The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Collections in Focus
The substantial set of files (68.25 cubic feet) which comprise Accession 90-105 (the majority of the Science Service biographical morgue that survives at the Smithsonian Institution Archives) might be generously described as a "mish-mosh" of material. Folders arrived at the Archives chockablock full of not only photographs of people but also news clippings, press releases, advertising brochures, notes, and correspondence.
Science Service produced thousands upon thousands of pages of copy every year. The biographical files assisted in that work, allowing writers to add personal details to stories of technical accomplishment. All photographs and publicity material about potentially interesting people were sent to the library. In 1940, librarian Minna Gill estimated that they had over 10,000 "photographic portraits" of scientists and other prominent people.
A glimpse of a single folder conjures up a filing nightmare. One can imagine frantic writers pushing deadlines and the harried librarian retrieving material ("do we have any information on the chemist Joe Smith?" "No, put that stuff back. I want the organic chemist who works at Dow not the one on the Stanford faculty.") Even if never again recalled, the material sat there at the ready.
As the Archives now attempts to identify and caption the thousands of newly digitized photographs from Accession 90-105, the group photographs can be especially problematic. Every face should matter. And context (date and place) matters.
Here are two examples of how preserving labels and accompanying materials can be important and how, when that information is meager or missing, the cybercommunity might help.
In the first example, the original photograph was well labeled ("Most Famous Cancer Researchers in the World”) but there is no accompanying mention of where and when the photograph was taken. Seen left to right are: American geneticist Clarence Cook Little (1888-1971), Director of the Roscoe B. Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine; physiologist Edgar Allen (1892-1943), Professor of Anatomy and Chairman of Department of Yale University Medical School; U.S. Public Health Service biologist Howard Bancroft Andervont (1898-1981); American geneticist Madge Thurlow Macklin (1893-1962), who was then Associate Professor of Histology and Embryology at University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario; University of Oslo physician Leiv Kreyberg (1896-1984); biophysics pioneer Gioacchino Failla (1891-1961), who by the mid-1930s was at a New York City cancer hospital; and French radiation oncologist Henri Coutard (1876-1950), Department of X-Ray Therapy for Cancer, Radium Institute, University of Paris.
The date is not on the photograph, but it may be 1937, when all these scientists participated in a Symposium on Cancer at the University of Wisconsin. Papers from that meeting were published as a book in 1938 by University of Wisconsin Press.
Can you help to make the definitive identification?
In the second example, the accompanying information includes the date but not every person is clearly identified.
The photograph shows an American Cyanamid Company research team with a model of tetracycline in 1959. From left to right are: James H. Boothe (b. 1916); Samuel Kushner (1915-1994); T. L. Fields; Andrew Steven Kende (b. 1933); and Raymond G. Wilkinson. James H. Boothe and Michael J. Martell later synthesized antibiotic minocycline for Lederle (a division of American Cyanamid); Andrew Steven Kende had been a Westinghouse Science Talent Search winner and joined the faculty of University of Rochester.
Can you help with more information?
- Science Service collections at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
For our next Miscellaneous Adventure, you voted to open Record Unit 7399 – Hahn William Capps Papers, 1939-1964, Box 1, Folder Miscellaneous Larval Notes, Sketches, etc. (Unpublished). This folder is pretty thin, so I have to admit I was a little disappointed when I first opened it thinking it was going to be a bust. However, tucked between other miscellaneous notes, I discovered what I was hoping to find: a set of notes with hand-drawn larval sketches.
Hanh Willam Capps was an Entomologist with the United States Department of Agriculture from 1938 to 1964 and primarily focused on the study of Lepidoptera. While this folder came from his papers, the set of notes I found particularly interesting were actually written by Frederick M. Bayer. Bayer was a curator at the National Museum of Natural History, and a marine biologist who specialized in the study of soft corals, which makes his notes about caterpillars even most interesting. Also, attached to the notes was a memorandum from Austin H. Clark suggesting that the notes were worth keeping because it was the only known description of the early stages of this particular species in Florida.
Frederick Bayer’s notes that were found in this particular folder appear to be written about a month before his 17th birthday in his hometown of Riviera, Florida. The notes cover the early life cycle of a Florida species of caterpillar, and are very detailed. They start with date and time information for when and where the egg was initially deposited, as well as a description of the egg itself. Once the larva begins to emerge, Bayer describes its length and color, and he includes a sketch of the larva. He continues his accounts through the molting stages with the descriptions and drawings becoming lengthier and more detailed each time. Bayer ends his notes with a drawing of the chrysalis.
Vote Folder A for Record Unit 7388, Oscar Ling Cartwright Papers, 1929-1979 and undated, Box 16, Miscellaneous Reports, Publications, and Photographs, 1951-1979 (2 folders)
Vote Folder B for Record Unit 351, National Air and Space Museum, Photographs, 1922-1958, 1963-1966, Box 1, Folder Miscellaneous Photographs
- Past Miscellaneous Adventures posts, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives