Hot Topics: From Extinct Monsters to Carousels

This is the first installment of a new quarterly series that highlights the collections that people are using at the Archives and the kinds of projects, publications, productions, and exhibitions our collections are a part of. Please enjoy!

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 people a clue about what is actually in those records.

The Archives' Reference Team handles an average of around 5,000 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 history of the world's largest museum complex.

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

  • Joseph Henry’s correspondence with Japanese ambassador Arinori Mori 
  • The history of tropical research stations in the Caribbean in the twentieth century (including the Smithsonian's Tropical Research Institute).
  • The Smithsonian's entry to the internet in the 1990s.

Extinct Monsters Hall in the National Museum of Natural History, late 1930s, neg. no. MNH-32017A, to

Upcoming use of our photos or documents includes:


  • A Christmas Flight, by Mary Lipsey 
  • Aboul'l Baha in America, by Mona Khademi    
  • Enlightened Zeal: The Hudson's Bay Co. and Scientific Networks, by Ted Binneman
  • 10,000 Birds: Ornithology since Darwin, by Bob Montgomerie which will include a portrait of Alexander Wetmore, ornithologist and sixth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution
  • T. Rex: Scavenger or Predator?, by Jacqueline Adams, which will include a portrait of paleontologist Barnum Brown

Dentzel Carousel in 1966, Neg. no. SIA2010-3447, to be used in "Carousel! Burlington's Historic Dent

Media Productions


  • "Extraordinary Women: Science and Medicine since 1650," The Grolier Club, Princeton University

Taking honors as our most unusual reference query of the quarter was the request for a copy of a 1932 research paper on anesthetizing oysters.  Two questions sprang to mind:

  • How could you tell?
  • Why would you? 

While it turned out that the research wasn't conducted by the Smithsonian, we were able to locate a contemporary newspaper article on the study that gave direction to the researcher -- and answered the questions:

  • The muscle closing the oyster's shell relaxes.
  • The oyster is easier to shuck.

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