Domestic Yak, Male, 1900, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. 14-167, Image no. NZP-0184.

Hot Topix in Archival Research, Fall 2021

Think your archival research is on hold while our reading room is closed? Think again!

Vicarious research is one of the great joys of the reference desk at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. During our pandemic closure, we’ve missed catching those tantalizing glimpses of our patrons’ research inside the fishbowl walls of the reading room.

But research in the Archives collections is by no means on hold. Here are some of the subjects that have recently passed through the reference team’s inbox:

A young boy sits in a chair and touches a bird. It is unclear if the bird is dead or alive. He is ho

Subjects of Smithsonian Archives images to be featured in upcoming publications include:

Yak with long fur stands in the snow. It is facing the camera.

It might come as a great shock that the name of this blog series is a misnomer. In truth, most of these “Topix” are not, in fact, “Hot.” Our patrons’ research questions are usually uncommon, and often unique. To shed even more light on these sometimes not-very-Hot subjects, I am pleased to unveil the “Hot Topix” blog series’ new segment entitled:

Infrequently Asked Questions (IAQs)

Why did the peacocks leave the Freer courtyard?

To get to the National Zoological Park. Residents of the courtyard throughout the 1920s, they were considered too untidy for the refined Freer Gallery.

What happened to the Stranahan folding boat showcased by the Smithsonian at the 1883 Great International Fisheries Exhibition?

After Ohioan Frank Holmes went home with the bronze medal in Division 20 (“Boats, Punts, Cobles, Collapsible, Portable, &c., in models or otherwise”), his Stranahan folding canvas boat went to its home in the U.S. National Museum. As Holmes boasted in the exhibition’s descriptive catalogue, “We claim the following advantages for our boat: It is the lightest complete boat made of its size, length and breadth considered.”

What was the first Smithsonian exhibit with a civil rights theme?

After three years of internal and public opposition, the National Museum of History and Technology unveiled its human rights exhibit in 1968.

Did the Smithsonian really almost build a museum in Hot Springs, Arkansas?

It’s true! In the late 1960s, Arkansas politicians and community development advocates invited the Smithsonian to found the “Mid-America Center” in Hot Springs. Word traveled fast that Secretary Ripley was considering building the satellite museum in Arkansas. Although the Regents ultimately decided against the proposal, they did offer help, under the purview of the National Museum Act, to construct what eventually became the Mid-America Science Museum.

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