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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

"Every Minute Counts"--The Legacy of Katherine Joseph

Garment Workers on the Home Front. Photograph by Katherine Joseph, 1942. © Richard Hertzberg and Suzanne Hertzberg. Katherine Joseph Papers, 1942, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Photography was a vibrant and exciting part of her life. Though she ended her career for marriage and motherhood, her work demonstrates an assertive and enterprising personality. She was a determined professional in a field that few women entered. She stood near such luminaries as President Franklin Roosevelt, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frank Sinatra, but also spent considerable time in factories where members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) worked. She practiced her craft with simple equipment, yet produced results that convey strength, dignity, and respect. Until a few years ago nobody knew anything about her achievements, particularly those closest to her, her children.

Who was she? This was forgotten photojournalist Katherine Joseph. You haven’t heard of her career as an intrepid, enterprising female photographer during the 1930s and 1940s, based mainly in New York City--certainly not after World War II, when she was already married to electrical engineer Arthur Hertzberg and had put her venerable Rolleiflex camera into a closet and taken on the role of spouse and mother. From that point on she never picked up a camera again and did not discuss her premarital photographic adventures with anyone.
Katherine Joseph near her darkroom  (self-portrait?), 1941. © Richard Hertzberg and Suzanne Hertzberg. Katherine Joseph Papers, 1938-1944, Archives Center, National Museum of American History. 
So it is both fitting and ironic that her children, Richard and Suzanne Hertzberg, are responsible for discovering and disclosing Katherine Joseph’s photographic legacy. Several years after her death in 1990 hundreds of negatives, photographs, notes, diaries, and journal entries were found in the family home’s attic by her daughter. Those dusty boxes contained the remnants of Katherine Joseph’s secret life.

Recognizing the value of this archive, Richard and Suzanne Hertzberg donated it to the National Museum of American History in 2007. Richard found an intriguing family connection with his own passion for photography. It had remained a mystery, since there was no explicit communication about photography between mother and son--although in the mid–1960s Ms. Joseph handed over to Richard an old Rolleiflex square-format camera, with no background about its history. When he visited the Smithsonian in 2014 to see the complete Katherine Joseph collection, he found many 2 ¼" by 2 ¼" negatives that were clearly taken with the same Rolleiflex his mother had passed on to him, and which he had used to take his first photographs.

Richard also became convinced that a fitting tribute to his mother’s photography would be an exhibition, and he submitted a proposal to the Oregon Jewish Museum / Center for Holocaust Education (OJM / CHE) in Portland, Oregon (he lives in one of the city’s suburbs). OJM / CHE’s Executive Director, Judy Margles, along with the institution’s staff and Exhibition Committee, were enthusiastically supportive. Judy accompanied Richard on his second visit to view the Joseph collection in 2015 and, upon seeing firsthand the material, was even more committed to an exhibit. The two met with National Museum of American History staff, Rosemary Phillips, Cathy Keen, and David Haberstich, to discuss cooperating in making the exhibit, Every Minute Counts - Photographs by Katherine Josephs, happen. Kay Peterson was very helpful from the outset, and Joe Hursey created high–quality TIFF digital images that were used to make new prints for the exhibit. It opened on June 29 and runs to September 25.

Katherine Joseph was born in Odessa, Ukraine in the early 20th century, the youngest of five children. The family immigrated to the United States when she was a baby, and her early years were spent in El Paso and Chicago. Katherine had an independent character; free from “Old World” cultural constraints, she moved to New York City to practice photography. She secured a position with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) that enabled her to document the garment industry labor force before and during World War II. The relationship between worker, machine, and urban/industrial environment was a prominent theme in many of her Union photographs.

The ILGWU was a strong advocate of improving working conditions and promoting employment for all Americans regardless of gender or ethnicity. As such it attracted political attention. Ms. Joseph’s photographic portfolio includes candid views of President Franklin Roosevelt, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman, a very young Frank Sinatra, and the colorful New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. One memorable photo of President Roosevelt showed him surrounded by members of the cast from the Union production of “Pins and Needles” when the show was staged for the President at the White House on March 3, 1938.

Girls sewing, Mexico, 1941. Photograph by Katherine Joseph.  © Richard Hertzberg and Suzanne Hertzberg. Katherine Joseph Papers, 1938-1944, Archives Center, National Museum of American History. 

