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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Introduction to a New World: Processing the Stubblebine Collection

The journey from student to intern in a new city isn’t always the easiest transition. I was fortunate, however, to find a welcome environment that values questions and learning. I just completed an internship at the National Museum of American History Archives Center, where my first assignment was to participate in the processing of the Donald J. Stubblebine Collection of Musical Theater and Motion Picture Sheet Music and Reference Material. It opened my eyes to a different side of archiving, one that involves meticulous attention to detail through technology.

Processing a collection involves the efforts of many dedicated people behind the scenes working tirelessly to organize a collection to make it accessible to researchers. Going through a collection can take a few weeks or a few months, depending on the size of the collection. The Stubblebine Collection is 152 cubic feet; the three archivists and four interns working on it only made a dent in its processing journey. This collection contains music scores, scripts, and miscellaneous ephemera. Each piece in the collection is organized within a series and sub-series. Stage Musicals, for example, is one series under which other sub-series fall, such as “Oh That Melody,” 1918. Each folder is labeled with the collection number, title of the musical, and year or years if that information is available. Stage Musicals are organized in alphabetical order and placed in an acid-free box. The boxes are then labeled with the collection number, collection title, series number, and box number. Once the collection was boxed, I helped it cross the finish line.

"There Seems to be Something About You," sheet music from the Broadway musical, "Oh That Melody," 1918.
 Archives Center, NMAH, AC 1211, Stubblebine Collection, Box 252, Folder 11. File Name: AC1211-0000012.tif.
My main job was to review every box, number each file within the box, and ensure alphabetical order. Once I had gone through each folder, I used a collections management system called ArchivesSpace (or ASpace). ArchivesSpace is an online database application that supports collection management, archival processing, and finding aid creation. In ASpace, I entered every file folder description. A finding aid is “a description of records that gives the repository physical and intellectual control over the materials and that assists users to gain access to and understand the materials.” A finding aid allows researchers to use keyword or phrase searches in the catalog and be able to find what they need down to the folder number. Once this step is complete, we are able to add further description to the finding aids to better serve our patrons. Descriptive content is also added to the system. At the completion of data entry the collection is placed on the shelf. Recording the location is very important, as it allows a repository to track both the permanent and temporary locations of the materials.

Archival processing is a very interesting and lengthy process. I enjoyed getting to know the hurdles a collection goes through in order to get into the researcher’s hands. Processing is an integral part of the archival profession, and this experience is better preparing me for my future as an archivist. I very much appreciate the skills I cultivated at the Archives Center and look forward to many more learning opportunities.

By Sarah K. Rung, Summer 2018 Intern
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Philanthropy in the W. Atlee Burpee & Company Records

The W. Atlee Burpee & Company Records consist of material not only related to the seed wholesaler, but also the personal lives that the Burpee family led. A highlight of this collection thus far is the philanthropic endeavors of W. Atlee and his wife Blanche, their son, David, and his wife, Lois.

I first noticed charitable donations in W. Atlee’s company correspondence. As the head of the company, he received letters from organizations and individuals thanking him for his donations of either seeds or money. I thought they were nothing more than a donation here and there until more evidence of his philanthropy surfaced in his personal papers as well. Now, having processed a significant portion of the collection, I see these letters much differently. Rather than a few isolated examples of charity, these letters represent an essential characteristic of the Burpee family and Burpee Company legacy.
Two photographs captioned “5 dispensary patients” and “a view on the Tenga Poni River,” which accompanied a letter sent to W. Atlee Burpee by H. W. Kirby in 1912. Kirby worked for the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society and was stationed in Sadiya, India when he wrote the letter thanking W. Atlee for donating seeds for the mission’s garden. Smithsonian Gardens, Archives of American Gardens, W. Atlee Burpee & Company Records.
With little information discovered (so far) regarding W. Atlee’s and Blanche’s upbringing, it is difficult to know whether involvement in philanthropic organizations was a part of their lives from a young age. We do know that W. Atlee came from a family of doctors. Although he left the study of that profession to enter the seed business, it appears that helping others remained a part of his life’s work.

W. Atlee made small gifts as both a private individual, and on behalf of his company, to a variety of organizations. His donations were directed mostly towards religiously-affiliated charities, but local hospitals and schools were also recipients. In addition to these donations (usually five to ten dollars each), W. Atlee was also a trustee of the Howard Hospital and the Sanitarium Association—both organizations designed to provide medical treatment for lower-class families in the Philadelphia area. These organizations required more dedication—of both energy and money—from W. Atlee. In 1914-1915 he served on Howard Hospital’s building and publicity committees, and had a donation annuity plan set up for $1,000 per year.

