Finding Aids to Official Records of the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 381
National Museum of History and Technology. Division of Historic Archeology
Records, circa 1952-1978
Specialization within the field of underwater historic archeology was established by Mendel L. Peterson, who served as Head Curator of the Division of Military and Naval History, United States National Museum, 1948-1957; Head Curator and Chairman of the Department of Armed Forces History, National Museum of History and Technology (NMHT), 1958-1968; and Curator of the Division of Historic Archeology, NMHT, 1969-1973.
Peterson began taking an interest in underwater historic archeology in 1952, and thereafter conducted extensive research as well as headed expeditions to underwater shipwreck sites in the Florida Straits, Bahamas, and West Indies. Grants from the Explorers Research Company and National Geographic Society enabled Peterson to engineer his Proton Processing Magnetometer, an electronic searching device used for locating underwater artifacts and tested in the waters of Bermuda. When the Division of Historic Archeology was organized in 1969, emphasis on underwater historic archeology had more focus. Peterson supervised the Division's Underwater Exploration Project which, until his retirement in 1973, involved further exploration of the Caribbean and thorough research of previously discovered underwater sites.
In 1965 Peterson published History Under the Sea: A Handbook for Underwater Exploration, which remains a standard reference source on surveying underwater archeological sites and on laboratory techniques for preserving artifacts from underwater excavations.
Records include correspondence and memoranda between Peterson and George R. Wallace, President and Treasurer of the Explorers Research Corporation; Bertrand Committee; Caribbean Research Institute; professional contacts participating in the Underwater Exploration Project; individuals interested in the History Under the Sea: A Handbook for Underwater Exploration handbook and underwater exploration; and staff of the Department of Armed Forces History.
This collection also includes Bertrand Committee reports and blueprints for the raising of the steamboat Bertrand in 1969; photographs of Peterson, alongside explorer Waldemar A. Ayres, experimenting with the Proton Processing Magnetometer; additional photographs and illustrations of underwater shipwreck sites, artifacts, and preservation methods; original manuscripts and bibliographical information for the publication History Under the Sea: A Handbook for Underwater Exploration; subject files concerning preservation of artifacts and use of electrolytic reduction on metallic objects; information pertaining to cannon markings and their identification; budgetary records; and proposals for the Hall of Underwater Exploration, NMHT.
This collection is indexed under the following access terms. These are links to collections with related topics, persons or places.
- Peterson, Mendel
- Ayres, Waldemar A.
- National Museum of History and Technology (U.S.). Division of Historic Archeology
- National Museum of History and Technology (U.S.). Department of Armed Forces History
- Caribbean Research Institute
- Explorers Research Corporation
- National Museum of History and Technology (U.S.). Underwater Exploration Project
- Bertrand (Steamboat)
- National Museum of History and Technology (U.S.). Hall of Underwater Exploration
- National Geographic Society (U.S.)
- History Under the Sea: A Handbook for Underwater Exploration (Monograph : 1965)
Physical Characteristics of Materials in the Collection
- Color photographs
- Black-and-white photographs
- Black-and-white transparencies
- Black-and-white negatives
- Color transparencies
- Plates (illustrations)
- Picture postcards
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 381, National Museum of History and Technology. Division of Historic Archeology, Records