Katherine Joseph’s photographic career also took her far from the garment factories of New York City. In January 1941 she and two friends from Chicago embarked on an expedition to Mexico in an “Americar” manufactured by the Willys–Overland Motor Company. The firm wanted to demonstrate the rugged nature of the car as part of a public relations and advertising campaign. Ms. Joseph was to provide visual proof of the car’s durability through her photographs as it was driven over Mexican roads, paved and unpaved. Her photographs also displayed the dignity of poor farmers, the vibrancy of street markets, and the country’s varied geography.
Market Day: A Family Affair, Tamazunchale, Mexico, 1941. Photograph by Katherine Joseph.  © Richard Hertzberg and Suzanne Hertzberg. Katherine Joseph Papers, 1938-1944,  Archives Center, National Museum of American History. 
The journey took the adventuresome trio through much of northern, central, and coastal Mexico. Representing themselves as members of “la prensa” (the press), Ms. Joseph and her companions gained access to people, places, and experiences well beyond a conventional tourist itinerary. This included Germans who had established business and financial operations in Mexico and were either outright Nazis or Nazi sympathizers; William Randolph Hearst dining with Marion Davies; gold and silver mines in the Sierra Madre Mountains; the earthquake and volcanic eruption in Colima, April 15, 1941; travel by horse and burro to remote areas; accommodations ranging from the utterly primitive to luxurious. When Hollywood celebrities visited the American Embassy for a “good will” social event with Mexican government officials on April 12, 1941, Ms. Joseph was there. Her camera captured Wallace Beery, Joe E. Brown, Mickey Rooney, Norma Shearer, and Johnny Weissmuller.
Goodwill Fiesta Farewell Gala: Norma Shearer and Mickey Rooney, Mexico City, 1941. Photograph by Katherine Joseph.
© Richard Hertzberg and Suzanne Hertzberg. Katherine Joseph Papers, 1938-1944, 
Archives Center, National Museum of American History. 
The date and circumstances of Katherine Joseph’s departure from Mexico are obscure. However, by August 1941 at the age of 27 she was back in New York City, again working for the ILGWU. Her photographs reveal the ILGWU labor force on the home front serving the war effort. As World War II ended, Ms. Joseph married and started a family. This became her priority and the camera was set aside.

Whether she was in a Manhattan garment workshop or a Mexican town, Katherine Joseph’s photographs display a profound respect for the fundamental dignity of the people she brought into focus, regardless of their circumstances or position in life. At the same time she was very aware of those circumstances and they became part of the subject matter, serving literally as a compositional frame or stage for the individual lives she presented in her photographs.
Earthquake damage to buildings and street, Colima, Mexico, 1932. Photograph by Katherine Joseph.  © Richard Hertzberg and Suzanne Hertzberg. Katherine Joseph Papers, 1938-1944. Archives Center, National Museum of American History. 

In reviewing the Katherine Joseph exhibit at the OJM / CHE--the first public display of her work-- Bob Hicks of Oregon Arts Watch wrote the following:
"Her photography in the 1930s and 1940s slides her neatly into a category of humanistic documentarists that also includes the likes of Dorothea Lange…and Margaret Bourke-White…The images range from the factory floor to the White House…and capture the lives of hourly workers and giants of the entertainment and political worlds. The images in the exhibit are all shot in black and white, lending the work a sense of historical veracity, and are compellingly framed, with the vital trait that excellent news and documentary photographers share of freezing telling moments in intimate and lively circumstances…"
For more information about Katherine Joseph and her exhibit at the Oregon Jewish Museum, visit their website:

Richard Hertzberg and David Haberstich
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Celebrate the Potato

September is National Potato Month. Almost all the potatoes grown in the United States are planted in the spring and gathered in the fall. It is the time of year that schools in northern Maine have “harvest break” when students work to dig and sort the season’s spud crop soon after summer vacation.

Maine’s custom is one small part of the very long and interwoven agricultural, economic, social, culinary, medical, and ritual histories of this humble staple. It is a story that stretches from ancient gardens in the Andean Mountains 10,000 to 8,000 years ago … to perhaps Mars in the future? In the recent movie, The Martian, the stranded astronaut-botanist (played by Matt Damon), bases his long-term survival strategy on the Red Planet, not completely unfeasibly, on planting potatoes. But is the potato relevant for us today?

A carbohydrate, the tubers have nutritional detractors who point out that Americans consume far too many calories from white starches, including processed potato products in the forms of French fries and chips (along with the harmful fats and salt that go with them). With dehydrated and other potato products, these foods account for fifty percent of the potato market. Meanwhile, the annual consumption of fresh potatoes in the United States has fallen from eighty-one pounds per person in 1960 to forty-two pounds recently (the official Government report here). Potatoes are a hot political issue: Congress has fought successfully to keep the white potato in food assistance programs, including those of school lunches and breakfasts, against recommendations from the Department of Agriculture.

Following rice, wheat, and corn, potatoes are among the most consumed food crop in the world. The tuber is easy to grow in a variety of climates and soils, and is not as thirsty for water as many other vegetables, producing a high yield from a small area. Able to be stored for long periods, the potato is a good source of vitamin C (surprisingly), potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin B₆, and some iron. Inexpensive, lacking only calcium and vitamins A and D, it is almost a complete food. Beginning with the ancient civilizations of Huari and Tiahuanacu located in parts of modern-day Peru and Bolivia, the spud has been insurance against famine, providing sustenance when other crops failed.

If there is a food stuff that deserves a commemorative month or day (May 30th in Peru), it is the potato.

A selection of organic potatoes from both coasts: Idaho and Yukon Gold from California; Honey Gold Nibbles, Gold Marbled Fingerlings, Purple Peruvian, and Adirondack Red potatoes from the Mid-Atlantic area. There are over a hundred varieties available. The petite type are growing in popularity (quick to cook, creamy in texture) as a substitute for pasta (photo by the author)
Not surprisingly, the Smithsonian does not treat the subject as small potatoes. In most, if not all, of the twenty-one separate libraries in the Institution, information on some aspect on the history and culture of the potato can be found. So what better way to celebrate the potato (Solanum tuberosum) and find its relevancy than by digging into some of Smithsonian Libraries’ holdings that tell its rich story? From the Anthropology, American Indian, Natural History, Horticulture and Botany libraries, the trade literature and cookery collections of American History, and, of course, Special Collections, all have original and secondary sources for an (almost) complete picture of this highly significant plant.

