The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Throughout the next months, the Smithsonian Institution Archives will be posting about the Smithsonian and the Civil War in honor of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. Not surprisingly, like any large organization, the Smithsonian has always used a lot of paper in its daily operations. But did you know that the Smithsonian had what was, most likely, one of the earlier organizational recycling programs in the U.S.? We thought that Earth Day would be the perfect time to revisit the Smithsonian’s first forays into green practices. The Smithsonian’s first secretary, Joseph Henry, and his staff conducted a large amount of domestic and international correspondence. They wrote to agents, donors, and recipients who participated in the Smithsonian’s international publications exchange; the Institution’s large network of volunteer meteorological observers; scientists and military officers on expeditions and surveys; speakers in its lecture series; and numerous other individuals, government officials, and scientific organizations. The Smithsonian was also a major publisher, which required large amounts of paper not only for correspondence with authors, illustrators, referees, and printers, but for manuscripts, proofs, and the finished articles and books. During the Civil War, the Smithsonian found itself challenged on many fronts, not the least of which was a significant jump in the cost of paper. The increase coincided with a cessation of income from the Smithsonian’s investments in southern state bonds; delays in receiving federally appropriated funds for the care of the national collections; and the receipt of the interest on its endowment, deposited in the U.S. Treasury, in devalued currency rather than gold.
At the end of December 1862, Secretary Henry took action. He sent a memo to the staff asking that baskets be placed in every room of the Smithsonian Building or “Castle” for the collection of waste paper, which would then be sold. In so doing, Henry launched what was probably the Smithsonian’s first recycling program. Given that a fire in the building some two years later destroyed most of the Institution’s records since its founding, it is perhaps not surprising that this memo wasn’t found within the voluminous institutional records at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. It was actually found by the Smithsonian Institution Archives’ Joseph Henry Papers Project staff many years ago in the National Archives, among correspondence from the Institution’s meteorological observers in the records of the Weather Bureau. Today, the Smithsonian’s recycling efforts continue. And while the Smithsonian Institution Archives recognizes the importance of paper and the history it documents, it fully supports current efforts to recycle waste paper and other reusable products. Smithsonian staff can contact the Archives and Information Management Team if they have trouble distinguishing between which paper (and electronic) documents should be saved and which can be recycled. If you live in the D.C. area and would like to help some of the Smithsonian non-paper-based recycling efforts, you can bring your electronics to the front desk at the National Zoo as part of their Recycle at the Zoo program, which helps safely recycle electronics while earning money for conservation. Kathleen W. Dorman, is a Research Associate in the Institutional History Division of the Smithsonian Institution Archives and former Associate Editor of the Joseph Henry Papers Project.
Kathy Dorman is a Research Associate at the Smithsonian Institution.
Oooo—a pretty resource I’ve not come across before. The Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South at the Library of Congress contains early- to mid-20th century photographs of notable buildings and landscapes (both humble and grand) throughout the American South [via Scout Report].
- The 2011 WebWise Conference, “Libraries, Museums, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in Education, Learning, and Research,” (whew, that’s a mouthful!) is now free and available on the web [via Ricc Ferrante, SIA].
- And speaking of online programs, the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art will be hosting a free, free international online conversation on the museum’s famous James McNeill Whistler interior on Wednesday, May 11, 8 - 9:30 PM Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).
- The National Air and Space museum wants to make it clear that their Wright Flyer is real.
- The Hartlepool Museums and Heritage Service has been added to the Flickr Commons, and their first set, on the World War I bombardment of Hartlepool, is really striking. The Commons is currently taking new registrations from institutions, so I'm sure we'll be seeing lots of action there over the next few months [via Susannah Wells, SIA].
- Finally, your kids will know what it was like… A new game called Digital: A Love Story, recreates what it was like to be "online" in the late 1980s.
- The National Zoo’s former pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, made a mark on the world when they were gifted by the People’s Republic of China to the zoo after President Richard Nixon’s historic trip to China in February 1972. Check out footage of former First Lady Pat Nixon accepting the gift of the pandas just a few months after the president’s successful diplomatic visit to China:
First Lady Pat Nixon welcomes pandas to the National Zoo, Washington, DC, April 16, 1972. The footage taken inside the panda house is silent, (NPC#1211-218, Richard Nixon Library), Courtesy of the National Archives.
Recently, while exploring the history of the Smithsonian’s docent program, I came across a copy of the National Museum of Natural History Docent Cookbook that was published in May 1984. It contains 116 pages of recipes contributed by the museum's docents and Office of Education staff, each linked to the name of the contributor and the discipline in which she (and occasionally he) volunteered. The cookbook contains a hodgepodge of recipes with names like Brandied and Herbed Very Special Chicken Liver Paté, Foolproof Chocolate Fudge, Janet's Polish In-Law's Walnut Cake, Medieval Beef, and Delectable Beans.
The recipe that first caught my attention, though, is for Elephant Hide and Ivory, contributed by Magda Schremp, Coordinator of Docents. The candy serves as a sort of keynote recipe and, no, does not contain any actual elephant parts. An elephant was a common symbol used in the National Museum of Natural History's docent publications, most notably in The Elephant and Castle, the museum's docent newsletter, and referred to the Fénykövi Elephant in the museum's rotunda (learn more about the elephant in an earlier post by Mitch Toda). The recipe appears below as published, but there appear to be gaps in the instructions. My assumption was that the instructions were to be followed twice, omitting the jelly beans the second time, to create squares of hide and squares of ivory.
Elephant Hide and Ivory
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 24 black jelly beans
Place jelly beans in a small soup bowl. Pour just enough boiling water over them to cover. Agitate the jelly beans gently and just long enough for the color to be soaked off them. Remove the jelly beans from the black-colored liquid with a fork, and throw them away. Pour the black liquid into a very small pan and, over a low/medium heat, bring to a boil and boil away a little of the liquid. Do not boil so much away that you have a thick black syrup, as this would be difficult to combine later with the fudge syrup. In a heavy pan, combine one-half the sugar, one-half the cream and one-half the salt, stirring to blend well. Place over a medium heat and, while stirring, gradually add the black-colored liquid. Bring to a boil. Cover and let boil gently for 2-3 minutes. Uncover, and wash down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Continue to boil over medium heat, without stirring, until the syrup reaches the soft-ball stage (234 degrees -240 degrees Fahrenheit). Place the pot on a cooling rack and, without stirring, let cool to lukewarm (110 degrees). While syrup is cooling, butter 2 small pans. When syrup has cooled to 110 degrees, add vanilla, stir until creamy, then spread in one of the buttered pans. Cover the pan with a damp cloth for half an hour. This keeps the candy creamy. Uncover, let stand until firm and then cut into squares.
My interest piqued, I decided to attempt the recipe (I say attempt because I've never actually made candy before). All went well until I tried to remove the candy from the pans. The "hide" stretched like taffy and the squares looked more like blobs by the time they reached the plate. The "ivory" had a consistency closer to fudge, but almost every square crumbled to pieces.