Board of Regents: Providing Guidance to the Stewards of the National Collections

Managing a special public trust

Regents Meeting, 1954  In 1846, when the United States Congress had finally settled on what to do with James Smithson’s generous bequest, the Smithsonian Institution was established and a board of regents vested to administrate that public trust in keeping with Smithson’s desire for “an establishment for the increase and diffusion on knowledge.” Composed of government leaders and private citizens, the Board of Regents has guided the Smithsonian from a single building and a nascent national collection to today’s nineteen national museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities working around the globe. Can you imagine the issues this body had to consider along the way?

Making this public record accessible

Since the Smithsonian is an organization in the public trust, the meeting minutes of its Board of Regents are a matter of public record. For a long time, accessing these records meant a trip to Washington, D.C. to the Smithsonian Institution Archives to review a physical copy of the  minutes.

Photographer Michael Barnes and his copy stand setup. However, today we live in a digital world. The Meeting Minutes from this past decade are posted on the Smithsonian website for anyone to review. Not only can someone read the Board’s Meeting Minutes, but finding the references to the Giant Magellan Telescope over the years can be as easy as a Google search.

What about the previous century’s Smithsonian Board of Regents Meeting Minutes? The Archives has tackled that challenge. Those Minutes have been digitized and are being prepared to go up on the web.

Astrophysical Observatory in South Yard With the help of digital volunteers, we will make over a century’s worth of these important historical records just as searchable as the Meeting Minutes from 2006 on. These recently digitized Board of Regents Meeting Minutes are being launched in the Smithsonian Transcription Center so digital volunteers can read and transcribe these records. Once completely transcribed, that meeting’s minutes becomes immediately fully searchable. Over time, anyone will be able to search online for telescopes and the Smithsonian Board of Regents and find all of the references across the whole range of Meeting Minutes from 1846 on. Did you know the first Smithsonian astrophysical observatory was located right behind the original building in Washington, D.C.? With volunteers’ help, people will be able to discover what considerations the Board of Regents gave to these developments across the decades.

Related Collections

Board of Regents Records, Smithsonian Institution Archives

Related Resources

Board of Regents Bibliography, Smithsonian Institution Research Information System

Images of the Board of Regents, Smithsonian Institution Research Information System

About The Board of Regents, Smithsonian

Leave a Comment

Produced by the Smithsonian Institution Archives. For copyright questions, please see the Terms of Use.