The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Science
Sprinkled throughout the Science Service records are traces of a merry crew, the fading shadows of colleagues who shared jokes in the workplace, made up fake press releases to announce marriages, created gag photographs to make each other laugh, and sprinkled their speeches and correspondence with humor.
Astronomer James Stokley normally adopted a dignified demeanor while working on the Science Service staff. During the 1920s, however, for undisclosed reasons, he posed in pince-nez and bowtie, with a mischievous glint in his eye.
Family members joined in the fun. During the early 1930s, Watson Davis and Frank Thone posed for a series of gag photos with Watson's daughter Charlotte.
Thone then took the gag one step (or one wastebasket) further.
Frank Thone had a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Chicago and wrote the organization's "Nature Ramblings" column. Such interests may have inspired the "facial insect ramble" photograph created by Science Service staff photographer Fremont Davis.
By the 1930s, Watson Davis had become a popular speaker, making the case for popularization and offering insight to the state of science in the United States. Davis kept a file of jokes, anecdotes, and aphorisms to insert into speeches, many of which are archived in Record Unit 7091: Science Service, Records, circa 1910-1963, Box 443, Folder 10. On one of the cards, dated November 5, 1938, Davis recorded how his young son Miles had reacted to the Smithsonian Institution: "Miles visiting U.S. Nat. Museum Industries Bldg. liked it so much he said: 'If I can find a hook sticking out around here, I’d like to shake hands with it.'"
- Science Service Records at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
A Rabel with a Cause: Gabriele Rabel, biologist, philosopher, author, and contributor to Science Service
Biologist and physicist Gabriele Rabel (1880-1963) was born into a prosperous family in Vienna, Austria. The youngest of her three siblings, Gabriele was accepted into the University of Vienna, where she studied biology under the tutelage of Professor Richard Wettstein. Rabel's interest in biology led her to conduct experimental work on color adaptation of plants to their surroundings.
Possessing an ever-curious mind, Rabel developed an interest in theoretical physics, and was influenced by Theodor Des Coudres at the University of Leipzig, while following the work of Max Planck and Albert Einstein at the University of Berlin. Her dissertation, "The Intensity of Certain Lines of the H-Spectrum as Dependent on Gas Pressure," earned her a Doctorate in Physics.
A diagnosis of manic depression in 1923 led Rabel to pursue philosophy, particularly Rudolph Steiner's concepts of anthroposophy and the tenets espoused by Ernst Mach. Having published several articles in professional journals, Gabriele became intrigued by philology. She conducted research at the Goethe Archives in Weimar, which resulted in perhaps her most prominent work, Goethe und Kant, published in 1927. That same year, Rabel embarked on a four-year lecture tour of the United States.
Rabel was working as a scientist in Germany when she agreed to become a regular contributor to Science Service sometime in 1932. It appears she was willing to write summaries of topics from a wide range of fields, from paleontology to medicine (syphilis), continental drift to psychotherapy and poetry. Often, the manuscripts on subjects far out of her field were returned, and Rabel did not refrain from occasional complaints about those rejections to the biology editor Frank Thone.
Neither science nor journalism were immune, however, to the implacable forces reshaping the international context. Rabel's relationship with Science Service soon became affected by the economic and political situations in the United States and Germany. In the spring of 1933, as the economic depression deepened, Science Service began cutting back on the articles it purchased from stringers. On March 6, 1933, Frank Thone informed Rabel that "the monetary crisis which has suddenly developed in this country" had caused them to suspend payment for manuscripts. Rabel's letters indicated that she was aware of the situation ("I read awful things about America and I am alarmed as to the fate of Science Service") but everyone was still hoping for better times. As Thone wrote, "We hope that eventually the financial sky will clear sufficiently" to allow them to purchase external material again.
In April 1933, Rabel informed Thone that because the political situation in Germany had deteriorated, she had moved back to Austria: "At last, I decided to go home, and here in Vienna I should find plenty of fine things for you. 'Tis just too bad that everything is so foolish and the world has gone crazy once more . . ."
As of June, Science Service was again purchasing manuscripts from Rabel and she was optimistically planning to establish an Austrian version of Science Service, which might broker scientific material internally and cooperate in some way with the American organization. A year later, however, in June 1934, Watson Davis wrote that "international conditions" were in such a state that he could not contemplate any such effort of international collaboration.
Before World War II began (some time before May 1940), Rabel moved to England. A prolific writer, she was known later in her career for her translations and discussion of philosopher Immanuel Kant, and numerous scientific journal articles on a broad range of topics including theoretical physics, philosophy, evolution and genetics.
Dr. Gabriele Rabel died on August 27, 1963 in Cambridge, England. Rarely with idle hands, she was working on a biography on Kaiser Karl, the last Hamburg Emperor throughout her final days. Her papers, diaries, and unpublished manuscripts are at the Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College (The Papers of Gabriele Rabel, 1893-1958).
- Record Unit 7091: Science Service Records, 1902-1965, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- The Papers of Gabriele Rabel, 1893-1958, Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College.
- The public has voted - Congratulations Mayni and Muniri, the newly named Andrean bear cubs at the National Zoo! [via NZP]
- A salute to an extraordinary archivist, Sara Dunlap Jackson of the National Archives and Records Administration. [via Prologue: Pieces of History, NARA]
- For your reading pleasure - The Metropolitan Museum of Art is offering 422 of its publications free to download. [via OpenCulture]
- For your consideration - A look at the mostly superficial media portrayals of women scientists. [via Scientific American]
- Happy 100th! The Flickr Commons welcomed its 100th member institution this week - Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries. [via InfoDocket]
- Answered - How does one process butterfly pupae? [via Unearthed blog, NMNH]
- A duo of discoveries - William Smith’s 1815 Geological Map of England and Wales and forgotten works by pioneering artisit, Nam June Paik. [via InfoDocket and Smithsonian Magazine]
- A new tool for managing your digital projects - UCLA Library Special Collections Digital Project Toolkit. [via UCLA Library]
- Once synonymous with photography, Kodak is trying to reinvent itself to remain relevant. [via The New York Times]
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