What to Do in Washington, D.C.
AHA Staff, November 1998
Editor's Note: The features on these pages, contributed by the Local Arrangements Committee for the 1999 annual meeting, list various sights and organized tours that participants can take in while they are in the meeting city.
Washington, D.C.'s image is so coherent and so widely communicated, it is hard to see the city beyond the monuments. Whether it is the backdrop of a breaking news report, an aerial shot of a Washington-based sporting event, or the nationally televised broadcast of Independence Day celebrations on the Mall, it is the Capitol, the White House, or the Lincoln or Washington monuments that dominate. Short of a controversial mayor or a particularly gruesome crime, it is the city's federal, not local, identity that looms.
Such was not always the case. It took more than a century to realize Pierre L'Enfant's bold vision for a national city of stature, one that would project its international standing through a coherent government presence. With the success in achieving that early vision, much of the city's vital residential and commercial life was pushed to the margin of national consciousness. And yet Washington--as much as any other recent site for AHA meetings--offers an extraordinary range of opportunities for social and cultural as well as intellectual experiences that do not normally appear on the itinerary of grade school trips to the capital.
With this in mind, the Local Arrangements Committee (LAC) of the 1999 AHA annual meeting has organized a series of tours and site visits to encourage participants in the meeting to get out and enjoy the city (see pages 22-24). In addition to these formally organized activities, there are a host of other possibilities. We mention here just a sampling to whet your appetite. Don't take our word alone. Visit the listed web sites to get a greater sense of how to make the most of your time in Washington.
A good place to start--for a lesson on how the federal and local city converge--is the National Building Museum (www.nbm.org). Housed in the old Pension Building, which is worth seeing itself for its soaring atrium, the permanent exhibit, Washington: City and Symbol, examines some alternative directions considered for the city. Washington has a host of other extraordinary buildings. from the flamboyant Executive Office Building, to Daniel Burnham's Beaux Arts Union Station and the MCI Center, the city's new sports arena in the heart of a revitalized downtown. Participants may also want to visit the new Reagan Building in the Federal Triangle complex on Constitution Avenue or the National Cathedral, just north of the meeting site, with extraordinary views of the city from its tower, or simply to walk through any one of the nearby neighborhoods to the meeting. Guides to some of these neighborhoods can be found through the online newspaper Intowner (www.intowner.com).
Most historians are already familiar with the Library of Congress, but many have yet to visit the new National Archives facility in College Park, Maryland (www.nara.gov). Participants not wishing to join the special tour that includes a discussion of the Nixon tapes can visit the College Park facility on their own by catching the shuttle bus on the hour from the National Archives at 8th and Constitution Avenue.
To expose scholars to other, less well-known scholarly resources in the area, we have arranged visits to the National Register of Historic Places, the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. (www.hsw.dc.org), and the D.C. Public Library (www.dclibrary.org).
Not on the schedule, but ripe for research trips before, during, or after the meeting are the Folger Shakespeare Library (www.folger.edu), 201 East Capitol Street, SE; the National Geographic Society, 16th and M Streets, NW; the National Academy of Sciences Library, 2101 Constitution Avenue, NW; the National Institutes of Health libraries, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, Maryland, at Metro's Medical Center (Red Line) stop; Dumbarton Oaks (www.doaks.org), 1703 32nd Street, NW, whose Center for Byzantine Studies houses the most extensive library of its kind covering history and culture of the Byzantine, late classical, Hellenistic, Islamic, and medieval East European periods, open by application only.
For a review of the Smithsonian Institution's current exhibits, visit its web site at www.si.edu/orgaza/start.htm. A few Smithsonian sites that do not come immediately to mind are the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum (www.si.edu/orgaza/museums/anacost/anachome.htm), 1901 Fort Place, SE and the National Postal Museum, 2 Massachusetts Avenue, NE, across from Union Station. We recommend to meeting-goers one of the city's newest cultural structures, the Latin American Youth Center (www.youthlink.net/layc), which will be unveiling its first exhibit at the end of this year. Some other outstanding options are the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, at 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW, across 14th Street; Cedar Hill, Frederick Douglass's home administered by the National Park Service at 1411 W Street, SE;
The Octagon (artcom.com/museums/vs/mr/20006.htm), a federal-style structure owned by the American Institute of Architects; Anderson House, the headquarters and Museum of the Society of the Cincinnati, at 2118 Massachusetts Avenue, NW; the Woodrow Wilson House Museum at 2340 S Street, NW; and the Bethune Museum-Archives at 1318 Vermont Avenue, which serves as the home for the National Archive for Black Women's History, available by appointment. Two museums children may enjoy as well are the Newseum (www.newseum.org), 1101 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia, at the Rosslyn stop on the Orange and Blue Metro lines, a new center exploring the history of media, and the Capital Children's Museum, 800 Third Street, NE, behind Union Station.
Washington has a magnificent body of public art, from the extraordinary mural along the Klingle Road section of its Mount Pleasant neighborhood to the many statues and memorials that enrich streetscapes and parks throughout the city. For a guide to this feature of the city, see James M. Goode, The Outdoor Sculpture of Washington, D.C. (Smithsonian Press, 1974). Among the more recent additions to the city, you may want to see the FDR, the Korean War, and the Women in the Military memorials on the Mall. A bit more removed, but worth the visit, is August Saint-Gaudens's memorial to Clover Adams, wife of historian Henry Adams, in Rock Creek Cemetery, on Rock Creek Road and Webster Street, NW near the Maryland line. Another unusual collection of statuary can be found at Congressional Cemetery, at 18th and E Streets, SE, a short walk from the Potomac Avenue Metro stop.
If it is art you are interested in, be sure to include on your list the National Gallery of Art, Fourth and Constitution Avenue, NW; the Phillips Collection (www.phillipscollection.org), the city's first museum of modern art; the Textile Museum (www.artcom/museums/nv/sz/20008.40.htm), 2320 S Street; the D.A.R Museum, 1776 D Street, N.W; the National Museum of Women in the Arts (www.nmwa.org), 1250 New York Avenue, NW, near the Metro Center stop; the Art Museum of the Americas, 201 18th Street, NW, specializing in Latin American and Caribbean art; and the Corcoran Gallery, 17th Street and New York Avenue, NW
Of course visitors to Washington deserve a rich night life too. We'll have more to say on that subject as the annual meeting approaches. But if you want to get news on theater, restaurants, or nightclubs, the Washington Post's web page (www.washingtonpost.com) is a good place to start.