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Thursday, August 31, 2017

“My curiosity was stronger than my fear”: The Michiko Takaki Papers

It was 1964 when Michiko Takaki boarded a plane to take her from Tokyo to Manila to begin her ethnographic fieldwork. She was planning to spend one year among the Kalinga people of the northern Luzon region of the Philippines, a location she had chosen because her doctoral advisor (Harold “Hal” Conklin) studied the nearby Ifugao. “The usual allotment for doing doctoral research and observation is one full year,” she said in 2010. “That’s what I had thought going in, but that went right out the window because I couldn’t speak the language in one year.”[1]

It was 1968 before Takaki finally returned to Yale University to complete her doctoral dissertation. In what a later colleague described as “an unprecedented 46-month uninterrupted period of fieldwork,” [2] the planned one year of research had turned into four. The data and notes gathered during those months form the bulk of the Michiko Takaki papers, 1921-2011 (bulk 1960s), the most recent collection opened to researchers at the National Anthropological Archives (NAA).

Michiko Takaki surrounded by Kalinga associates and assistants, 1965, Box 116, Michiko Takaki papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Born in Japan in 1930, Michiko Takaki (also known as “Michi”) had traveled to the U.S. in the early 1950s with a precursor to the Fulbright program (then called GARIOA, or Government Appropriation for Relief in Occupied Areas) to earn her bachelor’s degree in literature. She returned to America for her master’s in journalism, from Southern Illinois University. Anthropological study followed soon after. She began her PhD studies at Columbia University, then transferred to Yale. She received funding from the Wenner-Gren Foundation to pursue her doctoral fieldwork, which began when she was in her early thirties.

In a series of oral history interviews recorded between 2006 and 2010, Takaki reflected on her experience completing fieldwork in the Philippines as a woman and an outsider among the Kalinga, a people known for ritual violence associated with headhunting. [3] “I chose to go to Kalinga, but with tremendous apprehension,” she is recorded as saying. “Now for a man, an American man, to go into that part of the Philippines would be fine because Americans had prestige. Nothing would happen to a white American male, but a Japanese woman would be a very different story…Professor Conklin, my mentor, assured me that it isn’t too bad, but he is a white American. In the city, it’s a different story, but anything can happen up in the mountains. No one can come quickly to rescue you as it’s not just a single mountain range. I was frightened on my way, but my curiosity was stronger than my fear.” [4]

Michiko Takaki in the Philippines, 1965, Box 116, Michiko Takaki papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

The danger Takaki felt was palpable. “Anyone who is not one of the Kalinga is an outsider,” she said. “Eventually, you’ll be beheaded and people will know that you were killed. I don’t think it’s possible to survive in Kalinga unless you are protected by someone there.” Conklin had connected Takaki with a Kalinga man named Tan Jin, who served as her entry point to the Kalinga. “Once you are allowed to enter somebody’s house and drink their water, the master of the house is obliged to help you in the event that you are attacked…I was very fortunate, early on, that Tan Jin took me in as a guest and it was known that I had eaten his food and had drunk his water.” [5]

In the end, Takaki felt, perhaps ironically, that her gender aided her immersion into Kalinga society. “I don’t think they really knew what to do with me. I didn’t fall into [any] category they had known. I appeared to be a harmless female and it was to my advantage because, from the very start, they had sensed that I was not there with hostile intention.” For the next four years, Takaki would study the Kalinga, predominantly in the villages of Uma and Butbut. With notebooks, pencils, tape recorder, and two cameras (one for color film and one for the less expensive black and white), she compiled meticulous notes on Kalinga culture, language, and the subsistence activities of rice cultivation and livestock ownership. “At the beginning, I couldn’t even think of the means by which to communicate. I was always afraid because I didn’t really know what I could or could not do.” But by the time she left, “In Uma…they came to know me and I came to know them.” [6]

Michiko Takaki in her field office, 1968, Box 116, Michiko Takaki papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Takaki flew out of Manila and back to Tokyo – and from there to New Haven and Yale – in 1968. The trove of ethnographic material she had gathered during her four years in the Philippines made a similar cross-continental trip. Over the next nine years, she would work with this material to complete her 3-volume doctoral dissertation, “Aspects of Exchange in a Kalinga Society, Northern Luzon” (1977). She continued to refer to the same field notes and field-gathered data for the remainder of her anthropological career, as a faculty member in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Now preserved at the NAA, these materials serve as rich mid-twentieth century documentation on the Kalinga that should interest anthropologists and other scholars working on the northern Luzon, as well as Kalinga community members interested in their language and cultural heritage. This collection also shines a light on the life and work of Michiko Takaki, who overcame the challenges of her status as an “outsider” to complete an immersive and extended field experience, the documentary results of which have continuing value.