For Blanche, her major philanthropic project was to erect a neighborhood park in their hometown of Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Within the park’s charter it mentions: “for the purpose and desire to advance the general welfare, improvement, enjoyment and health of, and their good will towards the children of the Borough of Doylestown…” The park is still there today and known as Burpee Park. In addition to the park, and much like her husband, Blanche also made donations to local schools and charities. A 1912 letter discussing her and W. Atlee’s magazine subscriptions, for example, reveals that Blanche annually supplied Doylestown High School with copies of Harper’s Weekly.

Original charter for the Blanche Burpee Public Playground in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 1913. “Blanche Burpee Playground, 1913.” Smithsonian Gardens, Archives of American Gardens, W. Atlee Burpee & Company Records.
Just as innovative advertising and plant hybridization—the Burpee modus operandi—were built upon under David’s tutelage, so too was philanthropy. A Christmas article published in the Philadelphia Record in 1918 spoke of a twenty-five-year-old David Burpee continuing the Burpee Company’s Christmas tradition. For each employee: one box of cigars, ten pounds of candy, a $5 gold piece, and a bonus. For the children fortunate enough to sign up in advance—1,800 of them that year— they had the choice of either a box of candy or a “bright new quarter.” David continued to donate to and support various causes over the next half-century including efforts during both World Wars, donations to the Red Cross, university scholarship endowments, and other human welfare projects.

As for David’s wife, Lois, we know she was born into a family of humanitarians. Both of her parents were missionary doctors in Palestine when she was born there in 1912. Lois and David were both on the board of the Pearl S. Buck Foundation since that organization’s inception in 1964. The foundation was created by the Nobel- and Pulitzer-winning Buck to support impoverished children in Asian countries. Lois ultimately received the Pearl S. Buck Woman’s Award in 1980. The organization is still around today, working on projects to establish clean water and sanitation in Thailand, provide skill training for mothers in the Philippines, dental treatment for children in Vietnam, and much more. Lois was involved in local charities as well—a few examples include her support to establish thrift shops and a kindergarten, and her position on the board of the Bucks County Mental Health Society.

Philanthropic undertakings seem to have been deeply embedded in the Burpee name, and its legacy continued even after David sold the company in 1980. The company made a large donation to CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere) in 1998, and has more recently donated to the White House Kitchen Garden, helped plant community gardens in honor of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and provided a $75,000 grant for a symposium titled ‘Energy in Transition’ held at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Pennsylvania—the original home of the W. Atlee Burpee Company.

Chris Demairo, Intern

Friday, August 10, 2018

Behind the Archives: Donation and Acquisition of a 10,000-Piece Collection

Collections frequently take a long journey from acquisition to access. Many of the patrons who visit the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History (NMAH) are there to use this amazing repository for research, but don’t know how the material got there. 

This question of how and who donated or sold the material made me interested in finding a donor or seller who gave a collection to the museum and would be willing to tell me about it. That’s how I was introduced to William (Larry) Bird, Ph.D. and his postcard collection. This blog post will take you through my first-hand experience with the donation and acquisition process.

Larry is a bit of a donor anomaly, as he is a former Curator at NMAH in the political history division and is now a curator emeritus in the same division. I had the pleasure of sitting down with him and discussing his very large collection. His picture postcard collection consists of over 10,000 postcards of a very unusual variety. Larry described how this collection was begun accidentally, stemming from another project he was working on at the time. He first became interested in postcards with holiday themes as depicted in window fronts, stores, and parades, for his book Holidays on Display. Larry became increasingly fascinated with postcards and attended paper and postcard shows. This is how he amassed most of his collection, because “you could get one of them for basically a nickel.” He also clarified that the reason many of them were so cheap was due to their being primarily from the 1950s with a glossy finish. To the “high-brow” collectors these were postcards whose value was low, and therefore they didn’t mind letting go of them.

BIG HAIR: Early American by Hanover Kitchens Limited Hanover Ontario Canada
Early American is the atmosphere created by this attractive kitchen, with its authentic looking hammered iron hardware and rich brown Honey Beige color. Courtesy William L. Bird. Archives Center, National Museum of American History. 
However, to Larry, these postcards captured moments in American history and what we deemed worthy of putting on a postcard. Many of them advertised products and services. “[It was a great window into] people and their stuff.” He donated his collection to the Archives Center in May of 2018. Bird curated the collection in three ways. First, he always had specific objectives while collecting. Second, he physically arranged the postcards into topical categories like “Dams” and “Horses”. Third, he created a Flickr account that links fun and innovative topics across categories. An example of such a category is “Saddle Up,” containing “vintage postcards of horses, ponies, [and] riders riding.” These categories give us a peek into the many stores, motels, hairstyles, clothes, and other entities that have since disappeared. When asked which category of his collection was his favorite, he chuckled and replied, “Big Hair.” Big Hair is also categorized under “Allure and beauty” and “Vintage postcards”. The image featured here was actually an advertisement for kitchen cabinets, but placing it in the “Big Hair” category provides added cultural meaning. Due to the way he organized his collection, the Archives Center now can maintain his insights while processing. 

