Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing at National Zoo

Hot Topics in Archival Research, Winter 2018

We highlight a few topics explored by SIA researchers in the winter of 2018.

American Mastodon, Paleontology Hall Vicarious research is one of the great joys of the reference desk at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. From our front-row (well, only-row) seat outside the reading room, we catch tantalizing glimpses of our patrons’ manifold research topics.

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 collections at the Smithsonian Institutive Archives. 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:

  • The loan of Captain Kidd’s cloth-of-gold to the Smithsonian’s US National Museum Malayan Tapir, Male, 1920, Smithsonian Institution Archives, SIA Acc. 14-167 [NZP-0704].
  • Richard H. Emmons’ homemade planetariums
    Correspondence from the largely unsuccessful Koren Expedition to Siberia
  • A mastodon skeleton excavated in Indiana
  • “Adventures in Science” radio broadcast recordings, 1957-1958
  • The economic consequences of weather shocks in 19th century New York
  • “Glowflow,” a high-tech interactive art installation shown at the National Collection of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum), 1970
  • Early accessions of centipede specimens

Permissions for upcoming publications using our photos or documents include:

Front of letter from Robert Todd Lincoln to Charles D. Walcott concerning Abraham Lincoln's assassination clothing, May 13, 1921, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image # SIA2018-039653a.

Back of letter from Robert Todd Lincoln to Charles D. Walcott concerning Abraham Lincoln's assassination clothing, May 13, 1921, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image # SIA2018-039653b.

Inaccessible artifacts:

Edwin Sharp Burdell (b. 1898) Archives and museums are often pigeonholed by the cliché of the dusty, overcrowded basement. Most of the time, that bad rap is completely undeserved. Yet one recent reference request uncovered a case when the Smithsonian’s moniker of “Nation’s Attic” did prove more or less fitting.

A researcher for the organization Wales for Peace wrote to SIA in pursuit of the Welsh Women’s Peace Memorial, a plaque and signature chest presented to the United States by Welsh peace activists. An accession record in Record Unit 305 confirmed that the items came to the Smithsonian in 1924. The accession record also revealed another Smithsonian patron’s search for the memorial and chest—90 years ago!

In 1928, New Jersey resident Rachel Lloyd Jenkins reported, “I went to Washington with some sort of a zeal and I asked to see the Welsh Chest.” The chest could not be turned up, evidently buried in museum storage. “I went like Mari Jones asking for a Biehle [sic] long ago, from Department to Department,” Ms. Jenkins lamented. “At last I did find that there was one man in the staff that knew there had been such a chest…and he would find out what had become of it.” The accession record does not reveal whether the chest did ever surface in the “Nation’s Attic.”

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