Posts Tagged ‘smithsonian tours’

The History of Hoi An, Vietnam

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Smithsonian Study Leader Mark McLeod is currently researching intersections between culture and politics in 19th century Vietnam. He is an expert on Vietnamese history since 1802, so Smithsonian Education Manager Sadie McVicker took the opportunity to get his thoughts on Hội-an, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Q. Hội-an is a World Heritage Site, essentially a living museum of what was one of the most active Southeast Asian seaports of the 15th-19th centuries. Can you tell us something of the long history of its rise to that preeminence? And why it fell out of favor over 200 years ago?


Woman in rowboat, Hoi An, Vietnam.

A. In addition to the advantages presented by the port itself, the Thu-bồn River system, which has its origins in the Annamite Range and drains into the South China Sea (which Vietnamese call the Biển Đông or Eastern Sea, not wanting to concede China’s ownership of it), forms one of Vietnam’s largest river basins, which served to link local, regional, and international trade. Furthermore, the surrounding area, roughly comprising the area of modern Quảng-nam province, in addition to natural products such as cinnamon and ginseng, was an artisanal producer of textiles and ceramics, which attracted foreign traders, Asian as well as European.

Evidence from shipwrecks demonstrates that Việt and other Asian ceramics, shipped from Hội-an, traveled at least as far West as Egypt! It is no wonder that 18th-Century Chinese and Japanese merchants considered Hội-an Asia’s premier trading destination. However, trade declined from the late 1700s with the Tây-sơn Rebellion and the resulting conflicts that were not settled until the founding of the Nguyễn Dynasty in 1802. After that, for political as well as practical reasons (the mouth of the Thu-bồn River silted up, blocking access to larger ships), the focus of trade shifted southward to Đà-nẵng. This trend has continued to the present, as Đà-nẵng is now Vietnam’s third largest port, after the ports of Hồ Chí Minh City and Hải-phòng, whereas Hội-an now survives primarily as a tourist attraction, thanks to the well-preserved architectural structures, museums, and crafting traditions, the value and interest of which have earned it the status of United Nations World Heritage Site. Indeed, Hội-an is one of the most successful examples of preservation of an area of cultural and historical value in contemporary Vietnam. One measure of their success in this regard is the fact that modern filmmakers desiring an unspoiled or colonial-era setting often film at Hội-an. For example, many of the urban scenes of the 2007 Vietnamese-American historical epic The Rebel (directed by Charlie Nguyễn) was shot in Hội-an rather than Hà-nội.

All of this makes the city a treat for travelers, who can visit museums and architectural attractions by day and enjoy tea by the river in the evening, watching the sun go down behind these beautiful buildings. Among the sites of interest, I enjoy the Chùa Cầu, literally the “Bridge Pagoda,” but usually called the “Japanese Bridge,” which was founded by 17th-Century Japanese traders. It is a “covered bridge” of lacquered wood, very solidly built and well restored over the years. Although it is called a pagoda, it was not devoted to Buddhist worship, but rather to local animistic spirits, with the two entrances being guarded by statues of monkeys and dogs.

Ready to visit Hội-an? Click here to see our journeys to Vietnam.

Smithsonian Institution: Our Top Five Picks

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
The Smithsonian Castle

The Smithsonian Castle

There are millions of objects in our collection, so picking only five isn’t really fair. But each of us has our own personal favorite that might be off the beaten path. That’s why we have Celebrate Smithsonian, the tour that takes you behind-the-scenes to see objects you might not have noticed.