Bird also digitized ALL of his postcards and made them available via Flickr. The Archives Center will get to take advantage of his work by using his scans to provide access to the collection. With Larry’s role finished, the collection is now ready to continue its journey into the hands of researchers.

Foucault Pendulum, Museum of History and Technology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC
The Foucault Pendulum demonstrates the rotation of the earth. The earth (and therefore the floor) rotates daily, while the pendulum always swings in the same straight line and therefore lags behind. Courtesy William L. Bird. Archives Center, National Museum of American History. 
The job of an acquisition archivist is a very exciting and complex endeavor. An archivist is a person who strives to “understand and preserve the past on behalf of the future”. Acquisition is the first step the collection takes on its way to being preserved for the future and taking its place in the repository. When a collection makes its way into a repository it is usually either a donation or a purchase. Here at the Smithsonian Institution, there are policies in place that must be followed in order to acquire a collection for the Museum’s Archives Center. The Archives Center’s primary acquisition archivist is Craig Orr. Craig explained to me that the first step he takes is to make sure a prospective collection fits the mission of the Museum and Archives Center. Once he has determined that a collection will "fit," he must get it approved by the chair of the division. While this sounds easy enough, many questions arise when an acquisition is proposed. The acquisition archivist and the chair of the division might not see eye to eye every time when interpreting the mission of the repository. However, once approved, if the collection is over ten cubic feet in size, it also must be approved by the Collections Management Committee. Larry donated over 10,000 postcards but, but the collection size was less than five cubic feet and therefore not reviewed by the committee. The collection now awaits processing in the Archives Center. It was truly amazing to see a collection from the side of the donor and take a peek into the realm of acquisitions.

Today due to the progress of technology we seldom use postcards as a quick means of communication. Most new postcards are purchased nowadays as souvenir items. While they have fallen out of fashion, Larry’s postcards, now Archives Center collection number 1465, the "Larry Bird Postcard Collection," gives us a glimpse into the American past. Through these snapshots of America, we are able to see what photographs were once deemed worthy of circulating as postcards in our ever-changing society.

Sarah K. Rung, Summer 2018 Intern
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Alice Cunningham Fletcher and Francis La Flesche in the Transcription Center

Earlier this month, the National Anthropological Archives (NAA) posted the first of many newly digitized materials from the Alice Cunningham Fletcher and Francis La Flesche Papers (NAA MS 4558) to the Smithsonian Transcription Center. Primarily comprised of Fletcher’s professional and personal correspondence, allotment field books, and notes, this digitized content makes up only a portion of the large, and extremely significant, joint papers of Fletcher and La Flesche.

Alice Cunningham Fletcher at her writing desk, undated, BAE GN 4510,
 National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
Born in 1838, Alice Cunningham Fletcher was one of the first women ethnologists in the United States. She was a lifelong student and intellectual, receiving her education from a number of different prestigious institutions. Fletcher’s career in anthropology, however, did not begin until the 1870’s when she became an informal student of Frederic Ward Putnam, Director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. Eager to make her mark in the field, she embarked on her first ethnographic trip in 1881, travelling to Nebraska to live among and study the Omaha people. It was uncommon at this time, for female ethnologists to conduct field research alongside their subjects, and Fletcher’s decision to live and study among the Omaha people, solidified her professional, and tenacious, role in a male-dominated field. Fletcher was accompanied on this trip by Omaha writer-activist Susette La Flesche (1865-1915) and her half-brother, Francis La Flesche (1857-1932). This trip marked the beginning of Fletcher and Francis La Flesche’s life-long personal and professional relationship. The two forged an informal mother-son relationship, often working and living closely with each other. Because of this, their professional papers are merged within the collections of the National Anthropological Archives.

