The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: American History
Before the Grand Canyon was made a National Park (1919) and before President Theodore Roosevelt placed the Grand Canyon under public protection by declaring it a national monument on January 11, 1908, the Smithsonian was interested in this natural wonder. In fact the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Joseph Henry wrote to Representative, later President of the United States, James A. Garfield in 1870 to urge that Congress fund John Wesley Powell's continued exploration of the Grand Canyon. Which they did with Congress appropriating $12,000 for Powell's expedition. Additionally in 1903 the fourth Smithsonian Secretary Charles Doolittle Walcott and his family traveled to the Grand Canyon. In honor of this UNESCO World Heirtage Site are some images of the visits to the canyon by Powell and the Walcotts.
- Record Unit 7004 - Charles D. Walcott Collection, 1851-1940 and undated, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 7177 - George P. Merrill Collection, circa 1800-1930 and undated, Smithsonian Institution Archives
There's no doubt that Washington, D.C. is a great place to raise kids. And one of the primary reasons why is the wide array of Smithsonian museums that are only a subway ride away. It's no wonder that regular visits to the National Mall have been an important part of our family's culture and history since the early 1970's. And part of that history has been the story of "how Uncle Maurice helped bring the elephant to the National Museum of Natural History."
So it was no surprise that our son, Jacob Harris, casually tweeted about the family story recently. The bigger surprise was the follow-up communications with Effie Kapsalis, and the rest of the Smithsonian Archives team. After a thorough search of the Smithsonian's Archives, Effie's team quickly uncovered a cache of communications from the Hungarian gentleman, Joseph J. Fénykövi, who actually hunted and killed the elephant in Angola, and the U.S. consulate employee who took possession of the skinned trophy and arranged for its transfer and transportation to the Smithsonian headquarters. What was missing from this trove of evidence was any mention of our eccentric uncle, Maurice Fogler, or any other evidence that might support the family legend. Effie and her colleagues were gentle but firm in suggesting that the only way our legend could be true is if Uncle Maurice were a friend with the Hungarian hunter or connected to the State Department. A call from Jake (Jacob) seeking further details of the elephant legend led to a thorough search of our family archives (actually just a cardboard box of genealogy files) and a phone call to Jake's 96-year-old grandmother (Maurice's sister) to uncover the 1994 transcript of an oral history interview with Uncle Maurice that confirmed the legend:
So the Hungarian and Angola connections provided the missing links between Uncle Maurice and the Smithsonian Fenykovi elephant and other parts of the oral history confirmed the State Department connection. Along the way, Effie and her team filled us in on some interesting new facts about the name of the elephant, its age, how it was stuffed, and a prior bullet wound in the elephant’s left knee. And the oral history uncovered some interesting facts about Uncle Maurice's stint as a bullfighter in training with the legendary bullfighter Manolete. Now when Jacob recounts the family legend to his kids, Alex and Miranda, on their visits to see the elephant he can add that the legend has been confirmed by additional evidence provided by he Smithsonian archivists. There’s no doubt that Washington, D.C. is a great place to raise grandkids.
- Record Unit 305 - United States National Museum, Office of the Registrar, Accession Records, 1834-1958, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
- Let there be images! - Extracting images from over 500 years of books. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- After a three year search, the Michael Ellzey was appointed to head the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. [via NARA]
- Still many things yet to be discovered in the world - Here are five fascintating new species of animals discovered by Smithsonian scientists this year. [via Smithsonian Science]
- So this Christmas you may have gotten a drone to play with, the National Air and Space Museum offers some information about drones and what you can do with them. [via AirSpace, NASM]
- Before there was Yahoo, before there was Google, there was the Reference Librarian who would answer those questions you could not answer yourself. [via Hyperallergic]
The Secretary’s Gold Medal for Exceptional Service was created in 1964 and is the highest honor given to Smithsonian staff for exceptional service over a long period of time. On December 4, 2014, Secretary G. Wayne Clough presented this award to Pam Henson for a lifetime of exceptional service to the Smithsonian Institution. She began her career here in 1973 and has been in service to the Institution for 41 years. After a brief stint conducting visitor surveys, she became a young historian in the Smithsonian Institution Archives where she was responsible for research, writing, and interviewing staff to better document the history of the Smithsonian and the history of American science. In 1993 she became the Director of the Institutional History Division and has continued to build a substantial body of knowledge about the Smithsonian and its role in American science and culture.
Along the way, she has maintained a very high professional profile in several organizations. She has been a professor at George Washington University and at American University. Her publication record includes well over one hundred different contributions to books, journals, exhibitions and web sites. She has served as mentor to countless interns and graduate students, and in addition her expertise, has been recognized with several other awards including the Forrest C. Pogue Award for her contributions to oral history and the Joseph H. Hazen Education Prize for excellence in the teaching of history of science.
Having solicited background for other award nominations, I want to share some quotes from her colleagues that reflect the enormity of her long time service:
- Marcel C. LaFollette, a Research Associate with the Archives and long time colleague of Pam’s, stated, “Her research and writing about the history of the Institution is substantial, and is characterized by an unflinchingly honest examination of what can sometimes seem, from inside as well as outside, an unfathomable organization, a hybrid conglomeration of goals, missions, museums, carousels, world-class scientific research, zoos, conservation reserves, and brilliant people. She has celebrated the eccentricities and accomplishments of the staff, documented the evolution of successive administrations, and above all, insisted that the record for all be accurate, be based on the archival evidence and preserve some sense of what it has been like to ‘be’ part of … the Smithsonian history.”
- Brian Daniels, another Research Associate with the Archives, and now on the faculty of University of Pennsylvania, said, “I came to the Smithsonian’s Institutional History Division as a pre-doctoral fellow in 2007, and have since had the privilege to have Dr. Henson as a mentor and guide as I completed my dissertation. Indeed, I am fortunate to have continued this relationship. Dr. Henson’s diverse research interests, record of careful scholarship, and tireless mentoring of researchers—from graduate students to tenured faculty—have established her as one of the most prominent living scholars in the history of the sciences.”
Dr. Clough acknowledged all of these traits and more. In his remarks at the medal ceremony he said, “I often delve into the rich history of the Smithsonian, for speeches, writing, or for my own curiosity. As Secretary, I cannot make a factual mistake in public or private – Pam is there to keep me on track, and she’s done that for numerous Secretaries across the years. I count on Pam because the information she gives me is always detailed, reliable, and fascinating… More importantly to those who work with her day in and out, she is a trusted colleague, mentor and friend. … For her years of dedicated service to the Smithsonian, and for bringing the history of this American treasure to life every day, I am pleased to give the Secretary’s Gold Medal for Exceptional Service to Pam Henson.”
From all of her colleagues here in the Smithsonian Institution Archives, we send our congratulations and kudos to Pam on this very special recognition.