The Mall owes its existence to George Washington, who conceived the idea in the context of his scientific training as a land surveyor. His vision was translated into a detailed plan by French architect/engineer Peter (Pierre) Charles L’Enfant.
Long before there was a Mall, a Washington, or a United States, many of America’s indigenous nations made and used sophisticated astronomical observations and were served by experts in botany, agriculture, and hydrology. Many of their achievements are on exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian on the southeast edge of the Mall.
Next door to the Museum of the American Indian, the National Air and Space Museum exhibits and celebrates the sciences of aviation, astronomy, and space exploration both by the U.S. and by other countries.
Other Mall museums created and maintained by the Smithsonian Institution, a federally chartered organization founded by the chemist and mineralogist James Smithson, preserve and interpret the record of scientific achievements. The National Museum of Natural History focuses on geology, geography, hydrology, oceanography and the biological sciences as well as anthropology archaeology, and interdisciplinary environmental studies. The National Museum of American History celebrates American accomplishments in engineering and other applied sciences.
The newly-opened National Museum of African-American History and Culture commemorates and interprets the many contributions of America’s citizens of African descent, including their contributions to the sciences. A current exhibit highlights the roles played by Islam in the lives of African-Americans, notably those brought to this continent in enslavement. And the National Gallery of Art, too, includes artworks that speak to scientific inquiry.
The contemporary Mall and its managers face many practical challenges, not the least being the Mall’s very popularity as a stage for democracy, freedom, equality, and justice. Traffic and parking management and air pollution have become serious problems whose solutions demand the application of science. Flooding, too, is a common problem, which may be exacerbated by climate change. The National Mall Coalition has offered a proposal to address these issues, the National Mall Underground, which now awaits a feasibility study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in cooperation with the District of Columbia government. The project would accommodate numerous tour buses, serve as a cistern to mitigate flooding, and provide a visitor center and other amenities on the Mall. We welcome any comments science marchers may have.
All around you, as you march on the Mall, you will see evidence of and tributes to the roles that science has played in the history of the United States, and the roles that the United States has played in the achievements of science.
Today, you are part of that history and contribute to those achievements. Welcome!