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:
- The diet of crab-eating seals at the National Zoological Park
- Archaeologist and geologist Gerard Fowke
- Paper on nesting fish crows read at an American Ornithological Union meeting
- 1971 archaeological documentary co-produced by CBS News and the Smithsonian
- Geneticist pioneer Gregor Mendel’s “Experiments on Plant Hybridization”
- Sanitation engineer George Soper‘s 1907 presentation on Mary Mallon
- Distribution of the World War II-era War Background Studies series
Smithsonian Archives images that will be featured in upcoming publications include:
- Portrait of Secretary Baird for Barbara Mearns and Richard Mearns’ Biographies for Birdwatchers
- Group photo of the Wheeler Survey for a web exhibit on the history of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters
- Photo of Mt. Tancitaro for a journal article on Mexican shrews
- Portrait of Solomon Brown for the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s “Becoming a Historian“ Learning Lab workbook
- Image of conservation work on the Star-Spangled Banner for an exhibition at the Missouri State Museum
- Group shot of (tired?) sleep study participants for George Washington University’s “GW at 200“ documentary
Appropriate Names, Part 1
One of my favorite projects at the Smithsonian Institution Archives lives in a document called goodnames.txt. This is a list of aptronyms: names of Smithsonian staff I’ve encountered, past and present, which are especially fitting to their vocations. (There’s William E. Bridges, for instance, an aid in the Hall of Water Transportation in the 1950s; and Dr. J.N. Rose, who worked in the Division of Plants in the early 20th century.)
The full list of aptronyms is not yet ready for the limelight, but a recent reference request introduced me to one compelling new addition. The Smithsonian staff member in question is Marie Poland Fish, whose scientific discipline was—yes, you can already see where this is going—marine biology. In the 1940s, Fish served as Scientific Aid in the Division of Fishes. The Archives holds some of her correspondence in Record Unit 234, correspondence of the Division of Fishes, and Record Unit 7231, the Waldo L. Schmitt Papers.
Still, Fish’s aptronymity is only a funny footnote in her remarkable life and career. Countering longstanding myths about the silence of the ocean, Marie Poland Fish founded the entirely new field of marine bioacoustics. You may learn more about her achievements and legacy in science writer Ben Goldfarb’s newly-published Smithsonian Magazine article!
- "Hot Topix in Archival Research, Winter 2021," by Deborah Shapiro, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- "Hot Topix in Archival Research, Fall 2020," by Deborah Shapiro, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- "Hot Topix in Archival Research During a Pandemic," by Deborah Shapiro, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives