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:
- Kwang-zung Tung, the first person from Asia to have worked for the Smithsonian
- The Henry family’s attitudes on slavery and abolition
- Early Cooper Hewitt Museum trustee Alice Manheim Kaplan
- Howard Cleaves’ film about the Pinchot South Sea Expedition of 1929
- The Lorton meteorite controversy
- A salamander specimen collected by Arthur Holmes Howell
Subjects of Smithsonian Archives images to be featured in upcoming publications include:
- Early Smithsonian Institution Building images for the documentary series Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People
- A portrait of young Alexander Wetmore for Blake C. Scott’s upcoming book From Disease to Desire: A History of Caribbean Tourism
- Cajun musicians performing at the first Folklife Festival for use in the Smithsonian Folkways Learning Program
- Edward William Nelson and Edward Alphonso Goldman‘s field research photographs for the Guía de Patrimonio Científico y Tecnológico de la Ciudad de México
- Portrait of Laura Clifford Barney for Mona Khademi’s upcoming book Some Questions Answered: Life of Laura Clifford Dreyfus-Barney
- Images of National Air and Space Museum staff for a piece in the *Space Review* on the Museum and Star Trek
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.