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Futures Past

crowds of visitors in FUTURES

Can we truly understand the future without understanding our past? Futures Past presents rarely-seen objects from Smithsonian collections to illuminate the many ways that people have tried to make a brighter tomorrow. These historical visions shaped the world we now live in, as well as the dreams we have for our own futures. We are, after all, only the latest in a long line of future-makers.

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Exhibition Posters

Digital artist Nettrice Gaskins used algorithms and machine learning, including A.I. neural network Deep Dream, to create 11 portraits of futurists featured in the exhibition.

Portraits from a Neural Network

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175th Anniversary Celebration

For 175 years and beyond, the Smithsonian has explored the origins of the universe, the sustainability of life on the planet, the full diversity of American history, and human creativity. The Smithsonian is an engine of the future. 

Smithsonian at 175

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Yoruba diviner's staff
This Yoruba staff from the collection of the National Museum of African Art would have been used by a babalawo or diviner.
Soul City pamphlet
One new suburb of the 1970’s was special: Soul City, North Carolina. This community, seen in this pamphlet from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, was entirely constructed and administered by African Americans, who came together to build their own world on their own terms.
Bell experimental telephone
This experimental telephone from the National Museum of American History’s collection was patented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876.
Goddard rocket
This rocket from the National Air and Space museum was the first of its kind to be collected by the Smithsonian.
space suit dummy
This android space from the National Air and Space Museum’s collection was used to simulate the effects of an outer space environment on the human body.
World's Fair Poster
World’s Fairs, like the kind presented in this poster from the National Museum of American History, were visions of tomorrow with their presentations of new technologies and promises of a better future.