The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Recently, I had a conversation with Dr. Jorge Santiago-Blay, an entomologist whose research includes fossilized insects. A Resident Research Associate in the Department of Paleobiology with the National Museum of Natural History, and faculty member at both the University of Maryland University College and Penn State University York, Dr. Santiago-Blay’s keen interest in insects is contagious.
In his recent investigations, a small, fossilized head in amber was proving difficult to identify. “I was working with students on this old (approximately 100 million years old) fossil, but its identity kept eluding us. What was it? We always seemed to be asking,” Dr. Santiago-Blay said. “Eventually, it became apparent that the fossil specimen was the head of a larva. Sadly, the rest of the body was not available in the fossil. The team began to wonder how large the fossilized larva was. Because, as far as we know, there is only one such fossilized larva available, we decided to measure modern look alikes of the fossilized larva to try to guess the size of the fossilized specimen.” As Dr. Santiago-Blay’s team began garnering and analyzing data, new questions appeared. “As I dug further into the data, the available photos, and so on … I noticed a pattern that reminded me of Dyar’s Rule, but it was different because we were measuring the dimension of a softer body part, the abdomen.”
At the turn of the twentieth century, entomologist Harrison Gray Dyar, Jr. (1886 - 1929) and others researched growth patterns of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), Diptera (flies, such as mosquitoes), and other arthropods. Dyar identified a geometric pattern of increase in the exoskeleton length and width relationships over progressive molting events—indicating that this progression could be measured so consistently that one could reliably predict the size at which the next molting events would occur. We see the first mention of a “Dyar’s Law” in the scientific literature, referring to this progression, as early as the 1920s.
No data set is perfect; there is always extraneous data. When a scientific standard like Dyar’s Law is developed, the analyses used to arrive at the standard include filtering out the “noise” in the data. Dr. Santiago-Blay’s team is taking a fresh look at Dyar’s original, unfiltered observations for clues that might explain how Dyar reached his conclusions.
Santiago-Blay and his team hope to find some answers in Dyar’s original field observations and his personal papers located at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. That will require transcribing a number of Dyar’s field books cover to cover to make as thorough an examination as possible. Last spring, the Smithsonian Transcription Center held a #DigIntoDyar campaign to tackle a number of Dyar’s sawfly field books from the Archives collections.
“I think the Transcription Center and its volunteers are wonderful. The work they do is extremely important. Hopefully, their help transcribing Dyar’s materials will make it possible to discover more answers and better understand Dyar’s Law,” Santiago-Blay said. More of Dyar’s field books are available now for transcription at the Smithsonian Transcription Center.
- Record Unit 7101. Harrison Gray Dyar Papers, 1882-1927, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Harrison G. Dyar Notebooks, Department of Entomology, 1882 - 1925, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- The Impossible Case of Harrison G. Dyar, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- The Bizarre Tale of the Tunnels, Trysts and Taxa of a Smithsonian Entomologist, Smithsonian Magazine
- The Hirshhorn is making Yayoi Kusama's blockbuster show accessible with virtual reality. [via Washington Post]
- Rare sighting of the endangered marbled cat via infrared camera trap! [via National Geographic]
- Mark your calendars: April 17-21 is Endangered Data Week. [via Digital Library Federation]
- We contributed to the Nationa Digital Stewardship Alliance's 2016 Web Archiving Survey Report which was just released! [via NDSA]
- The gems our Transcription Center volunteers are finding in Phyllis Diller's joke file. [via CBC Radio]
- 16th-century rocket cats! [via Atlas Obscura]
- What Jane Austen's glasses tell us about her death. [via British Libraries]
- I want to see the 'wildflower superbloom' in Southern California. [via Washington Post]
In January 1926, Science Service took a chance on smart, plucky Hallie Jenkins, hiring the 27-year-old as their sales representative. During the following months, Jenkins traveled on her own throughout the Midwest, selling science to newspapers large and small. By the end of the year, she had moved to Washington, D.C., and become the organization’s sales and advertising manager, a position she held until her death in 1963.
When Watson Davis first met Jenkins (after his talk on “Science and Religion” at the All Souls Unitarian Church in Kansas City), she was casting around for work. She had sales experience (“I’ve been attempting to inveigle the public into the spending of its money for quite a number of years”), so Davis hired her on a trial basis.