Archaeological research finds that the potato was first domesticated from wild plants on the shores of Lake Titicaca in the Andes. With sophisticated agricultural technology, including raised field terraces and irrigation systems, Pre-Inca cultures came to thrive on huge yields of the crop. The Inca Empire relied on potato storehouses, including a freeze-dried product (chuña) that could hold for years, in times of crop failures. Pedro de Cieza de León, explorer and historian, described the cultivation and cooking in his Chronicles of Peru, in 1540. Spanish conquistadors, who largely destroyed the Inca civilization, brought the potato across the Atlantic. Early accounts are a bit murky with the confusion between white (papas) and sweet potatoes (batata), but they were cultivated on the Canary Islands from 1565 and then onto the mainland of Spain.

John Gerard, The Herball, or, Generall historie of plantes (Imprinted at London by John Norton, 1597). The Biodiversity Heritage Library has digitized the copy in the Peter H. Raven Library, Missouri Botanical Garden.

John Gerard, The Herball, or, Generall historie of plantes (Imprinted at London by John Norton, 1597). There had been an earlier written description (but with no illustration) of the plant in Gaspard Bauhin’s Phytopinax of 1596. The Dibner Library of the Smithsonian Libraries has this first edition of Gerard. The Biodiversity Heritage Library has digitized the copy in the Peter H. Raven Library, Missouri Botanical Garden (pictured here).
Potatoes were being grown in London not long afterwards. The first printed pictures of the potato plant appear in woodcut illustrations in John Gerard’s great Herball of 1597. Gerard, who grew the plants in his own garden, misidentifies the origin of the potato as Virginia. It was not introduced into North America until the 1620s when the British governor of the Bahamas sent the tuber, along with other vegetables, to the Jamestown colony in Virginia. However, Derry, New Hampshire claims the first potato patch in North America, planted in 1719 when Scot-Irish immigrants settled in the area.

The 1636 edition of Gerard's Herball. The author holds a spray of potato flowers in the illustrated title page of the book, seen in the bottom center, just above the imprint. The Cullman Library of the Smithsonian has two copies; this image is from the scanned copy in the Peter H. Raven Library of the Missouri Botanical Garden (from the catalog of the Biodiversity Heritage Library).
From England, the potato moved to France and then on to the Netherlands. Carolus Clusius (or Charles de l’Ecluse) introduced the potato to the Low Countries. Woodcut illustrations are in his Rariorum plantarum historia (The history of rare plants; Antwerp, 1601). Because potatoes were a good source for preventing scurvy on long voyages, they were distributed via shipboard provisions to the far reaches of the world in the age of exploration. Potatoes also lessened the effects of tuberculosis, measles and dysentery. But the tuber became stigmatized as it moved from the exclusive botanical gardens of the wealthy in the 17th century, when it was thought to be poisonous and fit only for livestock or the truly indigent.

Clusius' Rariorum plantarum historia (Antwerp, 1601). Images of the white and the sweet potatoes (above and below) from the scanned copy in the Peter H. Raven Library of the Missouri Botanical Garden by the Biodiversity Heritage Library (link). The Smithsonian's Cullman Library also has the title.
Clusius also created the first European representation of the potato, a lovely watercolor of 1588 of a plant in his garden. The work of art, with a note written by Clusius, is now in the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp (link here).
In Europe and Russia during the second half of the 18th century the potato was vigorously promoted to lessen the economic distress of successive disastrous harvests of corn and wheat. Various groups and individuals produced pamphlets and books to educate and extol the crop’s virtues, such as the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, and military pharmacist and agronomist Antoine Augustin Parmentier. An example is Memoria sopra I pomi di terra (Memoire on the potatoes) of 1767, an Italian translation of a French publication (Dibner Library) that discusses varieties and cooking methods.

In France, the tuber was particularly regarded as a poor person’s food. Sadly, the Smithsonian Libraries does not own a copy of the important Parmentier work, Examen chimique de la pomme de terre (Chemical examination of the potato, 1778). He was so successful in his efforts that some still believe he invented the potato, and there are many dishes named for him, such as the casserole of veal chops à la Parmentier.

By the 19th century, the potato was common and so prevalent that historians debate its exact role in fueling the population explosion of the period. The food stuff also was being put to other uses, such as in alcoholic spirits. John Ham’s The theory and practice of brewing, from malted corn and from potatos (London, 1829), is one such treatise. There are many gardening manuals in the Smithsonian Libraries that discuss all the types then being developed and best methods of growing and storage. William Cobbett’s The American gardener (London, 1821) has this charming entry:

"Potatoe – Every body knows how to cultivate this plant; and, as to its preservation during winter, if you can ascertain the degree of warmth necessary to keep a baby from perishing, you know precisely the precautions required to preserve a potatoe. – As to sorts they are as numerous as the stones of a pavement in a large city."

But such dependency on a single crop, relied on by a huge population, proved ripe for disaster. This came in the form of late blight disease in the 1840s, which struck hard in Europe and was particularly devastating in Ireland. These catastrophes led to the development of disease-resistant plants, in particular by American horticulturist Luther Burbank who worked to improve the Irish potato; he bred a type in 1872 that established the Idaho potato. These new varieties led to even more potato dominance in food production and plantings around the world. It is a story likely to play out again with climate change, as scientists work to develop cultivars even more resistant to heat, drought and disease. To lessen pollution and water use and help feed its exploding population, China is now by far the largest producer of the staple in the world. Will the potato once again save some parts the world? (see Zuckerman, Larry. The potato: how the humble spud rescued the western world. Boston, 1998 and this Wikipedia entry on the subject).

"Good seeds at fair prices": trade literature of 1902 from Minneapolis, Minnesota (image from Wikimedia Commons)
"Good seeds at fair prices": National Museum of American History Trade Catalogs of 1902 from Minneapolis, Minnesota (image from Wikimedia Commons of the copy in the National Agricultural Library)
The extensive agricultural trade literature collections in the Smithsonian illustrate the trends in the potato’s popularity and dominance into the 20th century (one example linked here). The evolution of the vegetable as source of sustenance to a snack food is also traced in the Libraries’ culinary holdings. Thomas Jefferson had "potatoes served in the French manner" at a White House dinner in 1802 (not, strictly speaking, and contrary to the myth, the French fry). A relative of Jefferson’s, Mary Randolph, had seven recipes for potatoes, including one “to fry sliced potatoes” in her book, The Virginia house-wife, or, Methodical cook. The Dibner Library holds the fourth edition of this important cookbook, published in 1830. The Russet Burbank potato, developed in the 1920s, long, regular with a high sugar content, is the hybrid ideal for French fries. Speaking of which, France and Belgium are still arguing over who invented “French fries.”

An artist book in the collections: French fries : a new play, written by Dennis Bernstein, Warren Lehrer ; designed by Warren Lehrer, 1984.
An artist book in the collections: French fries : a new play, written by Dennis Bernstein, Warren Lehrer ; designed by Warren Lehrer, 1984.
This short history, centered on the Smithsonian Libraries collections, merely skims the surface of the potato. So even if you tend to avoid white potatoes in your diet, pick up one of the many, many accounts of the spud to read or raise a fork to the potato this month and celebrate this small vegetable’s big history in the world. In the words of Winnie-the-Pooh creator A. A. Milne: “What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow” (“Lunch” in Not that it matters, 1919).

Julia Blakely
Special Collections Cataloger
Smithsonian Libraries 

An excellent dish for the month: Rainbow Potato Roast.

For further reading:

Chilies to chocolate: food the Americas gave the world. Tucson, 1992.
Hawkes, J. G. The potatoes of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay: a biosystematics study. Oxford, 1969.
Ochoa, Carlos M. Las papas de Sudamérica. Lima, Perú, 1999.
Salaman, Redcliffe N. The history and social influence of the potato. Cambridge, 1985.

Well, if you are going to have bacon with your potatoes, might as well have sour cream as well. Photo by the author but the  great recipe and story from the New York Times.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Change the Station, Change the Noise: Space for the Inner Self in Wild Places

When one is alone at night in the depths of these woods, the stillness is at once awful and sublime. Every leaf seems to speak.
~ John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir (1938) 

Our world is a huge ball of constant connection, be it from phones to tablets to computers. We are bombarded with noise; the noise of voices, opinions, statistics, and 24 hour news cycles. It was not so different at the turn of the 20th century. Communications were being invented and exploding around the world. Newspapers were the twitter of this era. Letter writing was texting. Phones were still in their infant stages of growth. There was a new kind of noise, and people were feeling just as overwhelmed by it as people today feel by their phones and online presence.
Yellowstone by Thomas Moran, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum
It was around this time that people, such as John Muir and Aldo Leopold, were taking up the cause to save open spaces and to escape from the 'noise' of the modern world. Sounds familiar doesn't it? Many were doing the “Grand Tour” of Yellowstone, among them were Teddy Roosevelt and even Rudyard Kipling. Kipling visited Yellowstone in 1889, he wrote in his journals that he encountered “The Wonderland” one has only read about in books. Art collector, businessman, and founder of the Freer | Sackler Museum, Charles Lang Freer, was among the many Americans who discovered the beauty and peace in the natural wonders of the United States wilderness.

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not. 
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Freer often went hiking with Frederick Stuart Church, an artist, with whom Freer had become great friends. In the 1880s, Freer started building his renowned print collection and he was soon elected chair of the Detroit Club, which had been founded by prominent Detroit citizens to open an art museum. It was through this organization that Freer became friends with several leading American painters including Church, Gari Melchers, Dwight William Tryon, and Charles A. Platt.

Charles Lang Freer in the Catskills, Freer | Sackler Archives

Freer and Church often hiked and camped out throughout the famous Catskills Mountains. The Catskills are a famous refuge for outdoors seekers, hikers, and artists. The area has been made famous through stories and artwork by such illustrious people as Washing Irving and Thomas Cole.

