1 This brief history is based on primary source materials held by the Smithsonian Institution Archives. (SIA), secondary sources developed by SIA (such as
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appendix a: brief history 287 APPENDIX A. SMITHSONIAN COLLECTIONS: A BRIEF HISTORY table of contents Introduction .287 Early collections and the emergence of the US National Museum ..294 Art collections 306 History and culture collections ..316 Science collections ..325 Archives and libraries 334 Collections guidance ..338 References..350 introduction hroughout its long history, the Smithsonian Institution has been concerned with the acquisition, study, care, and storage of collections. 1 At times, individuals with a passionate commitment to build collections have been at odds with those who did not see collecting as a priority. Debates were T 1 This brief history is based on pr imary source materials held by th e Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA), secondary sources develope d by SIA (such as online exhibits and bibliographies, available on SIA™s website, http://www.si.edu /archives/start.htm), and primary and second ary sources in the Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL), includin g legal documents, committee reports, memoirs, internal records, and histories. The inherent limita tions of such sources must be noted. For example, laws passed do not reflect the dissension and compro mise that preceded passage, policies are subject to exceptions or may not be adequately implemented, etc. The Office of Policy and Analysis (OP&A) ack nowledges the help, encouragement, and support of Pamela M. Henson, dire ctor of the Institutional History Divi sion, SIA. Without her assistance, OP&A could not have completed the work. Any opi nions expressed here are, however, those of the OP&A study team.
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appendix a: brief history 288 influenced by the reality of collections arriving despite space, personnel, and other resource constraints, and by the diverging interests of congressional and Smithsonian leadership. The Smithsonian has, at times, struggled to balance its roles as an incubator of scholarly research and leader in scientific discovery, a keeper of national and international treasures, and a key player in preserving and relating the American story.2 At the current time, as has happened several times before in the Institution™s history, questions about the role and priority of collections are being raised. These questions have plagued many Secretaries, Regents, and advisors. Space to store and preserve collections is nearing maximum capacity, and both the rationale for keeping some present collections and strategies for developing future collections are being debated. Resources Š especially personnel Š are scarce, with little promise of relief on the horizon. Decisions made in the near term will have an impact on the expectations of scholars, visitors, and the American public . This appendix provides a brief historic overview of collections and collecting activities at the Smithsonian and identifies some of the key events, decisions, ideas, and documents that have shaped Smithsoni an collections. It is written with the assumption that an understanding of the past can inform decisions about the future. origins of the Smithsonian Institution Collecting for the public interest antedated the establishment of the Smithsonian Institution in 1846.3 In 1840, Joel Poinsett, then Secretary of War and an 2 To some extent, the Smithsonian™s role as a federa l repository contributes to this uncertainty. See the discussion of scientific collections below. 3 Much of this section is based on an online exhibi tion, ﬁFrom Smithson to Smithsonian: The Birth of an Institution,ﬂ at http://www.sil. si.edu/Exhibitions/Smithson-to-Smith sonian/. It is adapted from an exhibition of the same name that was on vi ew from July 1996 to January 1997 in the SIL Exhibition Gallery in the National Museum of American History (NMAH).
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appendix a: brief history 289 accomplished amateur botanist, established the National Institution for the Promotion of Science and the Useful Arts, 4 based in the (Old) Patent Office Building. Poinsett and his supporters planne d to create a natural history museum as a vehicle for advancing science. Similarly, as America™s founders passed away, concerned citizens made efforts to preserve their memory by collecting objects associated with them. The resulting collecti on of portraits, military gear, and artifacts of everyday life, called the Historical Relics Collection, was eventually displayed in the gallery of Poinsett™s National Institute, where it gained iconic status and became a popular Washington attraction. Poinsett also helped organize the first US government-sponsored global maritime exploration, the United States Explorin g Expedition (1838-42), led by Lt. Charles Wilkes, and was authorized to act as curator for the specimens and artifacts it brought back. These collections eventually entered the Smithsonian collections. Poinsett and his supporters were well aware of the ongoing debate surrounding the bequest of James Smithson to the United States, and saw control of the bequest as a way of promoting their goals. In 1826, Smithson, a British scientist, had drawn up his last will and testament, naming his nephew as beneficiary. However, Smithson stipulated that, should the nephew die without heirs Š as he later would, in 1835 Š the estate should go ﬁto the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men (Oehser 1983, 201-04)5.ﬂ Before making any decisions about the disb ursal of Smithson™s gift, and even before transferring the estate™s proceeds to the Un ited States, a congressional debate took 4 The Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Ar ts and Sciences, an outgrowth of the earlier Metropolitan Society, was an even earlier or ganization promoting a national museum. The Columbian Institute was organized October 16, 1816 and received a congressional charter dated April 20, 1818. 5 Citations are in the reference sect ion at the end of this appendix.
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appendix a: brief history 290 place about the constitutionality of accepting it.6 President Andrew Jackson believed that the people of the United States would put opportunities such as Smithson™s bequest to good use, but was unsure whether the Constitution gave him the authority to accept it. He therefore aske d the Congress to pass legislation allowing him to do so. The ensuing debate between advocates of states™ rights and Federalists was resolved in favor of the latter, affirming the constitutional basis for establishing a national institution. The Congress authorized acceptance of the Smithson bequest on July 1, 1836 (Smithsonian Institution 1854, 111-17), and President Jackson took immediate steps to secure the bequest by sending diplomat Richard Rush to England. A decade of discussion over the appropriate use of Smithson™s bequest, efforts to divert it to other causes, and mismanagement of the funds ended with the passage of the Act of August 10, 1846 (Statutes at Large of the United States of America [Stats. at Large of USA] 9:102-06).7 The act incorporated nearly all of the suggestions for the use of Smithson™s funds Š an observatory, scientific research institute, national library, publishing house, art gallery, and museum Š that had come from academicians, scientists, educators, congressmen, senators, and others.8 Only the recommendation to establish a university was omitted, possibly as a result of pressure from existing academic institutions . The Congress also restored the original half million dollars brought from England and the interest that would have accrued since the funds arrived in 1838. 6 For example, Senator John C. Calhoun opposed acce pting the Smithson bequest, arguing that to do so on behalf of the entire nation would abridge st ates™ rights. He maintained that the Congress had no authority to accept the gift. He also asserted that it would be ﬁbeneath [US] dignity to accept presents from anyone.ﬂ 7 Act of August 10, 1846, 29th Cong., 1st Sess., 9 Stat. 106. Th is legislation began on December 19, 1845, with a bill, H.R. 5, introduced by Mr. Owen and referred to a comm ittee consisting of Mr. Owen and Reps. Quincy Adams, Davis, Jenkins, Ma rsh, Sims, and Wilmot. The House passed the bill on April 29, 1846 and the Senate on August 10, 1846. President Polk signed it into law the same day. 8 For example, Congressman John Quincy Adams (formerly US Pres ident), the chairman of the congressional select committee to determine what to do about the bequest, advocated applying the money toward scientific research. Believing that societies often mi sused science and technology for military and other destructive pu rposes, Francis Wayland, the pr esident of Brown University, suggested an institution that would teach only the classics.
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appendix a: brief history 291 The legislation, a compromise among competing interests, specified that the Institution should respect Smithson™s mandate for the ﬁincrease and diffusion of knowledge.ﬂ A Smithsonian Board of Regents was entrusted with the responsibility of interpreting and carrying out the legislation and Smithson™s mandate. The legislation (Section 5) directed the Board of Regents, after selecting an appropriate site, . . . to cause to be erected a suitable building, of plain and durable materials and structure, without unnecessary ornament, and with suitable rooms or halls for the reception and arrangement, upon a liberal scale, of objects of natural history, including a geological and mineralogical cabinet; also a chemical laboratory, a library and a gallery of art. The Regents™ first act was to build a ﬁNorman Castleﬂ on the National Mall in Washington, DC, planned and supervised by architect James Renwick, Jr. 9 The group then appointed Joseph Henry (1846-78),10 a renowned physicist from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), as the first chief operating officer, or Secretary. the original collections Section 6 of the enabling legislation clearly transfers collections belonging to the United States to the Smithsonian: . . . [A]ll objects of art and of foreign and curious research, and all objects of natural history, plants, and geological and mineralogical specimens belonging to the United St ates, which may be in the city of Washington, in whosesoever custody they may be, shall be delivered . 9 The first Smithsonian Board of Regents™ meeting was held on September 7, 1846 in a room of the Post Office Building on F Street, NW between 7th and 8th Streets. Thirteen of the 15 appointed members were present (Clark 1996). A history of the Castle, incl uding photographs and biographical sketches of all the Secretaries, is in Field, Stamm, and Ewing (1993). 10 The dates following the names of Secret aries denote their pe riod of service.