The NAA thanks the colleagues of Michiko Takaki at UMass/Boston who helped to facilitate the transfer of her papers to the NAA. The Michiko Takaki papers, 1921-2011 (bulk 1960s) 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).

Kate Madison, Processing Archivist
National Anthropological Archives


[1] “Kalinga story,” Box 109, Michiko Takaki papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
[2] “Tenure dossier,” Box 109, Michiko Takaki papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
[3] Headhunting, the practice taking and preserving the head of an adversary, has been widely studied by anthropologists in an effort to understand the relationship between ritual violence and attaining manhood and/or sustaining cosmological balance among peoples like the Kalinga.
[4] “Kalinga story.”
[5] “Kalinga story.”
[6] “Kalinga story.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Tribulus Troubles: Wildflowers in the Edward Palmer Papers at the National Anthropological Archives

Although archives are best known for their well-organized and carefully-described materials, this TV-ready appearance belies a wealth of intellectual and physical labor by archivists. Behind the scenes are records which defy description, papers for which no particular order seems better than another, collections of questionable or wholly unknown provenance. Archives are full of trouble. So it's no surprise that archival records for a flower which was once categorized as part of the genus Tribulus - deriving its name from spiky weapons and multi-pronged threshing boards - should provide some poetic archival entertainment.

Image by Max Licher,
courtesy of SEINet Arizona-New Mexico Chapter.
Kallstroemia grandiflora, the plant formerly known as Tribulus grandiflorus and commonly referred to as the "Arizona poppy," is a low, creeping plant with a show of bright orange flowers during and after the monsoon in the Sonoran desert. Samples of K. grandiflora were collected on behalf of the Smithsonian Institution in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by self-trained ethnobotanist Edward Palmer. Many of Edward Palmer's papers were retained by William E. Safford, who wrote a biography on Palmer, and William Andrew Archer, a former chair of the National Museum of Natural History's (NMNH) Department of Botany. Documents by Palmer, Archer, and Safford coalesced and were eventually transferred to the National Anthropological Archives (NAA) as the "Edward Palmer Papers."
Other materials by Palmer exist elsewhere in the archives, including photographs, maps, and vocabularies. William Safford was himself a US Naval officer who collected for the U.S. National Museum, and some of his photographs were donated to the NAA by his wife. Within the Palmer collection are folders which contain both handwritten notes by Palmer and typewritten duplicates of Palmer's notes by Safford or Archer - sometimes with additional unsigned, handwritten corrections or queries. In the end, at least five individuals contributed content to the collection, representing a confluence of interests, careers, and experiences among many people and across many decades at NMNH. From among this particular multi-vocal tangle emerges K. grandiflora.

Palmer's earliest sample of K. grandiflora still within the NMNH Botany Department holdings comes from the city of Guaymas, Sonora in the year 1887 - Palmer Sample 177(1),(2). Yet Palmer's notes from that year are scant and make no mention of this plant, despite noting the bloom times of chrysanthemum, rose, and tuberose in the region (3). His 1887 specimen of K. grandiflora finally reappears over 60 years later when William Andrew Archer compiled Palmer's collection notes into a series of index cards.
Notecard for Tribulus grandiflorus, 1887, Edward Palmer Papers 1869-1920,
Box 11, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. 
The unsigned handwritten corrections point to ongoing name confusion. The plant is commonly referred to in English as "Arizona poppy," despite not being part of the poppy family Papaveraceae but rather the caltrop family Zygophyllaceae. In the Mexican Spanish spoken during Palmer's time, the plant was referred to as "mal de ojo" (in English, “the evil eye”) or "abrojos" but these two terms can also refer to two other plants: desert globemallow (Sphaerlacea ambigua) and puncture vine (Tribulus terrestris) - the latter plant being known for distributing its thorns into passersby's clothes, shoes, and - most painfully - feet (5),(6).