Falls at Catskill by Thomas Cole, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Freer viewed traveling into nature as a means of finding balance in a world overrun by industry and competition. As he wrote to Frank Hecker in 1892, "We spend nearly all of our hours outdoors and like the springs of these mountains we have a feverish desire to keep in constant motion. The springs minister to our refreshment, the air invigorates us…" Through Freer’s receptiveness to the power of wallowing in the natural world, he gained an abiding appreciation of landscape painting. Painter Dwight Tryon was just beginning to get recognized in 1889 when Freer bought his landscape, The Rising Moon: Autumn right off the easel in Tryon's studio.

The Rising Moon: Autumn by Dwight William Tryon,
Freer | Sackler Smithsonian's Museums of Asian Art

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in. ~ John Muir

So it seems even the important personages of the early 20th century were looking for "down time" and "disconnection" from modern communications and noise.  It was a way to not only connect back to the physical world around them, but to reconnect with themselves and one another.  Perhaps we all need this sacred space to reconnect with the inner most chambers of ourselves? 

4c Forest Conservation Single,
National Postal Museum Collection
Teddy Roosevelt ended up being one of great advocates for creating National Parks, he became known at the "conservationist president." Yellowstone, the first National Park was created by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. Roosevelt toured Yosemite with John Muir in 1903 and ushered in the National Monuments Acts Act in 1906, which helped to create many preserves and parks. On August 25th, 1916, The National Park Service, was finally created and is celebrating its 100th anniversary today. We have always needed the land, not just for sustenance, but for the wild places that can replenish our inner selves, so they run over with renewed inspiration for living. Not all wild places need be far away, it can be as simple as taking the time to visit your local park. Looking at the clouds, the trees, observing the dappling light play through the trees, jumping in a lake. Be in the moment, be in a different type of noise. Oliver Sacks may have phrased it best in these modern times, “We seek ... a more intense sense of the here and now, the beauty and value of the world we live in." Choose a day and just wander down your local streets, free of everything, but your moving legs and open ears.

Charles Lang Freer in the Catskills, Freer | Sackler Archives

Only one who wanders finds new paths. ~ Norwegian proverb

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. 
 -  John Lubbock

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone by Thomas Moran, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Lara Amrod, Archivist
Freer | Sackler Archives

Avery, Kevin J. Hudson River School. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Wing, 2004.

Kipling, Rudyard. From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches, Letters of Travel (Cambridge Library Collection - Literary Studies). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Lawton, Thomas and Merrill, Linda. Freer: A Legacy of Art. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, Freer Gallery of Art, 1993.

National Park Service. Theodore Roosevelt and Conservation.

National Park Service. Yellowstone: A History of the First National Park. 2009.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

From the Mountains to the Sea: Vin Hoeman and POBSP

The Division of Birds in the National Museum of Natural History holds an extensive collection of field books that are part of Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 000245, and contain the notes of researchers who worked for the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program (POBSP). A significant portion of my internship has involved finding out more about the people who were involved with POBSP, and creating biographical profiles for these researchers. While many of the researchers who worked on POBSP went on to careers as botanists, entomologists, ornithologists, and zoologists for the Smithsonian and other academic institutions, there were a few that went in other directions. One especially notable example was John Vincent “Vin” Hoeman.

Vin worked with POBSP in 1964 and 1965, but his path to working with birds was somewhat unorthodox. He earned his B.S. from Colorado State University in Forest Management, and later moved to Alaska, where he did graduate work in zoology and worked for the Arctic Health Research Center in Anchorage. Life in the outdoors, especially mountaineering, had been an important part of Vin’s life from an early age, so it is not surprising that he was interested in working on these types of projects. Although he had no formal training in ornithology, his detailed notes for the field books indicate his keen interest in studying birds and other wildlife. Vin worked as a research assistant for POBSP, participating in six at-sea expeditions, as well conducting research on the main Hawaiian islands while not at sea. His main duties involved bird banding, taking blood samples, and general wildlife observation.

An example of bird banding data
Vin’s field notes come across as thoughtful and intelligent, even poetic at times. After his arrival in Hawaii to begin work with POBSP, he writes, “the steady stream of thoughts kept sleep from reaching me.” (SIA RU000245, Series 60, Volume 57) Notes about interactions with fellow crew members frequently included details about family and physical descriptions. He was also in Hawaii at the time of the April 1964 Alaskan earthquake, the second most powerful earthquake in recorded history. The field notes show Vin’s internal monologue, worrying about his friends in Anchorage, and debating the pros and cons of leaving POBSP to help with the recovery efforts:
Tell Pat when I get back, waking him to do so. “Do you think it’s that serious?” he says. I tell him I think the lives of my friends are of importance. He later agrees and would’ve let me go on my own. I’d thought of doing so, of course, but told myself that would be irresponsible. After all I’m unauthorized and probably not needed. Civil defense and the Army will have things under control. What matters that I’m a member of ARG [Alaska Rescue Group]. I’d just be another mouth to feed. If I was any good or a first aid instructor my pupils will save lives.
I hope these were my foremost thoughts rather than the cost of fare I’d have to bear, the possibility of losing my job, the fact that I’d have to buy arctic gear in Seattle before going up; the threat of prolonged discomfort.
(SIA RU000245, Series 60, Volume 57)
Destruction on 4th Avenue in Anchorage after the April 1964 earthquake. On the left, Mac's Foto (mentioned in Vin's notes) is visible as one of the damaged businesses (
 When Vin finally visited Anchorage as he prepared for a POBSP expedition in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands in June of 1964, he saw a city that had been devastated, making note of a “rubble-pile and a terrific fault full of sunken houses.” Despite this (or perhaps because of this), he also tries to find humor in the situation: “Walk up to 4th Ave., and look at the gap where all those bars, Mac’s Photo, Dendi Theater and Hautbrau used to be. Urban renewal I call it – a fine view.” (SIA RU000245, Series 60, Volume 57)