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appendix a: brief history 292 . . to the board of regents to receive them, and shall be so arranged and classified. The dilemmas of the diverse, and often c onflicting, roles of the Smithsonian began with this language. The last clause summarizes what have been, with varying levels of emphasis, the Smithsonian™s key functi ons: to receive (collect), arrange (exhibit), and classify (study). The Regents were also authorized to accept new collections either by exchange of duplicates or by donation, and also to care for the collections. The Secretary was to ﬁdischarge the duties of librarian and keeper of the museum,ﬂ and was permitted to hire assistants. With the exception of stipulating an annual sum to be used for the library, ﬁnot exceeding an average of $25,000 a yearﬂ of the approximately $30,000 interest from the bequest, the legislation was remarkably free from constraints or controls on spending. Nor did it impose any particular congressional oversight on the Institution. The leaders of the Institution could spend funds ﬁas they deem best suited for the promotion of the purposes of James Smithson.ﬂ a leader™s vision The mission to promote ﬁthe increase and diffusion of knowledge,ﬂ and the responsibility for a national museum, have been interpreted in many ways since the Smithsonian™s inception, and such interpretation would relate heavily to the interests of its leaders. Key to the subsequent development of the Smithsonian was Secretary Henry™s ﬁProgramme of Organization,ﬂ presented in the first Annual Report of the Secretary and adopted by the Board of Regents. 11 Support for publications and lectures on original research was one essent ial feature of this document; the other was the accumulation of collections of natural history and art, as well as the formation of a library. In accepting Henry™s plan, the Regents also resolved that the 11 A transcript of the programme is at h ttp://www.sil.si.edu/Exh ibitions/Smithson-to-Smithsonian/henry.htm.
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appendix a: brief history 294 appointment, even before a Secretary, of an Assistant Secretary to be in charge of a library. For Henry, the library was a drain on resources and space. He also predicted that the accumulations of a museum or library would consume for their care alone more than the small income of the Smithsonian endowment, without contributing effectively to the increase and diffusion of knowledge. The original 1846 Act also required ﬁthat the author or proprietor of any book, map, chart, musical composition, print, cut, or engravingﬂ who wanted a copyright should deposit a copy both with the Librarian of the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress. After considerable maneuvering, Henry persuaded the Regents and the Congress to repeal the copyright-depository provision. Both resource and space constraints were alleviated in 1866 when the Smithsonian sent 40,000 volumes to the Library of Congress. As part of the arrangement, Smithsonian staff were granted the same borrowing privileges as congressional staff. The ﬁSmithsonian Depositﬂ continued as a separate entity in the Libr ary of Congress until the early 1950s, and the Smithsonian continued to add to the deposit throughout that period. 14 The initial transfer marked the first time the Smithsonian made a long-term loan to another institution. The controversy over the library also led the Congress, for the first time, to establish a standing committee to examine the management of the Smithsonian. early collections and the emergence of the US National Museum While successful in divesting the Smithsoni an of the legislated national library obligation, Henry was far less successful in developing a Smithsonian without a museum. During his tenure, he saw the natural history collections grow to over 250,000 objects and come to include material unrelated to research. He also 14 At the time that it was integrated into the Library of Congress™s rapidly developing science collections, the Smithsonian Deposit had grown to over 600,000 volumes. The present-day library at the Smithsonian is discussed below.
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appendix a: brief history 295 witnessed the problems associated with funding collections™ care and storage, and argued against accepting the voluminous co llections gathered on expeditions funded by the US government.15 After the Wilkes collections 16 were transferred to the Smithsonian, Henry wrote to a friend, ﬁNow comes the danger. The appropriations of the Congress for the Museum are fitful.ﬂ Further, The answer made to some of these objections has usually been that the government would grant an annual appropriation for the support of the museum of the exploring expedition. But this would be equally objectionable, since it would annually bring the institution before Congress as a supplicant for government patronage, and ultimately subject it to political influence and control (Smithsonian Institution 1849, 20-21). the origins of the National Museum By 1849, despite Henry™s objections, the Smithsonian had a small museum unit. Its collections were divided into mammals, birds, reptiles and fishes, invertebrates, plants, fossil remains, minerals and geological specimens, and ethnology. Henry saw no reason to collect things found in other encyclopedic museums at the time, like the British Museum. Instead, he wanted to focus on objects of ﬁspecial character.ﬂ 15 The volume of these material s was extensive. In January 2004, the Smithsonian Institution Libraries made the cata logue of the US Exploring Expedition™s collection of ethnographic and archaeological artifacts available to the public on line. According to Viola (1985), the introduction states, Estimates are that the collections amassed between April 1838 and June 1842 by the United States Exploring Expedition, unde r the command of Charles Wilkes, weighed nearly 40 tons. The naval officers, crew, an d nine civilian scientists, who sailed on six small ships for four years, gathered specimens of natural history at nearly every stop, including several thousand zoological specimens, 50,000 plan t specimens, thousands of shells, corals, fossils, and geological specimen s, even jars of sea water from different localities. They also collect ed 2,500 ethnological and archae ological specimens, which they generally referred to as ﬁcuriosities,ﬂ to illustrate the varied cultures with whom they came in contact. See also From the Ends of the Earth: The United States Exploring Expe dition Collections , at http://www.sil.si.edu/DigitalCollect ions/usexex/learn/Walsh-01.htm. 16 That is, the collections from the 1838-42 US Exploring Expedition organized by Poinsett, discussed above and in footnote 15.
