The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Science
Whenever possible, Science Service director Watson Davis took advantage of his presence at a confluence of scientists to snap photographs of famous (and interesting) people. In 1931, at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS), he posed together four men who were interested, from different perspectives, in the origin and evolution of the universe.
Abbé Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître (1894-1966), professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, was credited with first proposing the theory of an expanding universe, often called the "Big Bang" theory.
British physicist Oliver Joseph Lodge (1851-1940) was known for his interest in spiritualism as well as for his accomplishments in the development of wireless telegraphy. In 1921, as E. E. Slosson was searching for writers for the fledging Science Service operation, he had written to Lodge and the physicist had responded with characteristic aplomb that he could "see no good reason why I should not write articles for you."
British astrophysicist Edward Arthur Milne (1896-1950) had been appointed to a professorship at Oxford in 1928 but his earlier work had been in mathematical astrophysics. By 1931, Milne was focusing on the "expanding universe" and cosmology.
Trained as a mathematician, Ernest William Barnes (1874-1953) was the Anglican Bishop of Birmingham. Barnes's liberal political views had attracted considerable controversy and he was now turning his interest to the intersection of science and religion.
The four men were among invited participants in a September 27, 1931, symposium discussing the evolution of the universe, a session that provoked considerable intellectual fireworks. Two prominent British physicists, Sir James Jeans and Sir Arthur Eddington, declared that not only was the universe expanding but it was doing so at a rate that indicated "its days were numbered." Robert A. Millikan, the California Institute of Technology physicist, disagreed ("From my viewpoint...the evidence that cosmic rays furnish for annihilation is not worth a whoop."). Sir Oliver Lodge and Bishop Barnes lobbed similar attacks on the Jeans-Eddington prediction. Barnes even added that he had "no doubt that there are many other inhabited worlds and that on some of them exist beings immeasurably beyond our mental level."
Sir Oliver Lodge had the last word in the published proceedings, closing with an astute observation. In 1931, he said, scientists were turning their attention "from the particles of matter to the spaces between them, where all the activity resides. We have thus, with Einstein, begun a new era ... but when we attend to space properly we shall find that life and mind are not limited to the surface of lumps of matter. Intelligence can be found throughout space."
- Published proceedings of BAAAS meeting in 1931, Biodiversity Heritage Library
- Science Service, Up Close blog post series, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Science Service collections at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Don't blink - The wet plate collodion process distilled down to six seconds! [via PetaPixel]
- Help bring the USS Enterprise back in time with your old photos! [via AirSpace blog, NASM]
- Get your submarine ready - This week the first digital geological map of the world’s ocean floor was released. [via InfoDocket]
- What's your story? Tales of first encounters with art in Southern California. [via The Getty Iris]
- National Geographic magazine, a nonprofit publication since its founding in 1888, will now shift to a for-profit status under a new partnership with 21st Century Fox. [via InfoDocket]
- Come celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month at the Smithsonian with a series of vibrant performances, lectures, family activities and exhibitions at various museums. [via SI Newsdesk]
- Check out DC Public Library's Fab Lab in the video below. [via InfoDocket]
- It's been an exciting and sad time at the National Zoo these last few weeks as giant panda, Mei Xiang, gave birth to twin cubs, but then unfortunately loss the smaller cub within a few days. [The Torch, SI]
- Last week marked the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast area and Curator of Photography at the Archives Center at the National Museum of America History, David Haberstich, shares about collecting materials that documented the destruction that occured and its affects on the lives of those there. [via Smithsonian Collections Blog]
- Love maps? Well now you can download The History of Cartography for free! [via OpenCulture]
- Something to keep an eye on - Some of the biggest names in tech are teaming up to create a new open source video format. [via Wired]
- Looking for something to do this weekend? Check out the Library of Congress' National Book Festival being held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. [via Library of Congress Blog]
- Smithsonian scientists and colleagues have discovered a new genus and species of river dolphin that has long been extinct. [via SI Newsdesk]
- Simply put . . . duct tape is awesome! Especially so when you have to fix your rover on the moon with it. [via AirSpace blog, NASM]
The substantial set of files (68.25 cubic feet) which comprise Accession 90-105 (the majority of the Science Service biographical morgue that survives at the Smithsonian Institution Archives) might be generously described as a "mish-mosh" of material. Folders arrived at the Archives chockablock full of not only photographs of people but also news clippings, press releases, advertising brochures, notes, and correspondence.
Science Service produced thousands upon thousands of pages of copy every year. The biographical files assisted in that work, allowing writers to add personal details to stories of technical accomplishment. All photographs and publicity material about potentially interesting people were sent to the library. In 1940, librarian Minna Gill estimated that they had over 10,000 "photographic portraits" of scientists and other prominent people.
A glimpse of a single folder conjures up a filing nightmare. One can imagine frantic writers pushing deadlines and the harried librarian retrieving material ("do we have any information on the chemist Joe Smith?" "No, put that stuff back. I want the organic chemist who works at Dow not the one on the Stanford faculty.") Even if never again recalled, the material sat there at the ready.
As the Archives now attempts to identify and caption the thousands of newly digitized photographs from Accession 90-105, the group photographs can be especially problematic. Every face should matter. And context (date and place) matters.
Here are two examples of how preserving labels and accompanying materials can be important and how, when that information is meager or missing, the cybercommunity might help.
In the first example, the original photograph was well labeled ("Most Famous Cancer Researchers in the World”) but there is no accompanying mention of where and when the photograph was taken. Seen left to right are: American geneticist Clarence Cook Little (1888-1971), Director of the Roscoe B. Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine; physiologist Edgar Allen (1892-1943), Professor of Anatomy and Chairman of Department of Yale University Medical School; U.S. Public Health Service biologist Howard Bancroft Andervont (1898-1981); American geneticist Madge Thurlow Macklin (1893-1962), who was then Associate Professor of Histology and Embryology at University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario; University of Oslo physician Leiv Kreyberg (1896-1984); biophysics pioneer Gioacchino Failla (1891-1961), who by the mid-1930s was at a New York City cancer hospital; and French radiation oncologist Henri Coutard (1876-1950), Department of X-Ray Therapy for Cancer, Radium Institute, University of Paris.
The date is not on the photograph, but it may be 1937, when all these scientists participated in a Symposium on Cancer at the University of Wisconsin. Papers from that meeting were published as a book in 1938 by University of Wisconsin Press.
Can you help to make the definitive identification?
In the second example, the accompanying information includes the date but not every person is clearly identified.
The photograph shows an American Cyanamid Company research team with a model of tetracycline in 1959. From left to right are: James H. Boothe (b. 1916); Samuel Kushner (1915-1994); T. L. Fields; Andrew Steven Kende (b. 1933); and Raymond G. Wilkinson. James H. Boothe and Michael J. Martell later synthesized antibiotic minocycline for Lederle (a division of American Cyanamid); Andrew Steven Kende had been a Westinghouse Science Talent Search winner and joined the faculty of University of Rochester.
Can you help with more information?
- Science Service collections at the Smithsonian Institution Archives