Notecard for Kallstroemia grandiflora, 1898. Edward Palmer Papers 1869-1920.
Box 11, National Anthropological Archives, ,Smithsonian Insitution.
Yet the lack of original documentation for Palmer Sample 177 is actually fitting for a plant sample: emphasis on sample. K. grandiflora produces flowers which are likely cross-pollinated by a regional wasp, Campsoscolia octomaculata (7). Later, the flowers become self-pollinating. In either case, another agent becomes involved: C. octomaculata, the vibrations from another insect shaking the pollen onto the stigma, or even wind moving the plants around and shaking pollen onto the stigma. Beyond pollination, K. grandiflora is part of a larger ecosystem. The plant roots itself in sandy, alkali soils which are unacceptable to many plants and absorbs monsoon floodwaters. For two other non-pollinating wasps (Bembix u-scripta and Myzinum Navajo) K. grandiflora provides a source of nectar. As Archer mentions on a notecard for a later sample of the plant, residents of Saltillo used the tops of the plants to treat rheumatism and K. grandiflora is often spotted in 'wasteland' (8). Using the documentation in the Edward Palmer papers, the plant can be seen as a part of our bodies, our economies, our visual landscape, and our understanding of space.

Much like K. grandiflora, the Edward Palmer Papers reflect the involvement of many agents, not all of whom were working at the same time or on the same projects. The 60+ year gap between Palmer’s trip to Sonora and the creation of Archer’s notecards reflects the fits and stops which characterize scientific discovery, and science within a natural history museum. The collection is a snapshot, or a sample, of some of the ongoing processes in the careers of ethnobotanists, the administrative staff behind them, politics, and infinitely deep ecologies around the globe – all at particular times. Upon being transferred to the NAA the records were re-organized, meaning they are also representative of archival theory in practice.

Together, the NMNH Botany collection and Edward Palmer Papers provide us with two complementary samples. While the dried sample of K. grandiflora can give us structural information on the species, it tells us little about the ecology from which it emerged and can only tell so much about the collector. For instance, Palmer's existing 1887 notes touch on other interests which took up his time: local market offerings, politics, racial ideologies, and a woodpecker pecking on a tin can. Without the archival records we're left with an incomplete picture of how the sample arrived at the Smithsonian and how it fit into Palmer’s complete life in Guaymas. Without Palmer Sample 177, we have no way to experience the materiality and physicality of K. grandiflora in Guaymas 130 years ago. Palmer’s missing notes remind us that no record is complete within itself, which is why interconnected collections – like those found at the Smithsonian Institution – are so invaluable. While this kind of documentary 'trouble' might not be what most researchers hope for, it hints at the complexity of all archival collections and the ways that botanical and archival collections are involved in one another.

Dani Stuchel, Reference Intern
National Anthropological Archives


(1) "Palmer Sample 177" is only meant to indicate that this was the 177th sample from Guayamas in 1887, not that it was the 177th sample from Palmer's career or the year 1887.
(2) Kallstroemia grandiflora. Catalog number 14164. Botany Department, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. EZID:
(3) Notes on Plants from Guaymas 1887, Journal Notes 1880-1889, Box 3, Edward Palmer Papers 1869-1920, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
(4) Notecard for Tribulus grandifloria, 1887. Box 11. Edward Palmer Papers 1869-1920, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
(5) Wolf, M. and B. Evancho. 2016. Plant Guide for desert globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua A. Gray). USDA-NaturalResources Conservation Service, Tucson Plant Materials Center. Tucson, AZ. 
(6) Washington State University Extension Office. Control de abrojo o cadillo. URL:
(7) O'Neill, Kevin M. Pollen foraging and pollination, in Solitary Wasps: Behavior and Natural History. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 2001.
(8) Notecard for Kallstroemia grandifloria, 1898. Box 11. Edward Palmer Papers 1869-1920, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Solar Eclipse Collections at the Smithsonian

Are you excited about the eclipse today? So are we! Over the centuries, people have long been fascinated by solar and lunar eclipses. The Smithsonian Institution has many eclipse related and inspired collections. Check some of them out on the Smithsonian Collections Search Center.

