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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Stories from Ethnographic Field Diaries in the Edward C. Green Collection

On October 27, 1971, anthropologist Ted Green was on the way to the airport with his wife and one-year-old son to begin his doctoral field research among the Matawai Maroons in Suriname. “1st day must be worst in anthropological history,” he wrote as the first line of his fresh field notebook. “Attaché case and tape case lost en route to airport containing everything. I’m set back a year, if indeed I can start work at all now. Complete despair.” In the cases were traveler’s checks, letters of introduction, and the family’s medications – essential items for a long foreign stay. More bad news was to follow: “Other things screwed up: house promised not available, museum friend has emigrated, etc. etc.” Fortunately for Green and his family, the cases were found the next day and sent on to meet him in Suriname. “Awoke this morning to learn via phone from Washington that both cases found…Fantastic good fortune. Contents were priceless, irreplaceable,” Green noted.

A page of a field notebook, Suriname, 1971, Box 4, Edward C. Green papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Green would spend the next two years in Suriname with his family, documenting the Matawai dialect of the Saramaccan language and Matawai kinship structures. (Green’s dissertation, completed in 1974, was entitled “The Matawai Maroons: An Acculturating Afro-American Society.”)

Ted Green in Suriname, 1974, Box 3, Edward C. Green papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

The field notebooks he kept during this time now reside among the Edward C. Green papers, c. 1970-2016 at the National Anthropological Archives (NAA). In addition to standard field note fare – such as interviews, observations, and analysis – Green’s field notebooks capture intimate moments where his professional life as a doctoral student intersected with his personal life as a husband and father. Green’s young son borrowed his father’s notebooks for handwriting practice. Scrawls and loops in earlier notebooks turn into doodles in later ones, with big block-lettered “TIMMY” scratched across pages. The antics of the family dog, Karl, make the cut as well, as do the concerns and ethnographic observations of Green’s first wife, Shannon.

In December 1971, Green wrote, “We flew to Jacobkondre because we were afraid the boat trip would be dangerous for the baby…Gaddan [Jarien Gaddan, a member of Parliament] and the village (missionary) schoolteachers were quite interested in us. We were given a house by the airstrip, the upstairs of which is used for radioing Paramaribo. Then Gaddan and the plane left. A number of children came over to look at Timmy and our big dog, and soon they were all playing.” Perhaps no notebook entry is so dramatic as the opening salvo, but the diaries nevertheless capture the intimate and messy process of ethnographic field work – including the loss of traveler’s checks and their miraculous recovery!

Three field notebooks, Suriname, 1971-1972, Box 4, Edward C. Green papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

The Edward C. Green papers, c. 1970-2016 were processed with funding from the Wenner-Gren Foundation. The collection is open for research at the NAA. A finding aid for the collection is available on the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives (SOVA). Sound recordings in the collection, including field interviews among the Matawai, are currently being digitized process so they can be made available online within the next year.

Kate Madison, Processing Archivist
National Anthropological Archives

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Connecting Black History through Transcription

Robert Russa Moton (1867-1940) graduated from Hampton National and Agricultural Institute (now University) in  1890. He served as the school's commandant of cadets from 1891-1915 before becoming the second president of Tuskegee Institute (now University). Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr., Estate.

In recognition of Black History Month, the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Anacostia Community Museum  are collaborating to discover hidden connections across their respective collections. To start off the month NMAAHC and ACM highlight collections relating to African American education history.

After the Civil War, many of the first colleges for African Americans were established to provide training for teachers and future leaders. Now known as HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), these schools educated some of the most famous African Americans of the twentieth century including Booker T. Washington (Hampton University), W.E.B. Du Bois (Fisk University), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Morehouse College), Ralph Abernathy (Alabama State University), Thurgood Marshall (Lincoln University), Katherine Johnson, (West Virginia State University), Marian Wright Edelman (Spelman College), and Oprah Winfrey (Tennessee State University).

One of the earliest HBCUs was Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) was founded in 1868 by General Samuel Chapman Armstrong with the support of the American Missionary Association. In its early days, Hampton trained African American educators. The school also emphasized self-improvement and job training to enable students to become gainfully employed and self-supporting as craftsmen and industrial workers. Listed in Hampton Classes 1871-1898 are the names of the graduates of Hampton Institute between 1871 and 1898. Included in this reference book are two of Hampton’s most famous alumni: Booker T. Washington (founder of Tuskegee Institute) and Robert Sengstacke Abbott (founder of the Chicago Defender). Help us transcribe this document and let us know if  you find other famous alumni on these pages?

