Finding Aids to Oral Histories in the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 9565
Tropical Rainforest Exhibit Oral History Interviews, 1992, 1994
Museum exhibits are the result of a complex interplay between researchers, educators, and design specialists. These interviews focus on a case study of the evolution of a tropical rainforest life group at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in the 1960s and 1970s, which first emerged as a Hall of Botany in 1960, was redefined as a Hall of Living Things in 1968, was eventually built for an exhibit on environmental issues called It All Depends: How Man Affects and Is Affected by His Natural Environment, in 1974, and was later moved to the Hall of South American Anthropology in the Natural History Building. The interviewees include: Stanwyn G. Shetler, Curator of Phanerogams, NMNH, member of the exhibit committee for the original Hall of Botany; Reginald "Bud" J. Sayre, Preparator, Natural History Laboratory, who participated in an expedition to Kaieteur Falls in British Guiana to collect specimens and make molds and drawings of the site for the rainforest part of the exhibit in NMNH; Sophy Burnham, former Assistant Curator of the Smithsonian Museum Service, who was instrumental in creating a film, The Leaf Thieves, which documents the creation of the exhibit; Richard Sumner Cowan, former Director, NMNH, who also participated in the Kaieteur Falls Expedition to collect materials for the original Hall of Botany; Joseph Shannon, former Designer, NMNH, who worked on the design of the Botany Hall and later the Hall of Living Things; Paul N. Perrot, former Assistant Secretary for Museum Programs, who was involved in providing support, recommendations, and facilitating the exhibit work, and who helped establish an Office of Exhibits Central at the Smithsonian; James A. Mahoney, former Chief of the Office of Exhibits Central, who worked on many aspects of the rainforest exhibit; David B. Lellinger, Curator of Ferns, NMNH, a member of the original exhibit committee and participant in several collecting field trips for the exhibit; and Thomas E. Lovejoy, III, Counselor to the Secretary for Biodiversity and Environmental Affairs, on the role of tropical rainforests as icons for the environmental movement.
The Smithsonian Institution Archives began its Oral History Program in 1973. The purpose of the program is to supplement the written documentation of the Archives' record and manuscript collections with an Oral History Collection, focusing on the history of the Institution, research by its scholars, and contributions of its staff. Program staff conduct interviews with current and retired Smithsonian staff and others who have made significant contributions to the Institution. There are also reminiscences and interviews recorded by researchers or students on topics related to the history of the Smithsonian or the holdings of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Tropical Rainforest Exhibit Oral History Interviews were compiled to document the exhibit processes of the National Museum of Natural History.
Steven W. Allison, Smithsonian Predoctoral Fellow, from Cornell University, Department of Science and Technology Studies, conducted these interviews as a part of his doctoral research into the relationship between exhibition and research in natural history museums. These interviews cover the relationship between research and exhibition at the NMNH; the changes in meaning of the rainforest as it was reinterpreted for different exhibits; and the impact of trends in public education about science and the role of an icon, such as the rainforest, in discussions of the environment. Interviews of Sayre include both audiotaped and videotaped sessions and include many visuals from the exhibit.
The Tropical Rainforest Exhibit Oral History Interviews consist of 16 interview sessions, totaling approximately 18.5 hours of audiotape recordings, 0.40 hours of videotape recordings, and 313 pages of transcript.
Restricted. Contact SIHistory@si.edu to request permission.
This collection is indexed under the following access terms. These are links to collections with related topics, persons or places.
- Allison, Steven W., interviewer
- Cowan, Richard S., 1921-1997
- Burnham, Sophy
- Lellinger, David B.
- Mahoney, James A.
- Sayre, Reginald J.
- Shannon, Joe
- Shetler, Stanwyn G.
- Perrot, Paul N.
- Lovejoy, Thomas E.
- National Museum of Natural History (U.S.)
- Hall of Living Things (NMNH)
- Hall of South American Anthropology (NMNH)
- Office of Exhibits Central
- Smithsonian Museum Service
- Hall of Botany (NMNH)
- It All Depends: How Man Affects and Is Affected by His Natural Environment (Exhibition) (1974: Washington, D.C.)
- Museum techniques
- Tropical biology
- Conservation of natural resources
- Museum exhibits
- Oral history
- Rain forests
Physical Characteristics of Materials in the Collection
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9565, Tropical Rainforest Exhibit Oral History Interviews