Portrait of Francis La Flesche and Sister, Susette,
undated, Photo Lot 24 SPC Plains Omaha
BAE 4558 La Flesche & Family 00689800,
National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
Fletcher’s research with Native American communities--including the Omaha, Nez Perce, Winnebago, and Sioux--focused primarily on culture and music. A pioneer in the ethnographic field of American Indian music, she studied and wrote out native songs and was among the first anthropologists to use a Graphophone to record music (Scherer and DeMallie 2013).  She published over forty monographs and reports relating to native culture.  Her contributions to the Bureau of American Ethnology’s Handbook of North American Indians, under the editorship of Frederick W. Hodge (1907 and 1910) included not only a section on music and musical instruments but more than ninety-six other articles as well. Fletcher also took on a number of leadership roles and appointed positions within the field of anthropology.

Working as a consultant for the Bureau of American Ethnology, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Peabody Museum, she worked on land allotment claims with Native tribes, continued in her own ethnographic research, and presented at a number of professional associations. Fletcher worked closely with the Women’s National Indian Association, was elected president of the Anthropological Society of Washington, became the first female president of the American Folklore Society in 1905, and served as Vice-President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Alice Fletcher, Meepe, and Martha, ca. 1887-1889, BAE GN 4439,
National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. 
Fletcher’s professional career and research paved inroads not only for female ethnologists, but in the field of ethnomusicology, anthropology, and Native American studies more generally. Yet it’s also important to note that her work, along with many other ethnologists in the nineteenth century, emphasized cultural assimilation for Native peoples and resulted in many negative consequences for these communities. Reflecting the common paternalistic view of many white Americans at the time, Fletcher believed that education was of primary importance for Native Americans, as it would ease assimilation into “civilized” culture. This belief undergirded her interest in ethnography and her work among American Indians. She was involved in the early 1880s with the Carlisle Indian Boarding School in Pennsylvania, the most well-known Indian school devoted to the purpose of educating and “civilizing” Native children (famously known for its founder, U.S. military officer Richard Henry Pratt’s slogan, “kill the Indian, save the man”). She also prepared an exhibit to the World Cotton Centennial in 1884 showing the progress of civilization among the Indians of North America, and conducted research in 1886 among Native tribes in Alaska for the Commissioner of Education.

In 1887, Fletcher was appointed United States special agent in the allotment of lands among the Winnebago, Omaha, and the Nez Perce under the Dawes Act, which she helped write and pass that same year. This act, created by Senator Henry Laurens Dawes of Massachusetts, authorized the President of the US to survey American Indian land and divide it into allotments for individual Native Americans. Those who accepted were granted U.S. citizenship. Fletcher advocated for the Dawes Act as a way to better assist American Indians in obtaining land and homes and thus ensure survival. In reality, the act had detrimental consequences for Native culture. It led to the eventual breakup of numerous Indigenous reservations and imposed a system of private land ownership on many Indigenous tribes. This practice of land allotment was not ended until the passage of the U.S. Indian Reorganization Act in 1934. Additionally, Native boarding schools, and cultural education and assimilation of Native Americans resulted in the loss of traditional language and culture for generations of Indigenous communities, separated families, and often included physical, verbal, and emotional practices directed at Native children by white educators and officials. Fletcher herself may have eventually realized the error of these policies, as she abandoned her political work at the end of the nineteenth century, and began focusing more directly on her ethnographic research.

Transcription of Fletcher’s correspondence and notes will help make this material--and significant history--more accessible by creating readable, searchable content, available through the Smithsonian Collections Search Center and other major online search engines. This work will bring further awareness to the history of nineteenth-century ethnological work, the developing role of women in a male-dominated research field, and the evolution and consequences of United States Indian Policy. Those studying these topics, including historians, anthropologists, and Native scholars from the communities Fletcher worked with, will benefit from increased access and readability.

Access to this newly digitized and transcribed content is especially crucial for Native communities, who are now the NAA’s second largest user group. Native community researchers often use NAA materials like these to research their language, culture, and family history. Native researchers will be able to more easily locate this information within Fletcher’s writings once it is transcribed and keyword searchable, making genealogical research and cultural and language revitalization projects easier.

Dedicated digital volunteers (or volunpeers as we call them in the Transcription Center) have already completed projects from Fletcher’s archival collections, but there is still much work left to be done. More projects will launch online each week! Many of our volunpeers have even noted the interesting discoveries they’ve found, or provided additional background information while working through these rich materials.

These discoveries, and notes left on transcription pages, not only increase our excitement about and interest in this material, but also help to enhance the records and improve their use even further.

Want to join the effort to make the Alice Cunningham Fletcher materials more accessible? Visit the project pages on the Transcription Center’s website, sign up for a free account, and dive in! Have questions? Reach out to the NAA ( or the Transcription Center ( anytime.

Caitlin Haynes, Coordinator
Smithsonian Transcription Center 


Katherine Crowe, Reference Archivist
National Anthropological Archives 

The finding aid to the Papers of Alice Cunningham Fletcher and Francis La Flesche, which contains more information, can be found here. Fletcher’s Sioux journals are currently being prepared for publication by Joanna C. Scherer, Emeritus Anthropologist at the National Museum of Natural History, and David Posthumus.

Works Cited:

Scherer, Joanna C. and Raymond J. DeMallie, eds., 2013
Life among the Indians: First Fieldwork among the Sioux and Omahas by Alice C. Fletcher. Introduction by Scherer and DeMallie.  University of Nebraska Press.

Hodge, Frederick Webb, ed., 1907-1910.
Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, 2 Pts./ vols. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 30. Washington: Smithsonian Institution: U.S. Government Printing Office. (Reprinted: Rowman and Littlefield, New York, 1979).

Monday, July 2, 2018

Increasing Central and South American Archival Collections at the NMAI, and Fulfilling the Museum’s Original Mission

Meeting Minutes from its opening year in 1916 record that the Museum of the American Indian’s founding mission was “the collection, preservation, study and exhibition of all things connected with the anthropology of the aboriginal peoples of North, South and Central Americas.” The following century brought with it many changes to the original museum, including its incorporation into the Smithsonian, its expansion from locations not just in New York but also in Washington, DC and Suitland, Maryland, and a re-wording of the original mission statement that was more inclusive of contemporary Native Americans. Throughout all of that time, however, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) has remained steadfast in its goal of advancing knowledge and understanding of the Native cultures of the Western Hemisphere.

MAI, Heye Foundation Meeting Minutes, 1916. Museum of the American Indian/Heye Foundation Records,
Box 99 Folder 1; National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.

Aiding this goal are individual donors such as G. Gage Skinner who recently gifted to the NMAI’s Archive Center a collection of 260 photographic slides and 1 audio cassette documenting his volunteer service and travels throughout South America.

Young Mapuche woman in traditional dress, Chile. Photograph by G. Gage Skinner, 1964.
G. Gage Skinner Collection, NMAI.AC.116, 116_001_005_011.  

Ricardo Antileo and family, Chile. Photograph by G. Gage Skinner, 1964.
G. Gage Skinner Collection, NMAI.AC.116, 116_001_006_007.

Traveling to Chile in 1964, G. Gage Skinner began his service as a Peace Corps volunteer focusing on rural community development, specifically working with the indigenous Mapuche peoples of the Araucanía Region. As President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps only three years prior in 1961, Skinner was among the earliest of Peace Corps volunteers in Chile. Serving from 1964 to 1966, he was instrumental in developing a local beekeeping project as well as a marketing venture to promote the sale of Mapuche-made arts and crafts, with the proceeds returning to the Native communities of the area. Throughout his volunteer service, Skinner documented the daily lives of Mapuche villagers, their homes, ceremonies, and land, and was even invited to attend, photograph, and record a Mapuche Nguillatún ceremony, or annual harvest celebration and festival.

Mapuche men playing chueca, Chile. Photographs by G. Gage Skinner, 1965.
 G. Gage Skinner Collection, NMAI.AC.116, 116_001_005_001.

Mapuche men playing chueca, Chile. Photographs by G. Gage Skinner, 1965.
G. Gage Skinner Collection, NMAI.AC.116, 116_001_005_020

Returning to South America in 1972, Skinner took part in a mountain climbing party through the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range in Colombia. While there, Skinner again documented the lives of the indigenous peoples of the area, including principally the Ika (Ica/Arhuaco) and the Kogi (Kagaba). Particular focus in his photographs was given to Native dwellings and architecture, trade, weaving, and daily village life.

Landscape view of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia. Photograph by G. Gage Skinner, 1972. 
 G. Gage Skinner Collection, NMAI.AC.116, 116_001_009_011

Ika (Ica/Arhuaco) man with accordion and family. Photograph by G. Gage Skinner, 1972.
G. Gage Skinner Collection, NMAI.AC.116, 116_001_014_005.

Ika (Ica/Arhuaco) woman and child. Photograph by G. Gage Skinner, 1972.
G. Gage Skinner Collection, NMAI.AC.116, 116_001_014_001.

The Archive Center at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian is delighted to receive and make accessible these images which document the lives of Native communities across South America. The 260 photographic slides in the G. Gage Skinner Collection serve to complement and broaden the museum’s growing archival and object collections which highlight the rich and varied histories and cultures of the peoples of the Western Hemisphere.

