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 collections at the Smithsonian Institutive Archives. Here is a sample of the diverse questions our researchers have been exploring for the past few months!
Over the past three months, researcher projects have delved into:
- Photographs of totem poles held by the Alaska State Museum
- The first black squirrels to arrive at the National Zoo
- The Belmont Manor in Elk Ridge, Maryland, used for decades as a Smithsonian conference center
- The history of animal nutrition science
- Chessie the Sea Monster
- Preservation of a document with a wooden seal
- Historical publications on the giant squid
- Donations of garments from the wardrobes of Sarah and Eleanor Cooper Hewitt
Permissions for upcoming publications using our photos or documents include:
- Tess Porter, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, photo for the 2019 National History Day educational theme book
- Gareth Williams, photo of William Lawrence and William Henry Bragg for the upcoming book Unravelling the Double Helix
- Image of the Morse telegraph for the Baltimore Museum of Industry exhibition Tap, Talk, Text: Telecommunications in Maryland, to open in November
- Irene Chin, facsimiles of Cooper-Hewitt's 1976 MAN transFORMS exhibition records for use in an upcoming exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture
- Cassie Holcomb, photo of Secretary Charles D. Walcott for Royal BC Museum's What's inSight magazine
- Margaret E. Schott, photo of Katherine Burr Blodgett for upcoming ebook The Posthumous Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Volume 2: Ladies in Waiting for the Nobel Prize
A mummy (case) comes back to life:
A researcher wanted to learn more about a Smithsonian object shown in a Bell & Bro. stereoview at the Library of Congress. Entitled simply "Smithsonian Institute" [sic], the image's item record included only a date to help our search.
Without much to go on, we contacted Richard Stamm, Curator of the Smithsonian Castle Collection, who has done quite a bit of research on stereographs depicting the Castle. Rick immediately identified the object as a fragment of a mummy case described in an 1880 Smithsonian guidebook. "It is supposed to belong to a very early period, and to be among the oldest, if not the very oldest, of specimens of hieroglyphic writing known," the guidebook claims.
Rick's sharp eye led us from the Library of Congress' bare image record to the complete, fully described object record at the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History. Today, the cartonnage fragment is no longer on display, but remains part of Smithsonian collections!