The first reports to Davis preserve a snapshot of an independent woman, determined to impress her employer. “I am leaving for Salina [Kansas] at the wee hour of one bell,” she wrote. “Pity me – out in the cold gray morning – for the good of SCIENCE.” The prize for perseverance would be a steady income, but to justify salary and reimbursement of her travel costs, she had to land sales. “I will do my very best to see a number of prospects. The ones I cannot close – will see later.”
By February 10, Jenkins had been hired at half-time ($30 a week) plus (modest) expenses. After a trip to St. Louis in mid-February, she requested reimbursement of $45.93. The railroad fare and Pullman charge had been $26.06 and the remaining $19.87 “covered hotel, meals, tips, taxis, telephones – and the pressing of a frock.” “I had a lot of fun about the hotel room,” she wrote, because “the clerk wanted to charge me seven dollars. Now seven dollars for a lone lady is too much. So I gave said clerk a one-sided grin (if you knew me you would know that such a grin means – ‘Oh, you big story-teller!’) so I went for a manicure (which I did not charge to you) and came back to find a room ready for me – for four dollars. Isn’t nerve a wonderful thing? You folk have been so very nice to me I certainly am not going to impose on you – nor be imposed upon. And besides it was a lot of fun to accomplish said results – and I expect I got the very same room.”
In addition to an ebullient personality, Jenkins possessed a useful sensitivity to the potential variations in human nature. “It seems,” she wrote, “as if I must feel out each new prospect, must learn his likes and dislikes before I can complete a sale – but then such ‘missionary’ work is more to my liking. I try to discover in each individual a new source of information, of interest – and I get much enjoyment in pondering upon the queer quirks of these folk we call, often causelessly, human.” Jenkins described one editor as the sort of tall man “who untangles when he rises from his chair.” He was a “real farmer – having only been upon a newspaper for a little over six weeks. He has the look of the out-of-doors man, has unruly gray hair and kindly blue eyes. Slow of speech – and very easy to listen to – a man who seems to know little about ‘wimmin’ and who cares little about them – but who is ever so courteous.”
Another asset was her keen sense of humor. Asked to give a presentation about Science Service to scientists and students at the University of Kansas, Jenkins admitted wryly that (as a new employee of the organization) “this will be difficult,” but said she intended to do her best. She would, she said, take along copies of Science News Letter and other news products and would explain things “in the manner of the little girl whose Mother told her to go to the grocery to get a quart of vinegar. The wee lady could not pronounce the big, big word – so she boosted the vinegar jug (I almost said ‘little brown-jug’) high up on the counter and spake thusly to the clerk: ‘Smell of that – and gimme a quart.’ So I shall say – ‘Here are the samples – look ‘em over’.”
As a professional woman, traveling alone, Jenkins faced a challenge familiar to 21st-century readers. Here, too, humor and equanimity proved essential assets. In February, as Science Service was printing stationary and calling cards for their new “Middle Western Sales Representative,” she asked that “when you send me my stationery – please have my name ‘Hallie Jenkins’ not ‘Mrs. Hallie Jenkins.’ Saves time and trouble – hate explanations.” In her next letter, however, she did explain. “Well, you see it is like this,” she wrote to Davis: “without such a prefix the element of the personal is removed. You would be surprised at the many things I have been asked when I am announced as ‘Mrs.’”
I am asked:
A ... You’re married, aren’t you
B ... How long have you been married
C ... What does your husband do (if he does)
D ... Does he support you
E ... You are a modern woman – do not believe in home and children
F ... I suppose you hate house-work
G ... Your sex, is less womanly – believes less in the HOME – the – HOLY STATE OF MATRIMONY – if any”
So, she concluded, “you see how I feel. If I go to call upon a man I want him to buy, not to get chummy or inquisitive – I want to be just plain Hallie Jenkins (goodness knows I am plain enough) – I feel I can deal in a more business-like way with a man. [M]arriages, like operations, are taboo subjects of conversations.”
Hallie Jenkins persisted, succeeded, proved herself, and for the next 37 years sold science to hesitant newspaper editors. One Saturday evening, during that first spring of tryouts, she sat down and shared her delight in her most recent sale. “It takes nerve to go on and on in the face of a ‘no’ – and end with a ‘yes’,” she wrote. Yes, indeed.
- Record Unit 7091, Science Service, Records, circa 1910-1963, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Women in Science, Smithsonian Institution Flickr