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 our collections. Here is a sample of the diverse questions SIA’s researchers have been exploring for the past few months!
Over the past three months, researcher projects have delved into:
- A 1957 exhibition, “500 Years of Turkish Tiles,” sponsored by the Turkish embassy
- The history of antivenom
- Correspondence between Étienne-Jules Marey and Secretary Langley
- Primatologist Richard Lynch Garner
- Photographs and textual materials on Cooper Hewitt’s 1989 exhibition, “McKnight Kauffer: Graphic Art and Theater Design”
- Connections to English botanist and artist Mary Emily Eaton in the records of the Division of Plants, United States National Museum
- A species description for Lepomis macrochirus
- An exhibition of Richard Avedon photographs, held in 1962 at the Arts & Industries Building
- Alexander Wetmore’s ornithological expeditions to Panama
Permissions for upcoming publications using our photos or documents include:
- Wilson Bentley snowflakes for Martin Heiferman’s upcoming book, Seeing Science: How Photography Reveals the Universe
- Images to illustrate the Smithsonian Office of Visitor Services’ new brochure for Castle visitors, including Joseph Henry’s Albany magnet, a color view of the 1865 Castle fire, and a specimen of Smithsonite
- An exterior view of the National Museum of History and Technology for Andreas Etges’ upcoming article, “E pluribus unum – or many out of one? National History Museums in the United States” in Studies in Contemporary History
- A photo from the opening of the National Collection of Fine Arts’ “Art and Archeology of Viet-Nam” for Jennifer Way’s upcoming book, Politics of Vietnamese Craft: American Diplomacy and Domestication
- Image of an Operation Moonwatch event in Biloxi, Mississippi for a podcast supplement from the NASA Space Communications and Navigation program
Don't get cold Feete:
Eunice Newton Foote (1819–1888) has only recently found well-deserved recognition for her pioneering role in climate science. Her correspondence in Record Unit 7075, the Henderson Family Papers, has brought numerous historians of science into our reading room. But no one has yet uncovered a photo of her.
Or have they?
The Henderson Family Papers includes a folder of family photographs, including one identified in the finding aid as Mary Foote Henderson, Eunice’s daughter. Staff at the National Portrait Gallery dated the photograph to the early 1870s based on the subject’s dress and the address of Mathew Brady’s studio, which is printed on the reverse of the cabinet card. These insights have led some researchers to begin to wonder whether the sitter is not Mary, after all, but Eunice herself. After comparing our image with other known likenesses of Mary, one visiting researcher finally concluded that the subject could be Eunice!