Mountaineering was never far from Vin’s mind, even when he was out at sea. His field notes from March 5, 1965 give some insight into his plans for after his work with POBSP was finished, saying “If I’m going to be a great anything it’ll be [a] mountaineer and mtn. writer I think.” (SIA RU000245, Series 60, Volume 57) Vin did end up returning to Alaska, and became a mountain climber of some renown. Among his many “firsts”, one that stands out is his accomplishment of being the first person to reach the summit of all 50 states. He was also part of the team that became the first to cross the Harding Icefield on the Kenai Peninsula. Sadly, Vin was killed in an avalanche during a climbing expedition on Dhaulagiri, a peak in the Himalayas, in 1969, leaving behind his wife Grace, as well as many family members and friends.

Notes from an at sea expedition
Although he was only with POBSP for a few seasons, Vin evidently thought highly enough of his cohorts to send a letter in 1967, informing everyone of what he had been doing since leaving the program. And Vin certainly had a positive impact on POBSP through the data he collected. I believe that this story points to the importance of “citizen scientists” – that no matter what a person’s academic background or training might be, if someone is passionate about a certain topic, they can make a contribution to the world’s understanding of that topic. It also reminds us that behind the data, there are wonderful human stories to be shared. I hope you have enjoyed learning about Vin’s story.

Conal Huetter, Intern
Field Book ProjectSmithsonian Institution Libraries

To learn more about the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program and its field documentation, check out “Life in the Field: a Reflection on Cataloging Field Notes in the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program”  on the Field Book Project Blog, images on Flickr, and field book records on Smithsonian Collections Search Center.

Sources consulted:
Hoeman, J. Vincent. Field Notes. 1964-1965. Series 60, Volume 57. SIA RU000245, National Museum of Natural History (U.S.) Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program, Records, circa 1961-1973, with data from 1923. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. 15 July 2016.

Gonzales, J. (2014). Project 49: Grace without Vin, a love story without a happy ending. Green and Gold News. Retrieved from

Johnston, D. (1969). John Vincent Hoeman, 1936-1969. American Alpine Journal, 16 (2). Retrieved from

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Artists of the Work

One of the great illustrated books of the Renaissance and landmark in botanical and medical history is De historia stirpium commentarii insignes (Notable commentaries on the history of plants). The herbal was written by Leonhart Fuchs of Germany. In commemoration of his work, the genus Fuchsia was named for the author. The publication is also remarkable for its prominent recognition of those who contributed to its production.

Title page and page 897, De historia stirpium commentarii insignes, Smithsonian Libraries
An unusual tribute to the trio of illustrators occupies the recto of the next to last leaf. Following 924 pages of text and 509 woodcuts of plants in the massive folio are portraits of Albrecht Meyer, Heinrich Füllmaurer and Veit Rudolph Specklin (or Speckle). The heading proclaims “Pictores operis.” That is, “Artists of the work.”

Heinrich Füllmaurer and Albrecht Meyer
Meyer, of Basel, the “delineator,” is shown drawing a corn cockle (Agrostemma githago) in a vase. This artist holds a brush attached to a quill, working in either watercolor or pen and ink, sketching the flowers. Occupying the same table and frame is Füllmaurer, of Herrenberg. In a compression of time, he is transferring Meyer’s original image onto the smooth surface of a woodblock from either parchment or paper.

Veit Rudolph Specklin
Specklin, who lived in Strasbourg, is the “sculptor”, the relief engraver or block cutter (“Formschneider”). Appearing a little rough around the edges, he is in a separate portrait, below in the larger and more prominent position, and simply grasps his cloak. Interesting for our modern sensibilities, this artisan, the carver and not the artist, would have been by far the more highly paid.

Specklin would have carefully cut away with a knife all the wood around Füllmaurer’s drawing of Meyer’s image on the block, the lines left in relief. This raised surface would have been carefully inked with a dabber, then a damp piece of paper placed over the surface, before passing through the printing press. It was painstaking work for all involved.

De historia stirpium was printed in Basel at the press of Michael Isingrin, in 1542. The botanical illustrations were created from direct observation, not, as in earlier herbals, based on a long tradition of manuscript images, sometimes far removed from an accurate portrayal. The preface declares the drawings were made from life because “a picture expresses things more surely and fixes them more deeply in the mind than the bare words of text.”

Fuchs at age 41.
The title page verso from the hand-colored copy in the Wellcome Library, London.

