Hot Topics in Archival Research

Cortege Bringing James Smithson Remains to Smithsonian, 1904, Record Unit 95, Smithsonian Institutio

Appropriately funereal for approaching Halloween, this military cortege accompanied James Smithson's remains from the Washington Navy Yard to the Smithsonian, on January 23, 1904. James Smithson (c.1765-1829) died in Genoa, Italy, and was buried there. However, after the turn of the century, the Smithsonian was notified that the graves were to be moved to allow quarrying on the cemetery site. Smithsonian Regent Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel traveled to Italy to oversee the disinterment of Smithson's remains and their transportation to the Institution that his bequest created.

This photo will be used in an Explorer at Large internet documentary.

When asked what the Smithsonian Institution Archives collects, we say we hold records about the history of the Smithsonian and its people, programs, research, and activities. While accurate, this doesn't really give anyone a clue about what is actually in those records.

The Smithsonian Institution Archives Reference Term handles an average of around 6,000 queries per year, and if you ask us what people have been researching at the Archives recently, you'll get some pretty interesting responses. Although not comprehensive, here's a snapshot of the diverse range of information encompassed by the archives of the world's largest museum complex!

Over the past three months, researcher projects have included:

  • African American history at the Smithsonian
  • History of Tropical biology in the 20th century Caribbean
  • Philippine collections at the Smithsonian
  •  World’s Fairs and Expositions
  • William Whewell and Pre-Darwinian systematics
  • The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology
  • Exploration and settlement of the American West
  • History of African-American museums
  • Tropical biology in the Pacific
  • The Wilkes Exploring Expedition
  • Smithsonian presentation of science to the public
  • Botanical exploration in Lower California

Upcoming publications using our photos or documents include:

Mary Jane Rathbun at Woods Hole, 1890, Record Unit 7256, Smithsonian Institution Archives, neg. no.

Mary Jane Rathbun, carcinologist at the United States National Museum, at left with Katherine J. Bush of Yale University, second from left, Charlotte Bush and Eloise Edwards at the Marine Biological Laboratory and United States Fish Commission Station at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, probably in the 1890s.

This photo will appear in Richard Conif’s projected book on the history of the Peabody Museum of Natural History . 

Most unusual reference inquiry:

T. Dale Stewart Examining Skull, 1950, Record Unit 9521, Smithsonian Institution Archives, neg. no.

Fox Television was given permission to use Archives images as set dressing for its popular television series Bones. Among them was this photo of T. Dale Stewart, physical anthropologist, Department of Anthropology, United States National Museum. The photograph was most likely taken in October 1950 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Stewart often examined skeletons for the FBI and pioneered the field of forensic anthropology.

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