The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Archive
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
This summer, Sarah Casto and I interned through a partnership of the Archives of American Art (AAA) and Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA). Our project to stabilize the Macbeth Gallery Scrapbooks, a collection of twenty scrapbooks in the collection of AAA, was generously funded by The Smithsonian Women’s Committee. More can be read about the history of the scrapbooks and the valuable information they contain here. Under the supervision of SIA’s senior conservator Nora Lockshin and AAA registrar Susan Cary, Sarah and I were presented with the unique challenge of working primarily in an office at AAA rather than in a conservation lab. We employed our ingenuity to make the simple office into a functioning pop-up lab, our "conservation station."
Scrapbooks are known within archives and libraries for the range of challenges they present as objects, and the American Institute of Conservation (AIC) Book and Paper Group has assembled reference materials about the conservation of scrapbooks in a wiki. The Macbeth Gallery Scrapbooks are a series of commercially produced scrapbooks of varying type and condition, and they primarily contain newspaper clippings and other items related to the gallery. Our initial survey of the scrapbooks revealed inherently brittle wood-pulp paper pages, many of which cracked at our touch, as well as failed adhesives, leaving loose clippings and gallery catalogs.
With the conditions of the scrapbooks ranging from fully intact to entirely disbound (with all pages separated from the book's original binding), we found that some books remained only tenuously intact. Simply turning pages resulted in pages cracking away from the binding, so laying the book flat to image the pages for digitization would have been impossible. We determined with our supervisors that the best thing for five of the scrapbooks was to purposefully disbind them, storing the loose pages in folders with buffered interleaving papers. To stabilize the scrapbooks, Sarah and I needed to clean the pages, readhere all loose items, reinforce and repair torn pages with adhesive and paper, consolidate covers, collate pages, and rehouse the collection.
Before we could begin treatment, we had to carefully select the best combinations of adhesive and paper to use for repairing the scrapbooks. The traditional method of paper repair - Japanese paper applied with wheat starch paste and dried under weight - was not feasible for this project for a large percentage of the albums due to their extremely brittle state and time constraints. These weakened papers do not always respond well to the stresses of mending even with extremely careful application, wetting and drying – new breaks can result at repair boundaries where the binding is restrained, or where pages are turned at corners, as example. Sarah and I were faced with twenty scrapbooks, and our ultimate goal was stabilization for digitization, not full conservation treatment, so we needed a more efficient method for mending. Thus, we turned to solvent-set and heat-set tissues. Sarah and I made our own mending tissues, turning to shared and tested methods within the conservation community. We spent several days experimenting with different adhesives and application methods, adapting as needed based on trial and error. We found the most satisfaction with a variety of weights of handmade papers, prepared with Avanse MV 100 and Plextol B 500, a mixture formulated and tested by conservators at the National Archives and Records Administration because it is heat-set and it requires no drying time when applied. This allowed us to rapidly increase the pace of our work. For loose items, where original placement was verifiable, we applied wheat starch paste where possible and dried the items under weight. We were able to stabilize all twenty scrapbooks during our ten-week summer internship.
For our final task, we rehoused the books in their original boxes with the addition of custom inserts to fill out excess space in the box, securing the books in place which serves to reduce shifting and thus breakage and further losses. Our work ensures that these books will withstand the handling required in the process of digitization which will ultimately provide the Archives of American Art and their researchers with high resolution images of the scrapbooks. This will reduce the future handling of the actual books, and ensure the long term preservation of their content and original physical material.
- Macbeth Gallery scrapbooks, 1892-1952, Archives of American Art
- Accession 96-012: Smithsonian Institution, Office of Development, Smithsonian Women's Committee, Records, 1971-1993, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 267: Cooper-Hewitt Museum, Records, 1881, 1895-1976, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Modern-day sleep studies usually confine their experimental subjects within quiet, controlled environments and attach them to monitoring devices. For the seven student volunteers involved in the George Washington University (GWU) Sleeplessness Study, the weekend of August 14-16, 1925, was, instead, packed with lighthearted activities, many of them outdoors and documented by diligent observers.