The author appears at the beginning of the book, in a full-page portrait on the verso of the title page. Fuchs, dressed in doctor’s robes of a rich brocade and fur collar (perhaps a play on Fuchs’ name, German for fox), is seen as both a scholar with his university hat and an observer with his keen look. He holds germander speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys; also known as birds’ eyes or angels’ eyes). While Fuchs generously acknowledges his skilled craftsman, he was in control of the book. He wrote at the beginning that the artists were not allowed to indulge their whims. The author would have paid their fees, not the publisher. He states in the preface that he did not want shading in the woodcuts of the plants, preferring to emphasize clarity with the fine lines of the woodcuts. Although some copies were hand-colored according to the directions of Isingrin, many, if not the majority, of extant volumes of the herbal are uncolored, not obscuring any botanical details of their portrayals.

The Smithsonian Libraries has an uncolored first edition of De historia stirpium, donated by Bern Dibner. It is one of the Dibner Library’s Heralds of science, where is noted that this “celebrated herbal” contains the “first vocabulary of botanical terms.” This copy has been digitized by the Biodiversity Heritage Library (link here and source of all the uncolored illustrations in this post). The portraits of the artists, whose work contributed so much to the success and beauty of the folio, appear opposite page number 896.

Julia Blakely, Special Collectors Cataloger
Smithsonian Libraries 


The woodcuts are of approximately 400 plants grown in Germany and 100 foreign, five from the New World, including corn (pictured above). This is the first illustration of maize in a printed book although there were earlier written descriptions. Fuchs believed the source of the plant was "Turcicum Frumentum."

Below left is foxglove. Fuchs assigned the name Digitalis purpurea to this medicinal plant because the flower could be fitted over a finger (digit). Its common German name is “fingerhut” (finger hat). Below center, The great Arts and Crafts Movement figure, William Morris, owned a copy of De historia stirpium. It has been said that some of his textile designs were inspired by the herbal such as the feathery leaves of Seseli (center). Below right is the mandrake. The accurate representations of specimens and identifications in both Latin and German were meant as a ready reference tool for medical students, apothecaries and doctors.

French botanist Charles Plumier (1646-1704) was the first to describe Fuchsia, and he named it after his German predecessor, Leonhart Fuchs. Photograph Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian.

Much of the information for this blog post stemmed from a Rare Book School class I recently attended, The Illustrated Scientific Book to 1800, taught by British antiquarian dealer and scholar, Roger Gaskell, assisted by Folger Library curator, Caroline Duroselle-Melish. A primary focus was learning how to describe and analyze images in order to interpret a publication. I was assigned to present a short talk on Fuchs' herbal, preserved in one of my places of work, the Dibner Library. The course was held at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, with one whole day devoted for visits to the Smithsonian Libraries, hosted by Leslie Overstreet, curator of the Cullman Library, and Lilla Vekerdy, Head of the Special Collections Department. Both librarians are pictured above, presenting a selection from their holdings to the Rare Book School students. Photographs by Roger Gaskell.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

SELGEM: Designing IT applications in the 1970s

This is the last of a three-part-series on SELGEM, a pioneering computer systems used to manage museum collections in the United States. Read the first part here; and the second part here

You might think that total confusion would reign if specifying requirements and assigning data Category Numbers was not strictly controlled by “the system.”  However, the end users cared deeply about information accuracy and the quality of final products, such as specimen labels, catalog cards and resulting publications.  The staff were highly motivated to following the data standards and produce high quality products.  Museum staffs were generally acquainted with structured data because of their traditional work cataloging museum specimens and object, and in research data analysis.
A standard data capture form of the Botany Type Register Project. Page 13, from:  Shetler, Stanwyn G., Mary Jane Petrini, Constance Graham Carley, M. J. Harvey, Larry E. Morse, Thomas Kopfler, and collaborators.  1973.  An Introduction to the Botanical Type Specimen Register.  Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 12. Smithsonian Institution Archives. 
The design of a new SELGEM application in the early 70’s was simpler than design of a new information system in 2016.  There were three reasons for this:  Smithsonian operated a single Honeywell mainframe computer; possessed a single general purpose software “database” tool; and there were only two or three data entry procedures available.  In addition some experience acquired in one application, such as cataloging mammal specimens, could be applied directly to another application, say cataloging mollusk specimens.  While every discipline has some unique data elements, there were recurring groups of data elements for taxonomic information, geographic information, collectors, etc. that you could build on.  Best practices learned designing the earliest SELGEM applications were applied to the design of succeeding applications.

Stanley A. Kovy Director of Information Systems Division (ISD)
and early supporter of the SELGEM system.  Standing at the 
computer console of the upgraded Honeywell 2015, Nov. 1971.
Smithsonian Institution Archives. 71-2785-12. 
For a first time application, usually the system owner or sponsor would assemble sample input records, data sheets, current output products and samples of desired outputs.  The staff member would discuss the proposed SELGEM application with an experienced SELGEM person, “the expert.”  Current workflows were reviewed for possible changes and improvements.  Often there was a very specific output desired.  From these discussions they would begin to prepare a data dictionary, define data standards, and rules for data entry; and SELGEM Category Numbers would be assigned.  They would consider immediate objectives and future objectives; as well as possible improvements and changes to the workflow in the future.

While Category Numbers could be assigned sequentially without any gaps (001, 002, 003, 004, etc.) there was no technical reason to do that.  Theoretically, at least, you had 999 Category Numbers to select from.  It was generally believed that a more flexible design was achieved by providing gaps when assigning Category Numbers.

