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Record Unit 9530,  Smithsonian Institution Paleontology Interviews, 1987-1988

Repository: Smithsonian Institution Archives, Washington, D.C. Contact us at
Title: Smithsonian Institution Paleontology Interviews
Dates: 1987-1988
Quantity: (Reference copies).
Collection: Record Unit 9530
Language of Materials: English

Pamela M. Henson, Smithsonian Institution Archives, conducted videotaped interviews at the NMNH with Cooper and research associates J. Thomas Dutro, Jr., Richard E. Grant, and Ellis L. Yochelson. They discussed and demonstrated the methods used to collect, prepare, and analyze fossilized brachiopods. Visual documentation includes group interaction, Devonian and Permian era specimens, the acid etching process, and Cooper's laboratory.

Historical Note

The National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) of the Smithsonian Institution houses one of the world's major paleontological collections. In addition, museum curators have developed many innovative techniques for handling, processing, and interpreting fossils.

Scientists interviewed for the project included G. Arthur Cooper (1902-2000), who received a B.S. degree from Colgate University in 1924 with a major in chemistry and an M.S. in 1926. He was awarded a Ph.D. from Yale University in 1929 for his thesis on the stratigraphy of the Hamilton formation. In 1930 he was appointed Assistant Curator in the Division of Stratigraphic Paleontology of the United States National Museum (USNM) and by 1957 assumed head curatorship of the Department of Geology, where he oversaw its division into separate departments of Paleobiology and Mineral Sciences in 1963. He continued as Chairman of the Department of Paleobiology until he was appointed Senior Paleobiologist in 1967. He retired from federal service in 1974 but continued his research as paleobiologist emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution until June 1987.

J. Thomas Dutro, Jr., (1923-2010) began his career as a geologist and paleontologist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in 1948. He received his A.B. from Oberlin College in 1948 and his M.S. and Ph.D. from Yale University in 1950 and 1953 respectively. He was stationed in the USGS offices in NMNH, and, in 1962, was appointed Research Associate of the Smithsonian Institution. His interests include the Paleozoic stratigraphy of Alaska and the western United States and the systematics of late Paleozoic Brachiopoda.

Richard E. Grant (1927-1995) received his B.A. in 1949 and M.S. in 1953 from the University of Minnesota and his Ph.D. in geology from the University of Texas at Austin in 1958. From 1961 to 1972 he worked as a geologist and paleontologist with the USGS until he assumed the position of Chairman of the Department of Paleobiology at NMNH in 1972. In 1977 he was appointed Geologist in that department and in 1983 became Curator and Senior Geologist. His research interests include the brachiopods and stratigraphy of the Permian period.

Ellis L. Yochelson (1928-2006) was a paleontologist with the USGS from 1952 until his retirement in 1985. During those years he occupied an office in NMNH and in 1967 was appointed a Research Associate in the Department of Paleobiology. A specialist in extinct mollusks, concentrating on the evolution of gastropods, Dr. Yochelson received B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of Kansas and a Ph.D. from Columbia University. His research interests included the history of geology.


The Smithsonian Videohistory Program, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation from 1986 until 1992, used video in historical research. Additional collections have been added since the grant project ended. Videohistory uses the video camera as a historical research tool to record moving visual information. Video works best in historical research when recording people at work in environments, explaining artifacts, demonstrating process, or in group discussion. The experimental program recorded projects that reflected the Institution's concern with the conduct of contemporary science and technology.

Eighteen Smithsonian historians participated in the program to document visual aspects of their on-going historical research. Projects covered topics in the physical and biological sciences as well as in technological design and manufacture. To capture site, process, and interaction most effectively, projects were taped in offices, factories, quarries, laboratories, observatories, and museums. Resulting footage was duplicated, transcribed, and deposited in the Smithsonian Institution Archives for scholarship, education, and exhibition. The collection is open to qualified researchers.

Descriptive Entry

Pamela M. Henson, Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, interviewed scientists in the museum's Department of Paleobiology who developed its extensive fossil collection. She used the fossil collections to stimulate discussion of the history of the collections and visually documented fossil preparation techniques.

This collection consists of three interview sessions, totaling approximately 4:04 hours of recordings, and 115 pages of transcript. There are three generations of tape for each session: originals, dubbing masters, and reference copies. In total, this collection is comprised of 7 original videotapes (6 U-matic videotapes, and 1 Beta videotape), 7 dubbing master videotapes (7 U-matic videotapes), and 5 reference copy videotapes (5 VHS videotapes). The collection has been remastered digitally, with 7 motion jpeg 2000 and 7 mpeg digital files for preservation, and 7 Windows Media Video and 7 Real Media Video digital files for reference.

