The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Collections in Focus
One early assumption about the Science Service collections was that the material would be of primary (if not sole) interest to historians of science, technology, and medicine. Soon, however, historians of journalism and mass communications realized that the records offered valuable new perspectives on the construction of science news and information during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. One could, for example, analyze reporting approaches, growth of scientific photojournalism, the use of radio, and the collaboration between the media and technical experts.
Because the Science Service staff had friends and colleagues in media outlets around the world, the records also provide glimpses of the wider world of journalism. Watson Davis and the other senior editors were members of the National Press; many had congressional and White House press credentials. During World War II, their role was to report on the home front but they maintained close contact with colleagues who served in far more dangerous situations abroad.
One of the reporters whom Davis had gotten to know during the Scopes anti-evolution trial was Raymond Lewis Clapper (1892-1944). By 1925, Clapper was well-known to readers around the country. He had worked for United Press since 1916, and eventually became head of the syndicate's Washington bureau before joining the Scripps-Howard organization in the 1930s. He had begun his radio reporting career in 1942 with the Mutual Broadcasting Service.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Clapper became a military correspondent, covering U.S. Navy activities in the Pacific and broadcasting from every place he could. He died at age 51, during the U.S. invasion of the Marshall Islands, when the plane in which he was traveling as an observer collided with another plane.
In peacetime, Thomas Robert Henry (1893-1968) had covered science for the Washington Star, and was a charter member of the National Association of Science Writers, which a small group of journalists (including Davis) had founded in 1934. During World War II, Henry was embedded with U.S. infantry forces as they moved through Italy, and he was among the reporters who later observed horror firsthand as the Allies liberated the Nazi death camps. After the war, Henry became an advisor to the Smithsonian Institution news office (his papers are in the Archives).
The Science Service circle of friends and colleagues also included political cartoonists. Born in Carbondale, Pennsylvania, in 1919, Thomas F. Flannery (1919-1999) had attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn before joining the U.S. Air Force. He still looked like a "youngster" when he served, from 1943 to 1945, as a cartoonist for the U.S. Army magazine Yank.
After the war, Flannery became a newspaper editorial cartoonist, eventually working for the Baltimore Sun from 1957 until 1988, and producing memorable commentary on attempts to desegregate the nation's schools. Several thousand of his original drawings, on topics that range from the environment to foreign affairs, from the space program to the Vietnam War, are in the collections of the Johns Hopkins University Library.
A great editorial cartoon, Stephen Hess and Milton Kaplan observe in The Ungentlemanly Art, must quickly fuse an idea about contemporary events into artistic expression. Cartoonists like Flannery translated the daily experiences of soldiers into visual communications, all with a few lines of ink, just as the reporters like Clapper and Henry painted pictures for their readers with words.
- Thomas R. Henry: Soldier, Explorer, Scientist, Journalist, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Thomas F. Flannery cartoon, Yank Magazine - The Army Weekly
- Tom Flannery Cartoons Collection, Johns Hopkins University
- Record Unit 7347 - Thomas R. Henry Papers, 1933-1966, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Science Service collections at the Smithsonian Institution Archives