Group Portrait of Smithsonian Women's Council, 1975, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 371, Image no. 75-14850-05.

Hot Topix in Archival Research, Fall 2019

Here are some of the highlights of the research conducted this fall at SIA.

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!

Opening of Adams-Clement Collection, by Unknown, 1951, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 94-6805.

Over the past three months, researcher projects have delved into:

Group Portrait of Smithsonian Women's Council

Permissions for upcoming publications using our photos or documents include:

Smithsonian Museum Opens, December 1858, Smithsonian Archives - History Div.

A Library of Congress collab:

A typical day might include a few questions about the provenance of Smithsonian museum objects. More rare and exciting is the chance to explore the nitty-gritty of other institutions’ collections! A recent question from Joshua Kueh, Southeast Asian reference librarian at the Library of Congress, took us behind the scenes of the Farquhar correspondence collection in the Library’s Asian Division. The correspondence had been part of a purchase made by missionary Alfred North on the Wilkes Expedition (1838-1842) and came to the Smithsonian in 1858. But what else had North bought?

Record Unit 7186, the United States Exploring Expedition Collection, held no answers, so Joshua continued to trace back the custodial history of the collection. Prior to its transfer from the Smithsonian to the Library of Congress, and even before it arrived at the Smithsonian, the Farquhar correspondence had been held at the old Patent Office. This was the headquarters of the National Institute, a precursor of the Smithsonian, whose records Joshua next delved into at SIA. "I was really thrilled to find what I was looking for there: the list of books procured by [Alfred] North," Joshua writes. "This list will help establish the provenance of the Malay and Bugis rare book collections in the Asian Division of the LOC and will be key in future digitization projects of material linked to the Wilkes Expedition."

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