The study's director, GWU psychology professor Fred August Moss (1893-1966), had approached Science Service with the idea for the weekend. Moss offered exclusive access to the news group because he believed they would not sensationalize the research. Science Service's biology editor Frank Thone privately regarded it as a "bughouse idea," but decided gamely "to go ahead with it and see what would happen." He and staff member Emily C. Davis wrote articles for the syndicate's clients, placing them in about a dozen newspapers. Thone also took photographs and interviewed the participants. Fortunately, his unpublished interview notes are preserved in the Smithsonian Institution Archive' Science Service collections.
As described in Part 1, the students spent their first night of "midsummer madness" driving in the countryside, "far away from reporters and bright lights" while "singing to the accompaniment of a 'uke' or mandolin." Louise Omwake (1907-2008) told Thone: "We were all alive and peppy, and if anyone contends that automobile rides bring on sleep I challenge him to ride with our crowd while we revive every song from 'K-K-K-Katy' to 'Who Takes Care'."
On Saturday afternoon, August 15, they played baseball. Moss initially intended to take the group to a National League game between the Washington and New York teams but decided against such a public appearance. The reporters whose papers had not purchased the Science Service coverage were beginning to hound the students. And so they "fled to the country and swelled the audience at a smaller but equally exciting ball game between two teams of youngsters," with Moss acting as umpire.
One unanticipated inconvenience for the volunteers was that the physiological tests affected their meal schedules. Medical School professor Oscar B. Hunter had insisted that breakfasts be postponed until after 8 a.m. Louise Omwake insisted in return that a chocolate bar, gobbled early one morning, was "candy" not "food." Louise was overruled and forced to wait hours before eating her next meal.
Sleep deprivation reportedly did not affect scores on the four intelligence tests administered during the weekend. The group may, in fact, have tuned their mental acuity by continually interspersing scientific testing with friendly verbal sparring. Thelma Hunt (1903-1992) explained that sleeplessness did not impair their ability to solve crossword puzzles or excel at vocabulary games. "Neither a night's sleep nor a dictionary was necessary to recall the meaning of 'erudite', the opposite of 'nonchalance', or a synonym for 'opulent'." (So, gentle readers, how did you do at that test?)
On Saturday night, they gathered for a supper party, danced until midnight, and then once again drove along country roads. The Boston Globe wrote that a favored dance tune that night was "Three O'Clock in the Morning." Nevertheless, Alice Haines (1904-1974) explained, the long hours without sleep began to have an effect: "The motion of the car was not conducive to wakefulness; the mandolin was picked vigorously for a while, then more softly, then not at all."
Dawn on Sunday signaled less than twelve hours to go. The afternoon's reward (and distraction) was a picnic excursion to Plummers Island, a wildlife preserve in the Potomac River. Purchased by the Washington Biologists' Field Club in 1908 (and now owned by the U.S. National Park Service), the twelve-acre island, nine miles from Washington, had been systematically studied by area scientists (including many Smithsonian staff) since 1899. William Middleton (1893-1970), an entomologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a graduate student in psychology at GWU, was a member of the Plummers Island club. He and his wife Alice Louise Browning Middleton (1896-1980) served as chaperones for the young people throughout the weekend.
For the groggy students, the island's diverse flora, fauna, and outcroppings apparently held little scientific interest. Instead, they imitated Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn ("We catched fish and talked, and we took a swim now and then to keep off sleepiness."). The more athletic and adventurous participants jumped into the water. Louise Omwake swam along the shore and even made it to the other side and back (the Potomac was about 500 feet at that spot).