Examples of other NMAI Archive Center collections which document the Native peoples of Central and South America include the Elayne Zorn Collection, the Gertrude Litto Collection, and the June Alice Spencer Photograph Collection. Many more archival collections relating to Central and South America also exist in the collections, and are currently being processed and digitized by the NMAI Archive Center staff, so please check back often to see how the collections have grown and become more accessible. Finally, you are always welcome to read more about these collections here on the Smithsonian Collections Blog (including recent posts on the Elayne Zorn collection), and to conduct your own searches for similar archival collections via the publicly-accessible Smithsonian Collections Search Center website and the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives (SOVA).

Nathan Sowry, Reference Archivist, NMAI Archive Center

Monday, June 25, 2018

NMAH Tuesday Colloquia: From Research Products To Research Resources

Like many Smithsonian employees, I wear several different hats. Officially the curator of photography and an archivist in the National Museum of American History Archives Center, I also serve as the coordinator of the (nearly) weekly NMAH Tuesday Colloquium. This is a series of lectures, normally presented on Tuesday afternoons, in which speakers give presentations based on their research. Our emphasis is on programs by Smithsonian research fellows and staff, although many “outside” speakers have lectured over the years as well. I have been the colloquium coordinator for over fourteen years, and Roger Sherman, curator of modern physics, has served as co-coordinator nearly as long. We have sought out speakers and arranged, scheduled, publicized, and facilitated well over six hundred presentations.

It’s hard to believe that many colloquium speakers at the beginning of our tenure were still illustrating their talks with 35mm slides in Kodak Carousel projectors and even “overhead” projectors utilizing acetate transparencies. Nowadays most speakers rely on PowerPoint files, of course. I admit that I miss the relative simplicity of the Carousel. While I always worried that a projector bulb might burn out in the middle of a program, there are more things that can go wrong with computers and digital projectors. We have had interoperability problems between the computer and projector, and once we found that a prior user of our borrowed laptop had managed to delete the entire Windows suite (by accident, I trust), requiring a last-minute search for another computer. When Prof. Johann Neem spoke about the history of American education a few weeks ago, I was delighted that he simply read a paper and used no visuals, for a change.

Paul Forman at the 2007 History of Science Society meeting.
The series is now nearly four decades old. In a phone conversation, Dr. Paul Forman, NMAH curator emeritus of physics, told Roger that he founded the series in an effort to raise the intellectual tone of the Museum and was its first coordinator, around the time that the Museum of History and Technology became the National Museum of American History in 1980. Subsequent coordinators of these colloquia included curators Deborah Warner, Larry Bird, Patricia Gossell, and Peggy Kidwell. According to Forman, information about the founding and early years of the Tuesday Colloquium can be found among his papers in the Smithsonian Institution Archives—which I plan to consult, as I’m interested in maintaining the legacy of the program and making its recent and future records available for research access. I hope the Forman papers and my continuing compilation may themselves serve as sources for research into Smithsonian history. Forman’s interest in the scholarly side of the Museum can also be seen in a poster which he produced for an Institution-wide program entitled “What About Increase?” In this program “researchers of all stripes had sessions at the zoo discussing the role of primary research at SI, and we searched for commonalities across bureau lines, [including] paper sessions, poster sessions, breakouts,” according to Dr. David DeVorkin of NASM, who is seeking a repository for a poster produced by Forman, “Knowledge Production & Presentation in Postmodernity,” which had resided in his NASM office until recently.

Poster by Paul Forman, ca. 1990s. Courtesy David DeVorkin.
Although I make the scheduling decisions, I see the colloquium program as a collaborative endeavor. I rely on fellowship offices to advise me of new Smithsonian fellows and their schedules. Roger Sherman is always on the alert for colleagues with interesting research projects, and other curators frequently offer suggestions. I always hope that curatorial advisors for fellows will encourage them to sign up to give a colloquium and present the fruits of their research, although sometimes I arrange hunting expeditions. Many fellows would agree that an opportunity to present a paper based on their research, regardless of its current state, can be an invaluable opportunity to receive feedback and suggestions. Attendees often consider a lively Q & A session after a talk to be the best part of the program.