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appendix a: brief history 296 In principle, Henry was not against the cr eation of a national museum Š he simply did not want a national museum connected with the Smithsonian Institution. Familiar with general collections abroad, Henry wrote, ﬁThough the formation of a general collection is neither within the means nor the province of the Institution, it is an object which ought to engage the attention of Congress. A general museum appears to be a necessary establishment at the seat of government of every civilized nation (Smithsonian Institution 1851, 25).ﬂ Henry continued to hope that his view of a national museum separate from the Smithsonian would prevail, even after the museum unit was established within the Institution. In his 1856 Report of the Secretary, he wrote: The adverse effects of the early and consequently imperfect legislation ought, therefore, as far as possible, to be obviated; and this could readily be done, if Congress would relieve the Institution from the care of a large collection of specimens principally belonging to the government, and purchase the [Smithsonian] building to be used as a depository of all the objects of natural history and the fine arts belonging to the nation (Smithsonian Institution 1857, 21-22). The ambiguity in the original legislation allowed the Board of Regents and the Secretary to shift priorities (Endersby 1998, 7). For at the same time, Henry observed: –[E]xperience has shown that the [Smithsonian] building will ultimately be filled with objects of natural history belonging to the general government . . . It may be a question whether, in consideration of this fact, it would not be well to offer the use of the large room immediately for a national museum [emphasis added] of which the Smithsonian Institution would be the mere curator, and the expense of maintaining which should be paid by the general government. However, Henry™s point of view was clearly not the only one at the Smithsonian. Ultimately, Henry lost the debate because the Regents, notably George Perkins Marsh, insisted upon a museum within the Institution.
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appendix a: brief history 297 In 1858, when the government™s collections of scientific specimens, art works, and historical memorabilia at the National Institute gallery in the Patent Office Building were transferred to the Smithsonian™s custody, a national multidisciplinary museum began to emerge. 17 With these collections came a $4,000 yearly appropriation for their care. The main hall of the Castle became the locus for the biological collections, while the west wing was devoted to geology and fossils, and the large upper center hall to American Indian artifacts and costumes. (The latter evolved into the anthropological collections held by the Smithsonian today.) To the end of his life, Henry sought a clear separation between a National Museum and the Institution: The object of the [Museum] is the establishment of a collection of specimens of nature and of art which shall exhibit the natural resources and industry of the country . . . The Smithsonian Institution, on the other hand, does not offer the results of its operation to the physical eye, but presents them to the mind in the form of new discoveries . . . It is the design of the Museum to continually increase its collection of material objects; of the Institution, to extend the bounds of human knowledge (Endersby 1998, 13). Yet the tide of events continued to fl ow in the opposite direction from Henry™s vision. Beginning in the 1860s, the Institution™s Annual Reports made a clear distinction between the ﬁcollections of specimens of Natural History,ﬂ intended for the advancement of knowledge, and the museum collections intended for public exhibitions. By 1866, the Annual Report referred to the ﬁNational Museum.ﬂ For the next decade, Henry continuously appealed to the Congress for increases in appropriations to care for the museum, while at the same time hoping that the 17 On June 10, 1867, Attorney General Jeremiah S. Black ruled on the legality of the collections™ transfer, since in 1842 they had been placed in the Patent Office, and an 1854 Act ( Stats. at Large of the USA 10: 572) puts them in the Patent Office, under the care and management of the Commissioner. The Attorney General reconciled the language of the Smithsonian™s enabling legislation (1846) with the other legislative acts saying that one (the 1846 law) called for a permanent arrangement, which was not to take effect until there were ﬁsuitable arrangements,ﬂ and the others called for a temporary disposal.
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