Saturday, February 16, 2013

Exhibits in the Artifact Walls

Where: American History Museum

When: through February 11, 2013

I went over to the American History Museum on Monday, as I had just discovered that three exhibits in the artifact walls were coming down that day.  Not much in the way of advance warning; I had looked at the exhibit listing over the weekend, and realized I only had one day to see these.

I understand that displays have to come down in order for new things to go up - how else would I have years' worth of shows to see?  What I don't quite get is why we visitors don't get a bit more notice.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the website doesn't always have up-to-date info; I may have to dig around a bit and figure out how to get better intelligence...

When I arrived at American History, I found out that one of the displays (which I gather was on the Mexican Revolution) was already down.  A disappointment, but no use crying over spilled milk.  I had two displays to see, and see them I would.

The first, called Sweet & Sour, was on Chinese food in the United States.  There are more Chinese restaurants in the US than McDonalds, Burger Kings and Pizza Huts combined.  I would never have guessed that - McDonalds in particular seem to be omnipresent.  What began as places for immigrants to get some familiar dishes in a new country, became dining spots with a hint of the exotic for those not from China and today are as mainstream as tacos and spaghetti.  In fact, one of the hallmarks of Chinese restaurants, the fortune cookie, is not Chinese at all.  It's an American invention, influenced by Japanese cuisine.  The iconic Chinese food takeout box is known as an oyster pail outside the US, which was its original use.

The second display, COBOL, was about the computer language.  COBOL was originally proposed by Mary Hawes of Burroughs in 1959 and devised by a committee of computer programers.  It was the first language that could run on different brands of computers.  The UNIVAC was one of the first two computers to run COBOL.  I was reminded of Emirac, the computer in Desk Set, one of my favorite movies.  We've come a long way since COBOL, but we wouldn't have come anywhere without it.

Verdict: These displays are down now, so I can't recommend checking them out.  You never know what you'll see in these cases, however, so it's always worth a look on your way in or out of the museum.

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