Here are a few highlights:

This National Portrait Gallery photograph from 1869 depicts John A. Whipple (center, left) and the Harvard Observatory team photographing a rare solar eclipse. An inventor and photographer, Whipple was also the first person to photograph the moon's surface in great detail in 1851.
John A. Whipple and the Harvard Astronomical Expedition to photograph a rare solar eclipse (1869). National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Larry J. West, NPG.2007.127.
Astronomical Photographer and Professor Henry Draper took this photograph of a total solar eclipse on July 29, 1878. You can read more about Draper and his scientific family in the National Museum of American History’s Draper Family Collection finding aid on the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives (SOVA).

Photograph of the Corona 1878, [photograph reprint], National Museum of American History, Archive Center, AC0121-0000001.
In 1901, future Smithsonian Secretary Charles G. Abbot, then working at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, traveled to Sumatra to study a solar eclipse. Though cloudy weather prevented a perfect viewing for Abbot, but colleagues stationed in other locations were able to gather data. Read more about Abbot's adventures from the Smithsonian Institution Archives: The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Astronomers

1901 Sumatra Eclipse Expedition, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image Number 94-12603

If you want to learn more about how to view the solar eclipse safely, check out the National Air and Space Museum’s website for some great videos including this one on fun ways to view the eclipse.

Stay safe everyone and happy eclipse viewing!

Emily Moazami, Assistant Head Archivist

Friday, August 18, 2017

August 1939: National Aviation Day and the 30th Anniversary of Army Aviation

August 19 marks National Aviation Day in the United States.  Prior to 1939, aviation was frequently celebrated on December 17, the date of the Wright brothers’ first flight in 1903, and, in 1937, “National Aviation Day” had been held on May 28.  In 1939, having received authorization from Congress in a May 11 joint resolution, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed that August 19, Orville Wright’s birthday, would officially be designated National Aviation Day in the United States.

Text of the Joint Resolution Designating August 19 of each year as National Aviation Day from Public Laws Enacted during the First Session of the Seventy-Sixth Congress of the United States of America.  U.S. House of Representatives, Office of the Law Revision Council, United States Code.
Throughout the United States, communities planned aviation-related events.  In the Washington, DC, region, five airports—Capital Airport (Bladensburg, Maryland), Beacon Field (Fairfax County, Virginia), Hybla Valley Airport (Alexandria, Virginia), Congressional Airport (Rockville, Maryland), and College Park Airport (Maryland)—scheduled “50-cent” flights over the city.  The East Hartford divisions of United Aircraft Corporation’s Pratt & Whitney Aircraft and Hamilton Standard Propeller held an open house for employees and their immediate families.  Major Al Williams, acrobatic pilot, was scheduled to be the star of an aviation show at the World’s Fair.

A crowd watches formation flying at [Army Air Corps] 30th Anniversary Celebration at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, August 2, 1939.  NASM WF-64774.
The military participated in National Aviation Day as well.  The War and Navy Departments arranged open houses at their air fields.  Although several Army Air Corps fields hosted open houses, the biggest aviation event for the Army had already taken place a couple of weeks before.  On August 2, the Army celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Army’s purchase of the Wright Military Flyer on August 2, 1909—the birth of Army aviation.

Photo exhibit at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, in celebration of Army aviation’s 30th anniversary, August 1939.  NASM WF-64695.
All air stations hosted open houses and 2,000 aircraft participated in flyovers.  The largest of the anniversary celebrations took place at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, home of the Wright brothers. The Army estimated that over 48,000 visitors attended the event and 20,000 watched from outside the gates.  Brigadier General George H. Brett served as the Master of Ceremonies.  Major General H.H. “Hap” Arnold spoke at the luncheon for special guests, highlighting the history of Army aviation, presenting visions for the future, and awarding Distinguished Flying Crosses to four officers.

Boeing XB-15 (s/n 35-277) on display at Army Air Corp 30th anniversary celebration at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, on August 2, 1939.  NASM 92-4006
Visitors to Wright Field had the opportunity to view approximately fifty of the Army’s “most modern aircraft.” Some of the larger airplanes had platforms from which guests could enter the airplane through one door and exit from another.  One of the aircraft on display at Wright Field was the Boeing XB-15, which on that very day had set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 5000 Kilometers With 2000 Kilogram Payload.  Throughout the day, aircraft flew in formation over the field.

Here's a list of National Air and Space Museum events for Saturday, August 19.  What do you plan to do for National Aviation Day 2017?!

Elizabeth C. Borja, Reference and Outreach Coordinator
National Air and Space Museum Archives