For the scientific name you might have this data structure:
071 genus
073 subgenus
075 species
077 subspecies
This format was frequently adopted even when the systems owner had no intention of entering data for subgenus or subspecies.  So the documented design might look like this:
071 genus
075 species
This design met the immediate requirements, and provided a flexible logical data structure for the future, with subgenus and subspecies not even defined.

For truly new applications without any precedent, such as an archives catalog, a prototype file of a few records could be created within a day or two.  This “prototype file” could be used for what we now call “proof of concept.”  It could be reviewed by other staff members for comment and approval.  The file could be used to create sample reports, or evaluate how to best structure particular data elements for the most flexible data processing.

Or a proposed application, such as an index of reprint publications, might be very similar to previous applications.  Once you have created several bibliographic applications and produced reports for several years, you understand the basic structure and processing requirements of this type of application.
Deborah Bennett and Tim Coffer, museum technicians, sort trays of shells for the mollusk inventory in the National Museum of Natural History's Division of Mollusks.  SELGEM was used to support the inventory and in preparation for the collection move to the Museum Support Center in Suitland, MD. Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA2009-3232. 
Initially the SELGEM technical knowledge was in the hands of the pioneers, but as the knowledge of the SELGEM system was acquired by an increasing number of museum staff members, new applications could be quickly designed to meet new requests.  SELGEM processed all the information for the “great count,” the Smithsonian collections inventory program (1979-1983). SELGEM was a truly powerful information processing system in its day.

David Bridge, Volunteer
Smithsonian Institution Archives

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

SELGEM: The Logical Structure

This is the second of a three-part-series on SELGEM, a pioneering computer system used to manage museum collections in the United States. Read the first post here.

A SELGEM (an acronym for: SELf GEnerating Master) computer record was what we all define as a typical record, all the information about: one object, one specimen, one work of art, one publication, or, one person, etc. It included all the related fields or data elements. The SELGEM logical record was composed of one or more physical records. A logical record was all the “physical records” with identical Serial Numbers.

Because SELGEM was a general purpose data management system it was used for a wide range of applications at the Smithsonian Institution. Computer applications (using SELGEM) in the 1970s included: museum objects from National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), National Museum of American History (NMAH), National Air and Space Museum (NASM), art museums, the Smithsonian Institution Archives, Volcanoes of the World, bibliographic applications, systematic checklists, type-specimen catalogs, Catalog of American Portraits, National Portrait Gallery (NPG), Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture, and a list of threatened and endangered plants in the United States. Many of these pioneer applications continue today, having evolved into modern databases and web-based applications.

SELGEM master file, directory record
Ayensu, Edward S. and Robert A. DeFilipps. 1978.  Endangered and threatened plants of the United States.  xv, 403 pages.  Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. 
Typically a SELGEM logical record was composed of from about 5 to 50 physical records (individual lines); maybe an occasional application included as many as a hundred. The Category Numbers could be any number between “001” and “999”. Each Category Number represented a data element. The first Category Number for a logical record was not required to begin with “001” and application owners generally provided gaps when assigning Category Numbers to create a more flexible design. However a Master List of records displayed Category Numbers, and the associated data, in numerical sequence.

The first line of a category always began with Line Number “01”. If the amount of data exceeded 64 characters, then continuation lines were created, and numbered sequentially “02”, “03”, etc. The theoretical maximum amount of data for one data element (or Category) was 99 lines x 64 characters or a maximum of 6,336 characters.
Sample SELGEM record, page III
Creighton, Reginald A., Penelope Packard, and Holley Linn.  1971.  SELGEM Retrieval:  a general description.  Smithsonian Institution Procedures in Computer Sciences, 1(1):(6 pages) + 1-38.Dated July 1972.
The theoretical maximum amount of data for one logical record was: 999 Category Numbers x 6,336 characters, for a total of 6,329,664 (or 6.3 megabytes). No application reached this size, let alone an individual record. In addition, individual SELGEM computer programs also had memory limits; which also limited the maximum size of a record that could be processed. Remember, even mainframe computers had some limitations.

Some advantages of this design:
  • Easy to add new data elements to any SELGEM record by creating new catalog numbers (Either due to lack of planning or the development of data elements, such as DNA information.)
  • Empty, missing, or blank data elements were not stored in the SELGEM record
  • Flexibility to respond to changing and evolving user requirements
  • The data structure was under the control and responsibility of the end user and less restricted by the application, and
  • With limited technical support staff, a general purpose system supported more applications across the organization than if custom-design systems were developed for each application.
A sample page of a master list showing six logical records
Wilson, Don E., Beth Ann Sabo, and Gregory Blair.  1987.  Automated Data Processing Procedures at the U.S. National Museum of Natural History, pages 111-119.  In:  Genoways, Hugh H., Clyde Jones, and Olga L. Rossolimo (editors).  Mammal Collection Management.  Texas Tech University Press
All the stored data was character data; there was no ability to store binary data, special numerical data types, image data, memo fields, currency or “date formatted” information, as are typically supported in many current database programs. Most application owners in NMNH maintained a detailed data standards document external to SELGEM; defining the data definition, data format, controlled vocabulary lists, and rules for recording the data, etc.

David Bridge, Volunteer