For additional information on Cooper, see Record Unit 7318, G. Arthur Cooper Papers, Record Unit 328, Department of Paleobiology Records, and Record Unit 9524, G. Arthur Cooper Oral History Interviews, Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Preferred Citation

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9530, , Smithsonian Institution Paleontology Interviews

Container List

Box 1

Transcripts of Interviews

Session 1: 14 May 1987

Box 1 of 1

Consists of three interviews with Cooper by Yochelson, Dutro, and Henson in three locations in the Collections Storage Area of the Department of Invertebrate Paleontology concerning the history of those collections. Henson also interviewed Cooper in his office about his photographic and illustration techniques, c. 1925-1987. In the New York Devonian Aisle of the Collection Storage Area, Yochelson interviewed Cooper about:
Cooper's early interest in fossils;
importance of good fossil collections;
collections from New York Paleozoic and Devonian;
study of paleoecology;
evolution of brachiopods;
work in Michigan Devonian.
In the Michigan Devonian Aisle of the Collections Storage Area, Dutro interviewed Cooper about:
type of fossils found in Devonian in Michigan;
Cooper's collecting efforts in Michigan;
visual survey, with discussion, of fossils in Michigan collection, including Upper Devonian;
reminiscences of colleagues who joined his Devonian collecting trips.
In the Permian of the Glass Mountains, Texas, Section of the Collection Storage Area, Henson interviewed Cooper about:
development of Permian collection at SI;
visual description of specific specimens;
procedure for sorting and evaluating specimens;
reminiscences of colleagues who joined his Permian collecting trips;
means for preserving, selecting, and interpreting fossils;
Cooper's demonstration of "picking" fossils.
In Cooper's office, Henson interviewed him about:
preparation of specimens for photographic documentation;
demonstration of Cooper's photographic setup;
problems of securing adequate equipment in early years at museum;
the use of photographs as scientific illustrations in publications.
Transcript, pages 1-52, of videotape recording, 1 hour, 49 minutes.

Session 2: 18 May 1987

Box 1 of 1

Consists of a group interview with Cooper, Dutro, Grant, and Yochelson in the G. Arthur Cooper Room, Division of Invertebrate Paleontology, NMNH; followed by Cooper and Grant in Acid Etching Room; c. 1930-1987. In the Cooper Room, Henson interviewed the group about:
processes for collecting, transporting, shipping, and accessioning;
invertebrate specimens from the field;
colleagues on collecting field trips;
field conditions, specifically in the Glass Mountains of Texas;
visual display of artifacts, slides, photos, and books, and discussion about each;
recognition of Cooper's work by the professional community;
preparation of dioramas for exhibits.
In the Acid Etching Room, Henson interviewed Cooper and Grant about:
the acid etching process;
demonstration of the process, step-by-step, with description.
Transcript, pages 1-63, of videotape recording, 2 hours.

Session 3: 3 August 1988

Box 1 of 1

Consists of close-up views of Permian brachiopods of West Texas described during interviews.
Transcript: videotape recording, 15 minutes, was not transcribed, but original footage was summarized.

Video Recordings of Interviews

Session 1: 14 May 1987

Box 1 of 1

Total Recording Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Original Masters: 3 U-matic videotapes
Videotape 1: 51 minutes
Videotape 2: 41 minutes
Videotape 3: 17 minutes
Preservation Masters: 3 Motion jpeg 2000 and 3 mpeg digital files
Dubbing Masters: 3 U-matic videotapes
Reference Copies: 2 VHS videotapes, 3 Windows Media Video and 3 Real Media digital files

Session 2: 18 May 1987

Box 1 of 1

Total Recording Time: 2 hours
Original Masters: 3 U-matic videotapes
Videotape 1: 53 minutes
Videotape 2: 59 minutes
Videotape 3: 8 minutes
Preservation Masters: 3 Motion jpeg 2000 and 3 mpeg digital files
Dubbing Masters: 3 U-matic videotapes
Reference Copies: 2 VHS videotapes, 3 Windows Media Video and 3 Real Media digital files

Session 3: 3 August 1988

Box 1 of 1

Total Recording Time: 0.25 hours
Original Masters: 1 Beta videotape
Videotape 1: 15 minutes
Preservation Masters: 1 Motion jpeg 2000 and 1 mpeg digital files
Dubbing Masters: 1 U-matic videotape
Reference Copies: 1 VHS videotape, 1 Windows Media Video and 1 Real Media digital files