What does the Smithsonian Institution Archives collect? We say we hold records about the history of the Smithsonian and its people, programs, research, and activities. But this answer doesn’t quite do justice to the breadth and depth of our holdings.
The reference team fields around 6,000 queries per year. Ask us what people have been researching recently, and you'll get into some of the enlightening, weird, and fascinating details of SIA collections. Here is a sample of the diverse questions our researchers have been exploring for the past few months!
Over the past three months, researchers have delved into:
- Letters exchanged between Joseph Henry and Sir George Simpson on Robert Kennicott’s 1859 collecting expedition to the Pacific Northwest
- Portrait images of early climatologist Eunice Newton Foote
- The history of Heritage Preservation, a professional organization for conservation training
- Vocabularies of North American languages in George Gibbs’ field notebooks
- Early instruments for measuring human weight
- Vertebrate fossils collected by Edward L. Troxell
- The visitor policy for the former Children’s Room at the Castle
Permissions for upcoming publications using our photos or documents include:
- Natasha Peterson, images of Marshall Islands navigation charts for Kentaro Toyama’s Educate exhibit at EDIT: Expo for Design, Innovation & Technology
- Eventias Chaudat, clips from “The Search for the Tunguska Meteorite” for a video on blast waves
- Phyllis May-Machunda, images from the 1974-1979 Festivals of American Folklife for a publication on Kate Rinzler, coordinator for children’s folklore programming
- Jordan Bimm and Patrick Kilian, image of Konrad Johannes Karl Buettner for an article on the meteorologist’s research on temperature extremes
Settling a familial dispute on penguins:
A patron emailed the reference team to resolve a longstanding family debate. Has the National Zoo ever had penguins as part of a permanent exhibit? The patron didn’t think so, but his mother-in-law was adamant.
To find the answer, we consulted RU 365, Records of the National Zoological Park Office of Public Affairs. Series 4 of the collection comprises animal information files: acquisition records, correspondence, press releases, and additional documentation on each species held at the Zoo.
The folder on penguins had just what we were looking for. It included lists and numbers of species, year by year, since the first rockhopper penguins arrived in 1926. According to the timeline, penguins had a steady presence at the Zoo between 1944 (three emperor, four jackass, and two Humboldt penguins) and 1962 (one Adélie and four king penguins). The Smithsonian began depositing its penguins at other zoos in 1963.
We hope Record Unit 365 helped to resolve this family conflict!