We invite the public to transcribe letters, catalogues, playbills, scrapbooks and programs on the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers: Transcription Center to help us become aware of people, places, and events buried within these documents.

Jennifer Morris, Anacostia Community Museum
Courtney Bellizzi, National Museum of African American History and Culture
Douglas Remley, National Museum of African American History and Culture

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Donald J. Ortner: Physical Anthropologist, Museum Curator, Paleopathologist

How does tuberculosis leave its mark on a human skeleton? What is the significance of changing ankle stability in an ancient culture? What do skeletons tell us? Donald J. Ortner (1938-2012), a biological anthropologist in the National Museum of Natural History, explored questions such as these. Many of his projects focused on paleopathological studies of human skeletons; essentially Ortner researched the visible effects of ancient diseases on bone.

Donald J. Ortner at the base of a shaft tomb at the Bâb edh-Dhrâ cemetery site in Jordan, circa 1977, Box 64, Donald J. Ortner Papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
The photograph above portrays Ortner in the midst of one of the larger paleopathological projects of his career: Bâb edh-Dhrâ. East of the Dead Sea in Jordan, the site of Bâb edh-Dhrâ includes an Early Bronze Age town and cemetery. From 1975 to 1983, the archaeological team of the Expedition to the Dead Sea Plain (EDSP), co-directed by Walter Rast and R. Thomas Schaub and comprised of people from an array of different disciplines, carried out excavations of the site. While an extraordinary 373 individual skeletons have been uncovered, it is estimated that the cemetery consists of 37,699 bodies buried in over 2,500 shaft tombs. In general, these shafts are about 4 feet across and 6 feet deep; you can see Ortner standing at the base of one of them in this photograph. At the bottom, hemispherical burial chambers were dug out to the side of the shaft, 3 feet high in the center and 6 feet in diameter. Women, men, young, and old were buried together in these chambers with an average of about 5 people per chamber.

During Ortner’s first field season at the Bâb edh-Dhrâ site in 1977, he was given the honor of opening the first excavated burial chamber, A78. The following excerpt from Ortner’s article “Cultural Change in Bronze Age” (Smithsonian Magazine, 1978) describes Ortner’s reaction to opening the chamber:
“I shall never forget the exhilaration. Covered with dust, perspiration rolling off me in the 100-degree-plus heat, I pulled away the stone blocking the north chamber and saw revealed for the first time in 5,000 years the human skeletons and exquisite pottery inside.” 
Ortner and his team used analyses of the specimens and tombs to examine how the transition from a nomadic way of life to an urban one affected burial practices. He also discovered information about the health of these Early Bronze Age people, finding indications of arthritis, brucellosis, and tuberculosis on the bones. Ortner continued his study of specimens over a period 30 years, fascinated by and perhaps even admiring of a group of people so troubled by infectious diseases, yet “surviving and even thriving” (Ortner and Frohlich: 368).

Aside from his work at Bâb edh-Dhrâ, Ortner pursued several other projects related to the history and evolution of human infectious diseases. Throughout his 49 years (1963-2012) in the Department of Anthropology in the NMNH, Ortner was a well-respected colleague and mentor; he filled many positions from Museum Technician to Curator to Acting Director of the Museum.
The Donald J. Ortner Papers are now open for research at the National Anthropological Archives. The National Anthropological Film Collection, formerly the Human Studies Film Archives (HSFA), holds films that document Ortner’s work in Bâb edh-Dhrâ. An appointment is required to view the materials.

Alice Griffin, Contract Processing Archivist
National Anthropological Archives

Sources consulted: 
Ortner, Donald J. “Cultural Change in Bronze Age.” Smithsonian Magazine (1978): 82-87.

Ortner, D. J., and Bruno Frohlich. “The EB IA Tombs and Burials of Bâb edh-Dhrâ, Jordan: A Bioarchaeological Perspective on the People.” International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 17 (2007): 358-368.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

"Lots of love…" Letters from Antarctica, December 1962

Below are letters written by Invertebrate Zoologist Waldo Schmitt to his wife, nicknamed "Stummy", while he was completing field work in Antarctica during 1962-1963.  Schmitt wrote these letters during his last major trip into the field.  Schmitt had been going into the field since 1911 when he served aboard the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries Albatross as an Assistant Naturalist during its cruises along the west coast of America and Alaska.  He married his wife Alvina in 1914.

