Hot Topics in Archives Research

The 1865 fire at the Smithsonian Castle building destroyed invaluable documents and early collection

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 5,000 queries per year, and if you 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 history of the world's largest museum complex!

Over the past three months, long-term researcher projects have included:

  • The Paleology Hall/Hall of Extinct Monsters at the National Museum of Natural History
  • The National Museum of American History (The museum's 50th anniversary is  coming up!)
  • Smithsonian Castle Building fire, 1865  
  • Collecting and interpreting George Washington at the Smithsonian
  • The Smithsonian International Exchange Service
  • United States Exploring Expedition
  • New Guinea
  • American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
  • Gender and science at the Smithsonian
  • Predator control in the American West
  • Joseph Henry House in Princeton, New Jersey
  • History of marine biology
  • History of Arctic research
  • History of psychical research
  • Historical bird records
  • Salvador Dali paintings used in Hitchcock's Spellbound

Upcoming publications using our photos or documents include:

  • Gregory J. Dehler, The Most Defiant Devil (reviewed here)
  • Anthony J. Connors, Ingenious Machinists: Two Inventive Lives From the American Industrial Revolution
  • Jane Maienschein, Embryos Under the Microscope: Diverging Meanings of Life
  • Glenn Smith, "Faraday's First Dynamo: A Retrospective," in the American Journal of Physics
  • Mart Sears/R. Woollacott, chapter in Annals of Bryozoology 5
  • Barbara Oakley, A Mind for Numbers
  • Sam Bardley, Black Holes, Tides, and Curved Spacetime: Understanding Gravity
  • Mysoon Rizk, Dirty Work: The Art and Legacies of David Wojnarowicz

Our congratulations go to Martin Thomas, who conducted research on the American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land at the Smithsonian Institution Archives and the National Anthropological Archives. His book, Because It’s Your Country: Bringing the Bones Back to West Arnhem Land, won the seventh Calibre Prize for an Outstanding Essay.

According to the Australian Book Review:

Dr Thomas’s essay, ‘“Because it’s your country”: Bringing the Bones Back to West Arnhem Land’ stood out in a particularly strong field. The topic – the violation and restitution of Aboriginal remains – is both troubling and pressing, and the author examines it with marked empathy and an immense knowledge of the personalities and sensitivities involved. 

Mr. Thomas says of his work on the repatriation of Aboriginal remains, “I feel supremely fortunate that my archival research has opened a dialogue with living communities. Good writing starts with great content.”

This photo shows the measurement of the front foot of the elephant donated by Josef J. Fénykövi

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Wrapping It Up

September 30 marked the end of Fiscal Year 2013 for us. Here are the Reference Team research annual staistics:

  • In-person reference - Researchers' daily visits: 838
  • Long distance reference - Researchers:  5,114; Transactions: 10,060      
  • Total collection material provided - 11,065 cubic feet
  • Duplication - AV, PDF, photocopies, and scans made: 12,536
  • Permission Requests - Granted: 171

Is it any wonder we're exhausted?

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