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 topics SIA’s researchers have been exploring for the past few months!
Over the past three months, researcher projects have delved into:
- Animals donated to the National Zoo by President Coolidge
- Phylogeny of herbaceous bamboos
- The growth of the Juneteenth holiday
- Art shows held by the National League of American Pen Women
- Rattlesnake species described by Robert Kennicott
- Stereoviews of the Castle
- Mussels collected during a 1908 survey of the Iowa River
Permissions for upcoming publications using our photos or documents include:
- Portrait of astrophysicist Cecilia Helena Payne Gaposchkin for the upcoming book Women in their Elements: Selected Women’s Contributions to the Periodic System
- Photo of six-year-old Philip K.B. Lundeberg holding a toy boat for the Mariners’ Museum’s upcoming exhibition “Toys Ahoy! A Maritime Childhood”
- 1843 rebus-filled letter from A. Goldsborough Bruff to F. Markor of the National Institute for Kenneth M. Price’s upcoming book Whitman in Washington: Becoming the National Poet in the Federal City
- Portrait of physiologist Yandell Henderson for the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s upcoming traveling exhibition, “This Lead is Killing Us: Citizens Fight Lead Poisoning in Their Communities”
- Photo of primatologist Richard Lynch Garner for Susan M. Stein’s upcoming book On Distant Service: The Life of the First U.S. Foreign Service Officer to be Assassinated
Chip off the old Ladd:
In early May, the SIA reading room played host to eleven grandchildren and great-grandchildren of 20th-century geologist Harry S. Ladd. The Ladd family explored six boxes—two collections’ worth—of Harry’s correspondence, field notes, and photographs spanning his career at the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History. Through the efforts of SIA’s digital media coordinator, Kira Sobers, the Ladds were also the first researchers to screen their grandfather's newly-digitized 16mm film, Prince of Tonga.
- "Hot Topix in Archival Research, Winter 2019," by Deborah Shapiro, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- "Hot Topix in Archival Research, Fall 2018," by Deborah Shapiro, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- "Hot Topix in Archival Research, Summer 2018," by Deborah Shapiro, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- "Hot Topix in Archival Research, Spring 2018," by Deborah Shapiro, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives