Digging into American history in Washington DC

Different museum experiences

Washington DC is renowned for the Washington Monument, White House and the National Mall, which is lined with museums, including the National Air and Space Museum. For a history buff there are also museums that offer fascinating insights into specific aspects of American history, such as the National Museum of the American Indian and the United States Botanic Garden.

American Indian culture on display

The museum’s large and diverse collections pay respect to the tribes and communities, and reflect the sense and spirit of Native America. The NMAI cares for one of the world’s most expansive collections of Native artifacts, including objects, photographs and archives – from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego. As many of the cultures and communities represented in the museum are still living, this is an active, living museum.

Building and landscaping

The amazing building evokes a wind-sculpted rock formation, and contains celestial references, such as a dome that opens to the sky. The deep connection between indigenous peoples and their land is reflected in the landscaped grounds around the building. Four hundred years ago, this region abounded in forests, wetlands, meadows, and croplands. Today, a small hardwood forest, a wetlands area and traditional seasonal crops represent these natural riches. The day we visited, a tiny pocket of sunflowers, maize and scarlet runner beans flourished under the canopy of the vast museum.

Eating – American Indian style

The best way to experience the beautiful displays and performances is to start at the stop and meander down the floors to the museum’s Mitsitam Native Foods Café, where traditional food are prepared and served. ‘Mitsitam’ means ‘Let’s eat’ in the Native language of the Delaware and Piscataway peoples. Each of the five food stations depicts regional customs related to cooking techniques, ingredients and flavours found in traditional and contemporary dishes. We ate cedar-plank-roasted salmon, maple syrup roasted duck, a sweet yam mash and wild grains salad – each a modern twist on traditional staples.

United States Botanic Garden – a ‘green museum’

Slightly away from the Mall, but easily accessible by Hop-on Hop-off buses, is the United States Botanic Garden. This Garden, established by the U.S. Congress in 1820, is one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America. Its establishment is based on George Washington’s vision for the capital city of the United States to include a botanic garden that would demonstrate and promote the importance of plants to the nation.

 The cultivation of plants for food

The Botanic Garden has a strong focus on educating visitors about the history of cultivating plants for food. In the huge glass Conservatory, for example, are fruiting cacao trees and vanilla orchids. The Botanic Garden also hosts multi-cultural, botanically related displays and activities. We were delighted to see a rare Japanese ‘Thousand Bloom Chrysanthemum’ – a single plant painstakingly cultivated over 12 months to produce one thousand flowers; literally a living work of art.

Washington DC daytrip-planning

All of Washington’s fascinating attractions would take many weeks to view. Planning daytrips that take into account your specific historical, artistic, scientific or cultural interests will save a lot of time. You can then spend more time, as we did, absorbing a few special places.

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