  1. Let’s face it, Americans love their television. From 1971 to 1979, “All in the Family” was one of the most popular and influential TV shows in the United States. It addressed blatant bigotry and self-righteousnes in our culture, while actually finding the humor in its absurdity. Archie Bunker, played by Carroll O’Connor, spouted his opinions while sitting in his chair — which is now on display at the National Museum of American History.
  2. Military history fans and aviation nuts love the Curtiss P-40E. Also known as the Warhawk, Tomahawk, or Kittyhawk, this plane was incredibly versatile during World War II. But the Smithsonian has an even deeper connection to this plane. It was flown by the former Deputy Director of the National Air and Space Museum, Donald S. Lopez, who passed away in March 2008. Before it was hoisted to the ceiling trusses for permanent display, Mr. Lopez sat in the cockpit and posed in front of the airplane in the exact same position as a photo taken of him in China.  ”It was wonderful,” Lopez said about that day. “I am proud to have a P-40 here. It felt good to sit in the cockpit – I’d have no trouble flying it today.”
  3. For the kid in all of us, our next pick comes from the National Museum of the American Indian. As an incredible mix of tradition and modern life, Kiowa artist Teri Greeves decided to take her Converse sneakers and beaded them into a work of art. They are now on display on the third floor in the Our Lives gallery.
  4. We have all made a mistake, an oops, or maybe even a “whoopsie daisy”. Well, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing had their turn during the week of May 6- 13, 1918 when one sheet of one hundred stamps with an inverted image of a blue airplane escaped detection. After a series of purchases, the sheet has been broken into individual stamps, creating the legendary “Inverted Jenny” stamps. It’s now the most requested object to see at the National Postal Museum.
  5. For the true music fan, it doesn’t matter if it’s a harpsichord from the 1700s or Prince’s guitar. All of it is fascinating. The National Museum of American History’s music and musical instrument collection ranges from Dizzy Gillespie’s B-flat Trumpet to the Servais Cello, created by Antonio Stradivari (b. 1644). There are even early sound recordings of Elvis in this collection.

What’s your favorite object in the Smithsonian collection? Share Below.

Celebrate Smithsonian with us this October and explore the Smithsonian Institution’s  Museum Support Center made famous in Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol!

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010
Kids will make plenty of new friends at Destination Smithsonian. Photo: Smithsonian Associates

Kids will make plenty of new friends at Destination Smithsonian. Photo: Smithsonian Associates

 At some point, every child has to write an essay on what they did during their summer vacation. What will your child say? This year, we are introducing Destination Smithsonian - vacation packages that bring families to Washington, DC. Both parents and kids have a unique chance to explore the museums at their own pace. In the morning, kids ages 9 through 12 have a great time during hands-on workshops led by top educators while parents explore the Smithsonian independently. After lunch, families explore the museums together with our Smithsonian experts. Imagine the dinner table conversations at the end of that day!

Exploring Extremes: From the Ocean Floor to Outer Space is a unique opportunity to explore some of our iconic objects in our museums, such as our Ocean Hall at the National Museum of Natural History and Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega at the National Air and Space Museum. Kids can visit our famous Giant Pandas, Mei Xian and Tian Tian, at the National Zoo. But families also have the extraordinary opportunity to see nature at work at our lesser known Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland. Here, kids will become scientists while learning about our treasured Chesapeake Bay.

Every child should have the chance to experience our nation’s capital, and doing it with Smithsonian creates an experience that families will treasure long after summer’s over.

Learn more about Exploring Extremes: From the Ocean Floor to Outer Space.

How old were you when you first visited the Smithsonian Institution?

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?

Travel Hit List: Ireland

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009


The Gap of Dunloe, a narrow pass near Killarney, Ireland.

The Gap of Dunloe, a narrow pass near Killarney, Ireland.



There are so many reasons to visit Ireland. Take a virtual trip today, courtesy of our Travel Hit List.

Read: about the Hill of Tara, a rich archaeological and cultural site threatened by a four-lane highway.

Hear: Contemporary music from Northern Ireland.

Watch: Scientists from Ireland’s National Museum talk about body parts from 300 BC unearthed from a peat bog.

Eat and Drink: the best fish and chips in Ireland, according to Food & Think blogger Amanda Bensen.

Check out: A report from the Smithsonian National Zoo on why Ireland has no snakes.

Go: Now is a great time to book travel to Ireland.

Join: Smithsonian Journeys is on Facebook. Become a fan today.

Been to Ireland? Share your favorite memory. Haven’t gotten there yet? What are you looking forward to most?