The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Collections in Focus
Today is "National Hat Day." As a fan of stylish head coverings, I think it is a great idea. And as a fan of extraordinary female scientists, I thought of some unusual headgear examples from the photographs in the Smithsonian Institution Archives collections.
At The Bigger Picture, we typically celebrate these women for their professional accomplishments, such as in the weekly Women in Science Wednesday posts and more in-depth during Women's History Month. Today, however, let us also celebrate their sense of style and the many types of hats they donned.
The style award must go to cancer researcher, Elise Depew Strang L'Esperance, M.D. Dr. L’Esperance was a pioneer in cancer treatment for women and in 1951 she and Catherine Macfarlane were joint recipients of the prestigious Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award. Her elegant, sweeping hat coincidentally echoed the design of the statue atop the award.
Fieldwork in archeology, geology, and biology often involves many days and weeks in the sun. My favorite practical example is the wide-brimmed hat of science journalist, Emma Reh, who reported on archaeological expeditions in Mexico during the 1930s. The brim of what appears be a leather hat would have certainly protected her from the intense Mexican sun.
Whether you're a hat fan or not, you can appreciate the amazing things these women accomplished. If you are a fan, delight in the fashion below!
The next Miscellaneous Adventure that you all voted for has us exploring Record Unit 416, National Museum of Natural History, Public Information Officer, Records, circa 1969-1991. The folder, titled "Subject Files Research: Miscellaneous Research and Discoveries" comes from Box 19, and mostly contains news articles from the 1960s to 1980s about ethnological and environmental discoveries. While I found many of the articles in this folder interesting, three stories in particular caught my eye.
The first one is a set of articles that appeared in Smithsonian Institution Research Reports in the Fall of 1974 and Summer of 1979. These articles document the work of Dr. Gus Van Beek, curator of Old World Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History, during his excavation of Tell Jemmeh, a hill on the border of Gaza and Egypt. The site was believed to be a stopping point for caravans in the first millennium B.C., and during his nine summers spent there, 12 acres of ruins were excavated. In addition to uncovering lots of vessels and pots, Dr. Van Beek and his team uncovered blacksmith shops, kilns, grain silos, residences, and other architectural ruins. All of the work conducted on Tell Jemmeh helped to provide details about the site's rich history.
The second article that caught my eye is titled "Scientists Explore 'Lost Worlds' in Venezula," and was written for the Smithsonian News Service in January 1985. The article details a visit by U.S. scientists to Cerro de la Neblina, an isolated mesa in Venezuela's Guayana Highlands, where "[b]izarre species of flora and fauna existing nowhere else in the world have evolved…" that took place a year earlier. According to one account of the trip, on Cerro de la Neblina "giant pitcher plants and other insectivorous plants abound, spectacular orchids grow on the ground instead of on trees, flightless grasshoppers and giant earthworms make an occasional appearance, tiny black frogs and lizards move through dense mats of vegetation and birds sing from the moss-covered branches of dwarf trees." This plateau is one in a series of mesas whose unique ecosystem inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel, The Lost World.
The third article is a news release about the fossil remains of a gigantic seabird, a South Carolina pseudodontorn, that was identified by Smithsonian scientists in 1987. After being discovered in Charleston in 1984, the fossils were studied by Dr. Storrs L. Olson of the National Museum of Natural History and Kenneth I. Warheit, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. Based on their findings, Dr. Oslon and Mr. Warheit believed that the bird had a wing span of over 18 feet and weighed about 90 pounds, which makes it over four times heavier than the largest living seabird.
Folder A for Record Unit 50 – Smithsonian Office of the Secretary, Records, 1949-1964, Box 26, Folder: Awards - Miscellaneous, 1928-1958
Folder B for Record Unit 7399 – Hahn William Capps Paper, 1939-1964, Box 1, Folder: Miscellaneous Larval Notes, Sketches, etc. (Unpublished)
- The Smithsonian Institution Excavation at Tell Jemmeh, Israel, 1970–1990, David Ben-Shlomo and Gus W. Van Beek