The Legend of The Music Tree

What is so special about a particular tree harvested from a forest in Belize? Ellen Ruppel Shell finds out in this meticulous essay.

But then, there it was: a Paul Bunyan–size log, wedged deep in a gully and covered in undergrowth. In an instant, Novak knew this tree was truly extraordinary. But he had no idea how to get it out of the jungle.

Source: Smithsonian
Published: Apr 4, 2022
Length: 21 minutes (5,282 words)

This Wonder Bird Flies Thousands of Miles, Non-Stop, as Part of an Epic Migration

“The more scientists learn about the Hudsonian godwit, the more they’re amazed—and worried.”

Source: Smithsonian
Published: Jan 4, 2022
Length: 19 minutes (4,800 words)

An Extraordinary 500-Year-Old Shipwreck Is Rewriting the History of the Age of Discovery

“In the frigid Baltic Sea, archaeologists probing the surprisingly well-preserved remains of a revolutionary warship are seeing the era in a new way.”

Source: Smithsonian
Published: Nov 4, 2021
Length: 16 minutes (4,200 words)

The Enduring Nostalgia of American Girl Dolls

“Far from avoiding difficult subjects in American history, the brand seeks to address shameful chapters in the nation’s past through the eyes of its pre-adolescent characters.”

Source: Smithsonian
Published: Jun 3, 2021
Length: 16 minutes (4,017 words)

A Brief History of the Crock Pot

If you’ve ever come home from a long day at work to the wonderful smell of dinner waiting in your crockpot, you have Irving Nachumsohn to thank.

Source: Smithsonian
Published: Nov 26, 2019
Length: 6 minutes (1,728 words)

The Priest of Abu Ghraib

“I wish to end the delusion that good is gained by evil means, or that even maintaining my own economic and physical security is something to be defended by means of violence. I believe that idea to be a lie.”

Source: Smithsonian
Published: Jan 2, 2019
Length: 31 minutes (7,785 words)

The Story of Dyngo, a War Dog Brought Home From Combat

“As we made our way down the hall from my apartment to the front door of the building, he would drop his nose down to the seam of each door we passed and give it a swift but thorough sniff—Dyngo was still hunting for bombs.”

Source: Smithsonian
Published: Dec 21, 2018
Length: 17 minutes (4,310 words)

Becoming Anne Frank

“Why did we turn an isolated teenage girl into the world’s most famous Holocaust victim?”

Author: Dara Horn
Source: Smithsonian
Published: Oct 30, 2018
Length: 14 minutes (3,591 words)

The Counterfeit Queen of Soul

In the 1960s, Mary Jane Jones modeled herself after Aretha Franklin, but she had the emotion and range of an original soul singer. After a crooked James Brown impersonator forced her to perform as Franklin, she got famous from her own talent, until she gave up show bizness to raise her sons.

Author: Jeff Maysh
Source: Smithsonian
Published: Jul 1, 2018
Length: 17 minutes (4,499 words)

Putting Enslaved Families’ Stories Back in the Monticello Narrative

Author Andrew M. Davenport highlights how the work of an oral history project, Getting Word, has informed a shift in the visitor experience of Thomas Jefferson’s primary estate, Monticello.

Source: Smithsonian
Published: Jun 14, 2018
Length: 16 minutes (4,226 words)