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 questions SIA’s researchers have been exploring for the past few months!
Over the past three months, researcher projects have delved into:
Theodore Gill and the history of the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery
"Drugs," a 1972 exhibit on display at the Arts and Industries Building
Symbolism in the work of American female artists
Botanical illustrator Regina Olson Hughes
Earth Day celebrations at the Smithsonian
The 2003 report "The Time Has Come," prepared for the National Museum of African American History and Culture
Images and blueprints of buildings designed by Adolf Cluss
Permissions for upcoming publications using our photos or documents include:
A photo from the opening of "Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution, 1770-1800" for Katy Bunning’s upcoming book Negotiating Race and Rights in the Museum
A portrait of Clyde Lorrain Cowan for the PBS NOVA/BBC documentary "Operation Neutrino"
An image of Air Force trucks in Colón, Panama for Christine Keiner’s upcoming book Deep Cut: Science, Power, and the Unbuilt Interoceanic Canal
A portrait of Othniel C. Marsh for Deborah Koprick Battaglia’s journal article on the Bone Wars
Modernist architecture, pizza, and the Smithsonian:
A month ago, we were tasked to investigate the wayfinding graphics used in Cooper-Hewitt’s 1983 exhibit "Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School." Although we’re still not sure who was responsible for designing the signage, I did come across an intriguing sight: the name of a different exhibit on Frank Lloyd Wright. Between 1989 and 1992, it seems, the Smithsonian circulated a traveling exhibition called "Frank Lloyd Wright: Preserving an Architectural Heritage, Decorative Designs from the Domino's Pizza Collection."
I needed to know how a pizza chain ended up in the name of a Smithsonian architecture exhibit. A quick Google search proved way more fruitful than I'd anticipated. As it turns out, the founder of the pizza chain, Tom Monaghan, is no less than an acolyte of Frank Lloyd Wright. Domino’s headquarters has hosted an annual scholarly symposium on the architect, and the campus is home to a fifty-foot scale model of a Wright-inspired "Leaning Tower of Pizza." Monaghan contributed loans for the Smithsonian exhibit "Preserving an Architectural Heritage" from his own art collection, what he called (perhaps in a pique of self-promotion) the Domino’s Pizza Collection.
- Hot Topix in Archival Research, Fall 2019, by Deborah Shapiro, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Hot Topix in Archival Research, Summer 2019, by Deborah Shapiro, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Hot Topix in Archival Research, Spring 2019, by Deborah Shapiro, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Hot Topix in Archival Research, Winter 2019, by Deborah Shapiro, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives