The Smithsonian Institution Archives has just launched our new website with a new look and navigation, as well as expanded pages on the history of the Smithsonian. If you’re interested in the history of the Smithsonian, what can you find? The History of the Smithsonian section has an array of resources and exhibits to answer your questions, from when individual Smithsonian museums were founded, to the laws that govern the Smithsonian, to images of the Smithsonian during the Civil War.
To explore the history of the Smithsonian on the new site, simply click on the “Smithsonian History” link at the top of the new homepage. From there you can investigate what happened on your birthday or a specific date in the past by visiting our “This Day in Smithsonian History” page. Here you can learn about interesting events that occurred at the Smithsonian on every day of the year, from 1846 to the present, from expeditions to exhibits, and from acquisition of objects to natural disasters.
Under our Resources tab, we have sections on General Smithsonian History, which includes an introduction to the legal documents—from public laws to deeds of gift, to court cases—that govern the Smithsonian. Get to know our enigmatic founding donor James Smithson, and read a blog post about what kind of student he was. Learn about the twelve Smithsonian Secretaries who served as our CEOs, as well as the Board of Regents who oversee the Smithsonian. You can also follow the development of our nineteen Museums, and our varied Research Centers.
For each of the museums and research centers, you can view a page with historical background information, images, a chronology of its history, an annotated bibliography, a search of all our archival records for the museum or center, as well as links to a variety of web resources. You can even check out the “Did You Know?” section on each page to learn some little known facts about that museum, and impress visitors from out of town with your insider knowledge. Soon we will add audio and video excerpts of oral history interviews that document the lives of the people who have made the Institution what it is.
We still have a variety of exhibits on Smithsonian history in an older format that will be migrated later this year. And we will be greatly expanding our pages for students and teachers in the Smithsonian Stories section, and our page on Joseph Henry, the first Smithsonian Secretary. Our Historic Pictures image gallery has already been expanded and transferred over so be sure to check out the wonderful images it has to share.
Additionally, the hundreds of historic images on all these pages will take you back to a time when the Smithsonian consisted of a single building set next to a swamp, cut off from downtown by a fetid canal. They illustrate interesting people and times during the Institution’s history: beer drinking young explorers who lived in the Smithsonian’s Castle towers and serenaded Secretary Henry’s daughters; the first animals that came to the National Zoo; watchmen who guarded the National Museum in its first years; to Smithsonian scientists raising a family on Barro Colorado Island in Panama in the 1960s. We’ve even begun geo-tagging these images so you can create your own Google map mash-ups. We’re especially interested in any additional identification you can provide us about these images.
It’s been a lot of work to expand and reorganize our web materials, but very exciting to see our history pages in a fresh new format that is easy to navigate. We hope you’ll take time to explore Smithsonian History on the web and check back periodically for the new content we’ll be adding. Just email us as SIHistory@si.edu with new information or questions on the history of the Smithsonian. We hope you enjoy traveling back in time with us!