The students who "scorned the river" and remained on the island later regretted the choice. Robert Spencer Ward (1906-1968) had taken and passed his final history exam mid-way through the weekend experiment. He later became a U.S. Foreign Service officer, posted in Canton and Peking during the 1930s and achieving distinction for insight into Asian politics. Displaying his wry sense of humor, Ward confessed to Thone that he had made a "valuable scientific discovery" during the island trip: "Chiggers make no distinction between people who have slept for the last 60 hours, and those who haven't. This will doubtless open a new field in biology."
For most of the group, the study ended at 6 p.m. on Sunday, but Lester Marshall Petrie (1901-1979) and Watson Hiner Monroe (1907-1992) agreed to remain awake for another eighteen hours. Although the two young men reportedly did "resort to caffeine," they stayed the course through Monday afternoon. Petrie stated that, after several sleepless nights, he was fine as long as he kept moving and did not sit down, a lesson that undoubtedly proved useful when he entered medical school and became a physician. Monroe, one of the brightest volunteers, made an almost perfect score on the intelligence test even at the end of his extended wakefulness period. He became a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, later summing up a lifetime of adventures in his aptly-titled autobiography, Memories of a Long and Happy Life (1993).
Songs, swims, siestas, snoozes, and "Nature's soft nurse" at the end of a scientific experiment. Sweet dreams!
- Who Takes Care Of The Caretaker's Daughter - Whitey Kaufman's Original Pennsylvania Serenaders
- The Washington Biologists' Field Club: Its Members and Its History (1900-2006)
- Watson Hiner Monroe, Scientific institutions of Washington (Washington [National Capital Press] 1933), published in conjunction with the International Geological Congress, XVI session, United States, 1933.
- Science Service collections at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
The fictional character Don Quixote described sleep as the great equalizer, as the "coin that purchases all the pleasures of the world cheap," for king and shepherd alike. In August 1925, a group of George Washington University (GWU) scientists persuaded seven students to forego such equalizing sleep for sixty hours. Beginning at 8 a.m. on Friday, August 14, and ending at 6 p.m. on Sunday, August 16, the volunteers embarked on a "three-day insomnia spree."
The research had a serious purpose: measuring the psychological and physiological effects of sleep deprivation. For the seven students - Louise Omwake (1907-2008), Katherine Tait Omwake (1903-1993), Thelma Hunt (1903-1992), Alice Haines (1904-1974), Robert Spencer Ward (1906-1968), Lester Marshall Petrie (1901-1979), and Watson Hiner Monroe (1907-1992) - the weekend quickly became a music- and laughter-infused lark.
The "Sleeplessness" study was the brainchild of psychology professor Fred August Moss (1893-1966). Moss was charismatic, attractive, and ambitious. He had received an A.B. from GWU in 1921 and his Ph.D. the next year while already on the faculty. By 1925, Moss was head of the psychology department. His research was focusing on automobile safety issues, such as how to measure reaction times or driver skills. Students "clamored" to take his classes, not the least because of his showmanship. In one stunt, Moss pulled white rats out of his pockets, named them "Anthony" and "Cleopatra," and proceeded to demonstrate that their drive for food was greater than their drive for sex.
The weekend proved to be an exercise in compatibility and comradeship as well as science. Although all the students had gone to classes or part-time jobs during the day, they joined up for supper and a theatre outing on Friday night. Given what was playing that weekend in Washington, it is probable that they attended a production of Guy Bolton's Chicken Feed, or Wages for Wives at the National Theater, about a mile from the university. That comedy's theme (townswomen move into a hotel, vowing not to return home until husbands and fathers acknowledge the value of "unsalaried" housework) would have undoubtedly appealed to the study's four female participants, all of them on the brink of extraordinary professional lives.