Smithsonian fellows in the sciences, arts, history, and other disciplines are the heart of the Tuesday Colloquia, which are attended by Smithsonian staff and non-Smithsonian colleagues who have asked to be added to our email groups. Some attendees are intrigued by a speaker’s topic, while others are interested in seeing how our collections are utilized in research. Some fellows study “three-dimensional” collection objects, some explore documents and images in Smithsonian archival repositories, and others utilize SI Libraries resources, including rare books and manuscripts. Recent speakers at NMAH Tuesday Colloquia include the following:

Sean Young, a Dibner Fellow, SI Libraries, spoke on “The Art of Signs: Symbolic Notation and Visual Thinking in Early Modern Science,” utilizing rare books in the Dibner Library at NMAH. Anastasia Day spoke on Victory Gardens, studying Archives Center and SI Libraries collections. Al Coppola, Dibner Library Resident Scholar, spoke on “Enlightenment Microscopy,” based partly on rare books in the Dibner Library and consultation with Curator Deborah Warner. Charnan Williams spoke about her study of an African American family living in the West, from the Archives Center’s Bridgewater Family Papers. Emily Voelker, for whom I was a co-advisor, spoke on “Roland Bonaparte’s Photographic Encounters with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in Paris,” based on exciting field research and interviews, plus photographic collections in Paris, the NMAH Photographic History Collection, and the NMNH Anthropological Archives.

Emily Voelker, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow 2017,
National Portrait Gallery and NMAH (colloquium Dec. 5, 2017).
NMAH and other SI staff often speak as well, receiving curatorial credit for presentations. Peter Liebhold, Curator in the Division of Work and Industry, illustrated his talk, “Work Incentives: Posters, Pins, and Perks,” with images of artifacts from his division and posters from the Archives Center. Dr. Frank Blazich, NMAH Curator of Military History, edited a book and spoke about the experiences of a World War II prisoner of war, based on the P.O.W.’s memoirs.

Although colloquia based on research in Smithsonian collections, especially at NMAH, are intended as the core of our program, we also include lectures which are not Smithsonian collections-based, yet represent topics of interest to the Smithsonian community. I have tried to resist pressure from outside publicists who think a Smithsonian stop on an author’s book tour, including a book-signing, would be prestigious and/or lucrative. Since the colloquia are considered “staff” rather than “public” events, outside authors and their publishers may be disappointed to find that a lecture and/or book-signing is not listed on public Smithsonian web pages. I think the essential rationale is that our programs are not vetted and approved in advance by either the Museum’s public affairs office or the Director’s office. John Gray, our recently retired Director, has been an enthusiastic fan of the Tuesday Colloquium, which he frequently attended; he often gave me positive comments and compliments in person and by email, and was certainly our most supportive director since I have been the coordinator. However, he never had an opportunity to approve our colloquia in advance, so it would be inappropriate or premature to make these events “public” and list them on the website.

For example, Hallie Lieberman, now famous for her new book Buzz, was a pre-doctoral Lemelson Fellow in 2012; a major portion of her dissertation research on the history of sex toys was conducted in the Archives Center, amply demonstrating that our renowned Warshaw Collection of Business Americana contains something for every scholar. She also studied objects in the Museum’s Medicine and Science collections. She presented a colloquium on her research entitled “Every Woman Her Own Husband: Why Technological Innovation Leads to Sex Toy Innovation,” which was unusually well-attended despite the August heat.  I suspect that her illustrated lecture would not have been endorsed or advertised by the Museum as a “public” presentation—at least, not without a conversation regarding risk assessment.

Hallie Lieberman (Lemelson Center Fellow, 2012), doing dissertation research in the collections of the NMAH Archives Center: Colloquium Aug. 3, 2012. Photograph by Alison Oswald.
Nevertheless, speakers and staff often invite friends and family to attend colloquia, and members of our email groups pass information to other non-Smithsonian colleagues, and we welcome them. We’re happy to add anyone to our email lists, even though their attendance can create logistical problems when the venue is the East Conference Room on the restricted fourth floor. If you wish to be added to my e-mail groups, please contact me at

I maintain in my office a file of publicity flyers and related information generated by the colloquium program, including biographical information, abstracts, and some complete papers, and I plan to offer these files to the SI Archives eventually. Records of the colloquium program were not maintained systematically by my predecessors, but I think they should be collected and made available for research themselves as a partial record of the intellectual life of NMAH and the SI in general. Years ago Rick Luhrs, the supervisor of the NMAH Technology Services Center, remarked that it was a “shame” that we didn’t produce and preserve audio or video recordings of all colloquia for posterity, but establishing a sustainable procedure to do so has been an elusive goal. For a brief period an education office staff member made sound recordings of our programs to use in podcasts, plus several video recordings, but this initiative ended when he left the Museum for another job. Things looked promising with the opening of the high-tech S.C. Johnson Conference Center in NMAH, since the room has built-in cameras and equipment to facilitate digital video recording. I succeeded in recording two presentations, but the results were technically poor. However, I’m happy to report that there is a new initiative to improve the space, and I believe we’ll be able to obtain high-quality digital video-recordings in the near future. Many NMAH Tuesday Colloquia over the years have been based on research utilizing Smithsonian resources, including artifact collections and archives. I hope to preserve at least a partial but growing archive of the NMAH Tuesday Colloquium’s history, for the use of researchers studying the intellectual life of the Smithsonian. These records of programs given by staff, fellows, and non-Smithsonian scholars reflect the depth and variety of research conducted at the Institution, and its collections and activities. Eventually the paper documentation will be supplemented with digital recordings of our speakers in action. I’m certainly not the first Smithsonian program impresario to envision such an archive: the NMAH Archives Center itself acquired video-recordings of the Museum’s Lemelson Center programs for years (see this example), although they’re currently transferred to the SI Archives, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum regularly records fellows’ lectures and makes them available online.