The letters below were taken from crowdsourced transcriptions from the Smithsonian Transcription Center.  Photographs were taken by Waldo during his time in Antarctica.

Participant sitting with a penguin on the Palmer Peninsula, Antarctica c.1962,
SIA RU007231 - Waldo L. Schmitt Papers, 1907-1978, Smithsonian Institution Archives, SIA2012-0662
December 15, 1962
Dear Stummy, 

Here we are in Antarctica at McMurdo. A bright and sunny day; there are puddles of water, ice-edged to be sure in the streets (such as they are of volcanic ash largely; and no colder than a
crisp winter day at home; maybe a little more crisp about 15° this early a.m and now at 8 p.m it is 18°, the same as at noon. We are in the "land of the mid-night sun. The sun is high in the heavens, and as bright as the clearest day at home at mid-day.

Oh! yes from the shore as far out as you can see a sheet of snow covered ice over which the tractors plough back and forth hauling supplies from the ice - airfield where the planes land about 3 miles from the Station proper. 

Quite a place and honestly it doesn't feel as cold as the thermometer has it. We sleep two In about an 8x8 room, one cot above the other bunk bed style with a fair sided [[bedsi?]] locker, one ceiling lamp, & one chair. The sleeping accommodations are quite primative - the meals on the other hand quite lavish - meat twice a day, and a hot plate of beans on the side at lunch
and dinner to day. Dessert at lunch today was bread pudding with raisins; at dinner a square of chocholate cake with white icing. The coffee seems quite good. Canned milk does not stand up well, tends to separate they say, and so Proam is used instead. We have to walk about half a block, or is it a block to the toilet facilities. There are no showers - "sponge baths" are what serves here. I got about 4 hrs sleep on the plane and am beginning to feel sort of dopy. Tomorrow the mail goes out so I shall try to send this and a few cards. A pretty one to each
of you in Coronado.

Gee Stummy, I should have sent you out to Barb's before I left. Please don't feel apprehensive about money matters or Barb, or me either things will work out alright. I believe I get $12 a day per d for the days we are not either on a ship or at this station. Of course I [[Had?]] pay the
hotel, but I shall get the per diem which will more than offset it. Then I should get the $1,800 on top of that. It will more than cover all the bills and some besides, and that is not taking the "pay" checks into account.

Stop worrying. It looks as though I shall come through alive to plague you the rest of our days. And don't worry about Barb until you see for yourself this time out there. Too bad about Ruth. To think after all these busy years that she had to run into this trouble whatever it is. ||| The Seiglers sent me an Xmas card! 

Be good Stummy we aren't going to be so badly off. I'll check over those taxes when I get back
Lots of love girl and then some 


View of vessel during specimen collecting near Peterman Island, Antarctica, 1962-1963,
SIA RU007231 - Waldo L. Schmitt Papers, 1907-1978, Smithsonian Institution Archives, SIA2012-0666.
Dec. 16, 1962

Dear Stummy,

Here we still are, I hardly know what to write. In the hotel they moved me to a single room on the second floor a bother because I'll only be here another day or two. Tomorrow or the next day I move in with Jack Crowell at Eddie Goodall's place. I did not go out Sunday with Jack
because I wanted to see the Museum director G.A. Turbot, and a Dr Stonehouse who has been up on the Palmer Peninsula where we are going or expect to go. Stonehouse was due last night at 5 oclock but did not return on the plane. I had thought he was on vacation but he's down at McMurdo.

The weather is/as I wrote before. The present is the more rainy season and though its summer we get temperatures in the low 40's at night, and in the low 60's (63) at midday if the sky clears by then and the sun comes out.

There is no heat in these rooms or this hotel except the hot water tap and a fireplace in some of the rooms. There was one in the double room we had but none in the cubicle I am in now.

I am sitting here writing on my lap because there is no table and bureau top is too high, wearing my heavy blue shirt. On bed I have besides sheet, two thin blankets and 2 spreads white, and red one. Yes, I am plenty warm, but at that the room is colder than out of doors, at least when I go out after breakfast. The other reason I have not yet moved out of hotel is that Eddie
Goodalls place is way out by the airport and the busses that go by his place run 45 mins apart in busy - rush hours - and 1.10 mins apart during day. Most of yesterday I spent in the public Library here checking up on Antarctic animal & biology literature. I want to go back at
least another day to check over some of the reports of earlier expeditions.I had intended doing this at home and would have done so except for that darn moving. I hate to think of what I have awaiting me back at Museum.

