The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Anthropology
- The National Museum of American History remembers comedian Phyllis Diller, and takes a peek into her "gag file" at the museum.
- A giant labyrinth constructed from 250,000 books [via Mitch Toda, SIA].
- New "beautiful books" added to Stanford’s Digital Repository, including “the universe as Galileo showed it to his contemporaries . . . (and) Dr. Johnson pitching his idea for the first serious English dictionary” [via Effie Kapsalis, SIA].
- The Field Book Project reports on some of the incredible entomology field books of Harrison Gray Dyar (1826-1929), which include beautiful watercolors of his specimens.
- Half of the world’s languages face extinction.
- More Wikipedia news: our former Wikipedian-in-Residence, Sarah Stierch, talks about the Archives’ successful Women in Science edit-a-thon and what Wikipedia is doing to get more female editors and content on one of the world’s most popular websites.
- The Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility was renamed was renamed the Chandra X-ray Observatory in honor of the late astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, who passed away this week seventeen years ago. In honor of "Chandra," as he was nicknamed, explore the Chandra X-ray Observatory set on the Smithsonian Flickr Commons [via Effie Kapsalis, SIA].
- The Smithsonian Institution Libraries won an Emmy Award for this video, which highlights the treasures in what is the world’s largest museum library system:
On this day in 1829, James Smithson passed away in Genoa, Italy. His remains were originally buried there, about a mile west of Genoa, on a high elevation overlooking the town of Sampierdarena. In January 1904, Alexander Graham Bell headed the team that brought back Smithson's remains to the United States.
A simple mortuary chapel was created in a room to the left of the north entrance of the Smithsonian Institution Building by the Washington architectural firm of Hornblower & Marshall. Within the chapel there were stained-glass windows, a plaster ceiling, and a floor of dark Tennessee marble. The entrance to the room was sealed off by a heavy iron gate created from pieces of the fence that had surrounded the Italian grave site.
In 1974 the crypt room was renovated and the gates removed so that people could now enter the room to see the crypt of James Smithson. During the renovation, Smithson's coffin was removed from the tomb and scientific study conducted on Smithson's skeleton by Dr. J. Lawrence Angel, Curator of Physical Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History. Among their various findings, Dr. Angel determined that Smithson was 5 feet 6 inches tall; that he died of natural causes; that he had an extra vertebrae; that he smoked a pipe; and that he was probably an avid fencer based upon the development of his shoulders. After a 48-hour period, his remains were resealed in the coffin and replaced in the tomb.
Smithson's gift to the United States lead to the founding of the Smithsonian Institution we see today, with its 19 museums, the National Zoo, and multiple research centers. With its collections numbering 137 million, and with 30 million visitors per year, the Smithsonian strives to continue its mission towards the "increase and diffusion of knowledge."
Mr. Smithson Goes to Washington And the Search for a Proper Memorial, The Smithsonian’s Architectural History & Historic Preservation Division
Fun Facts: The Surprises You Find When Writing Wikipedia With the Archives, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
For the past few months, I have had the unique experience of digitizing the David Crockett Graham Field Book Collection which is part of the Field Book Project, a collaborative effort between the Archives and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History which aims to create one online location for scholars and others to visit when searching for field books and other field research materials. Though many individuals may be unaware of how intrinsically useful Graham's work is to natural history, anthropology, and Chinese cultural studies, the collection is evidence that David Crockett Graham was dedicated to preserving Chinese cultural history and biodiversity. Comprised of diaries (field books), photographs, negatives, lantern slides, hand-drawn maps, an account book, general correspondence, and other miscellaneous material, this collection is a portal for those who seek a better understanding of the biological and cultural landscapes of the Szechwan Province in early-20th-century China. Moreover, it showcases how studies in global biodiversity fit into the multifaceted history of the Smithsonian Institution.
David Crockett Graham (1884-1961) attended many educational institutions in his lifetime. In 1908, he first received a B.A. degree from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. Then, in 1916, he received his B.D. from Rochester Theological Seminary (now Colgate Rochester Divinity School). Later, he would go on to attend the Divinity School at the University of Chicago for postgraduate and doctoral studies. The Smithsonian Institution published Graham's Ph.D. dissertation "Religion in Szechwan Province, China" in 1928. Just a few years later, in 1931, they appointed him with the honorary title of Collaborator in Biology.
Graham began collecting specimens of natural history from Szechwan Province in 1919 for the United States National Museum (now the National Museum of Natural History) during his breaks from missionary work. These specimens included mammals, birds, insects, and snakes. He also sent the museum anthropological data of Chinese cultural groups common in Szechwan Province, such as the Ch'uan Miao, Ch'iang, Lolo, and the Bolstoi people, as well as their representations of folk life and folk art. The diversity of the geographic areas of Szechuan that Graham visited, including the vicinity of Suifu, the Min River Valley, Mount Omei, the Szechuan-Yunnan border, and the Szechuan-Tibetan border regions, is portrayed in his numerous field book entries. Further, with over 600 images in the collection, there is no shortage of visual accounts of Graham’s work as a Smithsonian scientist. The photographs of Chinese indigenous people are fascinating images that truly represent Graham’s multicultural experience.
His field book collection provides international researchers and scholars with incredible insight into some of the cultural communities and physical settings of early-20th-century China. Digitizing his work has taught me more about the diversity of the Szechwan Province. Through reading Graham's field books and closely examining his photo collection, I have become well-associated with his first-hand account of cultural groups, animals and plants. The collection has significantly expanded my knowledge of 20th-century-Chinese history. Even if you have very little interest in biological or anthropological studies, this collection is worth perusing through for a closer examination of a unique historical period and cultural landscape. It will not be long before this collection is fully accessible online, so be sure to check it out!