Originally from California, Katie Macko started her career at the Smithsonian as an intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She later joined the National Museum of American History where her position has evolved into an intersection of special events and education. Katie produces the museum's bi-monthly after-hours series, American History (After Hours) and is the lead producer for the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra concert series. She is currently planning the 2016 America Now! program. Katie holds a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of California, Davis and a Masters in Museum Studies from the George Washington University.
The National Museum of American History tells stories about the ideas and ideals that have shaped American identity. How does the variety of American experiences in the narratives present in the museum’s exhibitions and programming fit together as a larger whole? How can the lessons of history help to create a more humane future?
One way in which the museum has been exploring the shared American experience is through food. For the past fifty years, the museum has been researching and documenting American Food History. One way in which American foodways have been explored is their connection to waterways. In 2013 American History (After Hours) and Smithsonian Gardens collaborated in the creation of Food in the Garden, a series of discussions and programming held in NMAH’s Victory Garden to explore the connections between gardens, crops, and people. The second series of Food in the Garden was held in 2014 and coincided with the 200th anniversary of the penning of the Star Spangled Banner (the museum has the flag which flew at Fort McHenry and inspired Francis Scott Key). The abundance of programming centered on the War of 1812 influenced the theme for that year’s Food in the Garden events. As Program Producer Katie Macko explains. “When we were looking at this program, waterways was obviously where we started, because the War of 1812 is a war of great naval battles. The regions we chose were the Long Island Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico…this program comes out of the Smithsonian Food History project that looks at how various elements and events, like waterways and historic battles, in American history influence the cuisine and the food culture in those specific areas.”
Panelists lead the discussion at Food in the Gardens's The Chesapeake: Cultural Connections. Photo courtesy of Hugh Talman
Foodways and waterways? Do people readily make the connection between the two? Yes and no. “It depends on the region. So the Gulf of Mexico is a pretty easy connection because it’s New Orleans, and New Orleans is known for its very distinctive food culture. That was, in many ways, the easiest place to talk about and figure out what we wanted to cover.” Sometimes the connection requires a bit more digging. “The Great Lakes was harder, we don’t think about that body of water as being naturally part of the cuisine of the area…how waterways connect your food culture depends on what the food culture is now. When you go back and look historically, you will see how much that waterway has nourished the area and continues to nourish the area, but it might not be what immediately comes to mind because there might be something else that influences what you eat more.”
The importance of bringing both historical and modern perspectives to discussions in order to develop a change-over-time narrative, which serves as a reminder to audiences of the impact of history on their daily lives, is underscored by issues of sustainability, the consequences of human behavior and its impact on the environment and communities historically through to the present. These were common threads in the panel discussions. “Those [issues] definitely came up with the Great Lakes because one of the stories that inspired us was the contemporary issue of zebra mussels in the Great Lakes. This invasive species, brought to the lakes from ships and boats travelling in from abroad, has wiped out the native mussel population and is wreaking havoc on the natural ecosystem in the Lakes. We decided to look deeper into this story of invasive species to that region and see what their impact has been.
Guests chat at Food in the Garden's New Orleans: Marketplaces. Photo courtesy of Hugh Talman
In order to approach these explorations of foodways and waterway over time, the team was very conscious of including perspectives and expertise from a variety of fields. Panelists included the National Museum of the American Indian’s Jodi Branton who addressed the traditions of the native peoples of the Great Lakes and how they had been impacted, Psyche Williams-Forson, an Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, whose research and teaching cover cultural studies, material culture, food, women’s studies, social and cultural history of the U.S. in the late 19th and 20th centuries, Denise Breitburg, a marine ecologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and David Guas, a New Orleans born chef and owner of Bayou Bakery and the host of American Grillers on the Travel Channel.
While upcoming programs are not focused specifically on water, Katie acknowledges the very nature of the series of programming lends itself to all of the issues surrounding past, present, and future issues pertaining to water. “By looking at gardens what will inevitably be brought up are issues of access, sustainability, knowing where our food is coming from, and understanding environmental impact…it all comes back to water. What we are always trying to do is show the history of this and how many factors play into what happened then and how a lot of time many of those factors still play into what is happening now.”
Photo courtesy of Hugh Talman
*Future Water/Ways blogs will be highlighting more of the discussions from the individual panels.
Katie’s Water Story- How her perception of and experience with water has been shaped by growing up in California.
Food in the Garden format
The power of multiple perspectives
Waterways & Foodways Panels
Long Island Sound: Human Impact
The Chesapeake: Cultural Connections
The Great Lakes: Exotics & Invasives
New Orleans: Marketplaces