Too bad that mail is going to be so little and far between. Now take this one. If I send it home Thelma will have to forward it, but at that it will just about reach you when you get to California.

There is nothing much else to write a-bout. Here at this hotel the meat is mutton most all the time but they do have a fish course and now and then pork and chicken, of course eggs for breakfast almost smothered in bacon strips, not crisp fried either. I try to have them bring me only one strip, but they seem incapable of doing it, or just won't from force of habit. The hot tea at 7 a.m served in room is not so bad - in a fairly cold room. However the
water runs hot and that's a comfort.

Maybe at Eddie's place over the week end I'l have a table to write on. Next week if we still are here I shall try to get in a little collecting. I'd hate to be here a couple of weeks and not have a New Zealand crab for the Museum collection, but nothing is handy, and the few "tools" I brought are so tied up in warehouse at airport that I can't well get at them. They are also too well packed to undo for fooling around here.
Also I am afraid I'll have to let Christmas buying go over. the sending is the chief problem after trying to think of what to buy. I do hope you are keeping "weller," getting over that too worried spell. It will be nice to see Barb and the kids again. Lots of love girl first to you and then the rest

- from the old man - Waldo

Helicopter fire on McMurdo Base, Antarctica, prior to arrival of emergency response team,
SIA RU007231 - Waldo L. Schmitt Papers, 1907-1978, Smithsonian Institution Archives, SIA2012-0665.
Penguins on the Palmer Peninsula, 10-11am January 28, 1963,
SIA RU007231 - Waldo L. Schmitt Papers, 1907-1978, Smithsonian Institution Archives, SIA2012-0665.
Dec. 16, 1962

Dear Stummy,

Today we had snow - a brief flurry this a.m. a bit of a let up and then with lunch more through the rest of the afternoon and supper perhaps till 7 or 8 // I got off a number of Xmas cards including one to Dick.

This was an earlier letter, Before the unfinished one above. The part that got carboned read as follows "You may not think that I know what I am doing, but we are utterly dependent on the Navy. Today I want to get Xmas cards; its finally come to the point where I get them, or not. The
question is to whom to send them and how many. If as the bunch here is doing I would get U.S. stamps on them which we can do from here out, but there is the thought that folks would expect N.Z.stamps. - That decision I wont make till I get cards written /// As ^ [[insertion]] is
[[/insertion]] always the case, we are having unusual weather, the summer has suddenly descended upon us - after all the cool weather I have been complaining about in the 40s and 50's - day before yesterday was in mid 80°s and yesterday it was over 90°! Believe it or not, today, the temperature is back more to normal summer temperature. When its cool here its delightful, when its chilly, not so good! [When its hot, it is pretty hot & uncomfortable, you want to move along.

Lesley Parilla, Cataloging Coordinator
Field Book Project, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

More on the Photographic Adventures of Katherine Joseph

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) president David Dubinsky with cast members of the ILGWU revue "Pins and Needles." Left to right: Ruth Rubenstein, Rose Newmark, Lynn Jaffe, Millie Weitz, Ann Brown, and Nettie Harari at the White House, March 3, 1938. Photograph by Katherine Joseph, © Richard Hertzberg and Suzanne Hertzberg. Katherine Joseph Papers, Archives Center, NMAH.
This is an update to the September blog by Richard Hertzberg and myself, “Every Minute Counts,” about documentary photographer Katherine Joseph. The biographical information in that blog, as well as in the Archives Center’s finding aid and catalog entry, was derived from Katherine Joseph’s daughter Suzanne Hertzberg's 2002 master’s thesis for the University of Southern California, “Photo by Katherine Joseph.”

Ms. Hertzberg then transformed her thesis into a book for publication--a handsome biography of this little-known, talented photographer, entitled Katherine Joseph: Photographing an Era of Social Significance (Bergamot Books, 2016). Illustrated with many of her mother’s photographs, it places Katherine Joseph’s career firmly in the tradition of 1930s-1940s documentary photography, as well as in the context of American women’s history. As such, it is far more than an affectionate memoir. Since Katherine Joseph told her children so little about her photographic career, Suzanne Hertzberg had few specific personal memories to relate, and had to pursue extensive research on her elusive subject.

The collection was donated to the Archives Center in 2007 by Suzanne and Richard Hertzberg.

David Haberstich,
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Betsy’s Travels through India

In the Freer | Sackler Archives our best volunteer is a woman named Betsy.  Betsy has been working in the archives since 2001.  Fifteen years of detailed and focused attention that has led to the creation and availability of the Smith and Pope collections.  She is the quintessential no-nonsense woman with a heart of gold.

