and presentations. We’ve witnessed scores of cultural performances and demonstrations of artistry, and heard word and song in two dozen languages. We have dined with royalty, been hosted by ministers and heads of national museums, and experienced monumental and living cultural treasures.

We’ve learned more than a few things.

For one, we have had a glimpse of the tremendous cultural diversity that exists on this planet. At the beginning of the last century, anthropologists estimate there were about 6,000 languages spoken. Now there are 600. If language serves as some measure of our cultural diversity, that diversity is being reduced. We, as a species are probably diminished as a result. That diversity has evolutionary potential and consequences, and besides, it makes the world a lot less boring. Preserving human diversity is in our interest.

Second, we’ve learned that diversity exists both in tangible form—as monuments, and buildings, ruins and landscapes, but also in intangible form as “living cultural heritage. It is the latter that gives culture its vitality and ongoing organic, creative energy. Living culture provides meaning to living people and is often a source of their identity and sense of self-worth. Indeed, culture provides, in large part, the civic identity for nations—lack or loss or denigration of culture can mean the dissolution of nation-states. Culture is also important economically—providing the basis for handicraft, food, fashion, music, entertainment and tourist industries. Loss of culture equals loss of income. Even monuments of the past have significance for their living populations—which is why countries sometimes fight over them and why business interests often compete to exploit them.

In our travels, we’ve perhaps gained some insight into an important theoretical debate. One position, held by Thomas Friedman argues that the world is becoming flatter and that everyone is becoming more similar, sharing the same global culture. The other, associated with the late Samuel Huntingtonargues that we are facing the clash of civilizations—where differences between cultures can only be resolved by conflict. I think we found a third view—that the earth is culturally lumpy, not flat, and that while globalization encourages homogeneity, there is abundant localization to make life interesting. While there are long lived entrenched cultural traditions all over the planet, there are numerous ways in which people share cultures, accommodate and synthesize traditions, invent new ones, and see their own traverse the world. The global is localized—our Bhutanese archers use their traditional bamboo bows, but also Olympic ones made in the U.S.—albeit to hit homemade targets. But the local also goes global. Indian performance traditions presented by Rajeev Sethi and scores of artists are now seen in new forms through movies like “Slumdog Millionaire.”

How then to deal with that diversity and these cultural processes. Awareness of, appreciation for and understanding of diverse cultures is important. We don’t have to believe the same things as folks in the highlands of New Guinea, or sing the same song as the Bedouins of Petra, or have the same religion as the Dogon of Mali. But understanding, appreciating, and respecting that diversity is important. If we don’t, we misapprehend others at our peril. And that can have horrible consequences.

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Morocco – Confluence of Cultures: Dispatch 17 from Extraordinary Cultures Tour

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Richard Kurin is the Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture here at the Smithsonian Institution. He is a cultural anthropologist specializing in the study of knowledge systems, folk arts, museums, and development. He is currently Study Leader on our Extraordinary Cultures – An Epic Journey Around the World tour, and will be blogging periodically while traveling. This post is seventeenth in a series. To see the other posts, click here.

Carved doorway at Bahia Palace. Photo: Richard Kurin

Carved doorway at Bahia Palace. Photo: Richard Kurin

Morocco is one of those amazing places where the interplay and blending of cultures produces vibrant artistic, religious, and civic traditions. In Marrakech, Berber, Roman, Arab, Jewish, Moorish-Andalusian, and French peoples and traditions have met. The result is stunning.

Historical battles and conflicts produced major dynasties and rulers, and over time, a society quite tolerant of diversity. Berber culture permeates the citythe high snow-covered Atlas Mountains hearkening to their homeland visible on the city’s horizon. Berber jewelry, leather work, swords, knives in the old city souq (market) and a variety of Berber tea sellers, artisans, and performers in the city’s center attest to that influence.

Arabs brought Islam to the Maghrib—the horizon of the setting sun, or the west, as Morocco is known. The city’s medinah (old quarter), its mosques, minarets, and schools all signal this heritage. Though largely a Muslim society, Morocco welcomed Jews with the start of the Inquisition and their expulsion—along with Muslims—from Spain in 1492. Marrakech hosted a thriving Sephardic community—now evident in the old mellah (Jewish quarter), where Judaic motifs can be found in the architecture and varied artifacts of religious life are found in the shops. But Morocco wouldn’t be complete without it Roman ruins, mosaics, tile work, Andalusian gardens, decorative styles, and especially musicians, as well as its French language and cooking stylesthere exists quite a mix.

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