The Omwake sisters eventually became psychology professors. The younger sister, 17-year-old Louise, was an excellent student and a star athlete, especially in basketball and tennis. Louise was also a loyal friend, receiving public praise in 1928 for offering a blood transfusion for a fellow student. By 1931, Louise had earned a Ph.D. at GWU and joined the psychology department at the University of Minnesota, embarking on an academic career that included widely cited research on humor and path-breaking work on early childhood education (she organized the first White House Conference on Education in 1956). Her most ambitious out-of-classroom adventure, however, may have been sailing to Hawaii and back on the schooner Invader during the summer of 1941, a feat she documented in a colorful memoir.
Louise's older sister Katherine Tait Omwake preferred the adventure of undergraduate teaching. Katherine earned three degrees (A.B., M.A., and Ph.D.) at GWU, and by 1930 had joined the faculty of Agnes Scott College, focusing on applied psychology and continuing to work and co-publish with Moss and her friend from high school, Thelma Hunt.
In 1925, Thelma Hunt was described by a journalist as "one of those modern young women who without losing their attractiveness manage to become astonishingly learned Portias." She spent most of her impressive academic career as a member of the GWU faculty. After graduating from high school in 1921 (her classmates included Leonard Carmichael, who would later head the Smithsonian Institution), she rapidly earned an A.B. (1924), M.A. (1925), and Ph.D. (1927) at GWU. While studying for her graduate degrees, Hunt worked part-time at the U.S. Civil Service Commission, and later made significant contributions to employment and admissions test construction. In 1928, she began to study medicine at GWU, earning an M.D. in 1935. In 1938, she became head of the university's psychology department, and continued to teach full-time until 1969.
One of the weekend's tests required the weary volunteers to parallel park, maneuvering a black "Lizzie" into a tight spot on the street outside university buildings. In news photographs of the stunt, Alice Haines leans on the car door, her face radiating confidence and resolution. In 1926, Haines was named the outstanding GWU senior for both scholastic and athletic accomplishments. Her life after graduation included study in Germany, and then a job in New York City as illustrations editor for Encyclopedia Britannica. In 1930, she moved to Hollywood to work for Warner Brothers, where a serious illness (described as poliomyelitis) left her blind. Undaunted, she returned to the East Coast and began planning a new adventure. With no previous agricultural experience, she bought a dilapidated Virginia property and turned it into a model poultry and sheep farm, operating it for almost three decades. In 1953, when chicken and ewe thieves repeatedly stole her livestock, she had characteristically shifted gears and begun growing and selling sod for suburban lawns.
After attending the theater on Friday night, the seven young men and women had played games at a professor's home, took periodic intelligence tests, and spent their first sleepless night driving along deserted Virginia roads. "Being students of psychology," Science Service journalist Frank Thone wrote, "they voted down the idea of singing any popular songs suggesting sleep, but the old song 'When Do We Eat?' was rendered lustily." As "Sleeplessness, Part 2" will describe, the insomniacs had discovered that missing a meal could sometimes matter as much as missing sleep - or counting sheep.
- Louise Omwake account of her 1941 voyage from California to Hawaii
- Thelma Hunt biography, George Washington University
- Biography of Fred Moss, Ashville Citizen-Times, December 19, 1965, Fred Moss Charity Trust
- Science Service collections at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
- If you are looking for an exciting livestream, check out the University of Arizona, who's playing host to two baby hummingbirds. [via Wired]
- The world's oldest multicolored printed book has been opened and digitized for the first time. [via Colossal]
- The power of the user - Library users at the Los Altos main library in California rejected the new online catalog in favor of the old one. [via InfoDocket]
- For your viewing pleasure NASA is now on Tumblr. [via The Verge]
- The National Archives UK has redesigned the "Records" section of their website to help users find what they are looking for. [via The National Archives Blog]
- History in the making - The invention of digital photography at Kodak. [via Lens blog, NYT]
- Exactly how do you put on an Apollo spacesuit? The folks at the National Air and Space Museum explain. [via AirSpace blog, NASM]
- One step closer to Mars - Astronauts taste lettuce grown on the International Space Station. [via The Verge]
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