Sometimes I think that the hard work that goes into making a collection available (doing basic preservation, creating the finding aid, organizing the materials, etc.) is overlooked.  Making a collection accessible to the public is a monumental task.  Collections generally do not arrive ready to be put online, with digital surrogates and finding aids.  Often collections are literally a palette of boxes pulled out of someone’s basement or an unorganized hard drive of materials.  The person who is tasked with organizing a collection for access to the public has to preserve the thought processes of the collection's creator and at the same time ensure that the materials are organized in such a way that they can be combed through by eager researchers.

Betsy hard at work in the Freer | Sackler Archives
This past year Betsy has been working hard on the papers of Dr. Prince Aschwin de Lippe-Biesterfeld, PhD (1914-1988).  Lippe was curator in the Far Eastern Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1949 until 1973. He specialized in Chinese Classical Paintings.  The subject matter of this collection was a bit out of Betsy’s wheelhouse of knowledge, but she is more than capable of working through a collection regardless of subject matter expertise.

from Left to Right): James Cahill, Aschwin de Lippe, H. Bevil, and John Pope.  Taken at National Gallery of Art, 1961. 
There were, of course, some bumps along the way.  The biggest speed bump came with trying to identify locations in the countless photograph slides that Lippe had taken during his travels and study of India.  Betsy has a lot of experience with photographs and she first approached this problem from the angle of making all the negative and slide numbers match to at least give these photographs a sense of order for researchers. Secondarily, she made note of any writing on slides photographs and added those to the finding aid she was building in tandem with her physical overhaul of the Lippe collection.

Some of these notes had difficult to read hand writing.  One particular slide note was hard to read and Betsy asked me if I could make it out.  I starred at it for a while, afraid to verbalize my answer.  She jumped in and said it looks like the second word looked like Butterball, but I can’t make out the first word.  I felt better that I was not the only one who thought it said Butterball.  After a little time we determined that the first word was Krishna.  Since neither of us are subject matter experts, I did a search online and low and behold we discovered that Krishna’s Butterball is a real rock in India.

Krishna’s Butterball in Mahabalipuram, India. Prince Aschwin de Lippe Papers 1940-1988,FSA A2012.01 Box 11, Folder 33
Krishna’s Butterball is one small example of the amount of research and time that goes into making materials clear and organized. Betsy had to check out several books from the library to cross check and confirm locations in India.  She had to completely read through and then figure out a way to order Lippe’s research notes and notebooks so that they both preserved Lippe’s thought processes and could actually be accessed by scholars.

Working on an archival collection is always a long game.  Sometimes you only organize a few folders due to the complexity of the materials. Other days you have epiphanies about connections between various scattered materials and can go through several boxes. We are lucky to have someone as intelligent, tenacious, and dedicated as Betsy working in the Freer |Sackler Archives.

Collections Betsy has Organized:
Myron Bement Smith Collection
John Pope Papers
Prince Aschwin de Lippe Papers

Lara Amrod
Freer | Sackler Archives

Monday, October 31, 2016

Farewell to American Archives Month

William J. Rhees, first ‘Keeper of the Archives’ for the Smithsonian Institution in 1892.
Smithsonian Institution Archives, SIA2011-1379
As we come to the end of American Archives Month – and our blog-a-thon – we at the Smithsonian Collections blog want to give a big thank you to everyone who has joined us. As we explored the theme of transitions, our posts have looked at how archives look to the future as well as the past and explored how an archive celebrates new beginnings. Posts from interns speak to the future of the profession and how the collections we steward connect us to our own past.  Researchers explored changing community dynamics and transitions in portraiture.  Collections span topics from aerospace to gardens, World War I to scientific field notes, Bob Dylan to indigenous languages.

Explore them all by clicking on the 2016 Archives Month tag!

I hope these posts have given you a glimpse of some of the many meanings transition has to archivists, librarians and museum professionals all around the Smithsonian. As archives across the Smithsonian have grown from their earliest form in 1891 they have seen much transition: from paper to audio, video, and now digital files. Just in the last year, the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives was launched, transforming how finding aids, collections, and digital assets are available to the public. The Smithsonian Transcription Center has had an amazing year and thousands of volunpeers spanning the globe are transforming the research possibilities for hundreds of our collections. These transitions are making Smithsonian collections more accessible and making our mission of the increase and diffusion of knowledge possible every day.

Lisa Fthenakis, Program Assistant
Smithsonian Institution Archives