David Haberstich
Curator of Photography
NMAH Archives Center

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Year-in-Review: The Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki Papers and Artifacts Project

Year one of the Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki Papers and Artifacts Project is nearly complete!

Ralph Solecki’s personal trowel.  Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

As you may recall from a previous, poetic post (Collection in Process: A Poem from the Ralph and Rose Solecki Papers), Ralph and Rose Solecki are paleoarchaeologists most famous for their excavations in the Near East, including the Shanidar Cave site in northern Iraq. During their excavations in the 1950s and 1960s, they uncovered the remains of nine Neanderthal individuals as well as a cemetery of twenty-six human burials dated to the 9th millennium BCE, just before the emergence of agriculture in the Near East [1, 2, 3].

Ralph Solecki’s field notebook entry from April 26th, 1957 describing the discovery of the Shanidar I Neanderthal, nicknamed “Nandy.” The Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki papers. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

In 2016, the Smithsonian’s Department of Anthropology acquired the Soleckis’ personal papers as well as artifact collections including lithics, or stone tools, and other materials collected during their excavations. Funded by a grant from the Smithsonian's Collections Care and Preservation Fund, the first phase of the project began in the summer of 2017 with the processing of the archival papers. Comprising of nearly 35 cubic feet, the collection includes field notes, photographs, film, maps, illustrations, and more. I was tasked with rehousing, arranging, describing, and ultimately creating a finding aid for the Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki papers.

Ralph and Rose Solecki examining artifacts from Shanidar Cave at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, Iraq, 1966. Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki papers. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

In January 2018, National Anthropological Archives staff visited the Soleckis again in order to acquire additional material. This new accession has added approximately 50 more boxes of material as well as archaeological field equipment used by the Soleckis, including Ralph Solecki’s personal trowel. During this visit, Diana Marsh, post-doctoral fellow in the National Anthropological Archives, and I conducted an oral history with Ralph and Rose Solecki, in which they discussed their careers, intellectual approaches, legacies, and views on the future of the field of archaeology.

Throughout this first year of the Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki Papers and Artifacts project, I have come to a deep understanding that the collections donated by Drs. Ralph and Rose Solecki are of great significance not only the Department of Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History but also to the field of archaeology as a whole. With research continuing at the site of Shanidar Cave [4] as well as the other sites in which the Soleckis worked, their field notes, excavation analysis, illustrations, photographs, film, and so much more will undoubtedly be a resource for researchers for years to come. Although the collection will not be ready for researchers by the summer of 2018, we expect them to be open for research by the summer of 2019.

Project Archivist Molly Kamph and Post-doctoral Fellow Diana Marsh (not pictured) conducted an oral history interview of Ralph and Rose Solecki in January 2018. Photographed by Diana Marsh.
What will the second year of the project bring? Thanks to another grant from the Smithsonian's Collections Care and Preservation Fund, the artifact collections donated by the Soleckis will be rehoused and catalogued within the museum’s collections database. Be sure to look out for more updates about the project and collections highlights over the course of the upcoming year!

Sincerest thank yous to Drs. Ralph, Rose, John, and William Solecki, Dr. Melinda Zeder, curator emeritus in the NMNH Department of Anthropology, and the staff of the National Anthropological Archives and the Department of Anthropology for continued support of the Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki Papers and Artifacts Project.

Molly Kamph, Project Archivist
National Anthropological Archives

[1] The Ralph and Rose Solecki Papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
[2] Ralph S. Solecki, Shanidar, The First Flower People (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971).
[3] Ralph S. Solecki, Rose L. Solecki, and Anagnostis P. Agelarakis, The Proto- Neolithic Cemetery in Shanidar Cave (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University, 2004).
[4] Tim Reynolds, William Boismier, Lucy Farr, Chris Hunt, Dlshad Abdulmutalb and Graeme Barker, 2015. “New investigations at Shanidar Cave, Iraqi Kurdistan.” Antiquity: A Review of World Archaeology vol. 89, no. 348.