Currently viewing the tag: "Department Records"

Today we worked with a collection of records from the Department of Invertebrate Zoology, primarily consisting of correspondence about specimens between AMNH scientists and their colleagues at other institutions. Though the bulk of the collection was from the 1960s – 1980s, we did come across a set of original drawings from 1939 done by George H. Childs, who was a scientific artist for the Museum at the time. According to his biographical file in the AMNH Research Library, Childs created many diagrammatic displays for Museum exhibitions, including those found in the Hall of North American Forests. The drawings in this collection, which are sketches for a proposed exhibition, came with a long letter that Childs wrote from his trip to Santa Catalina, where he was doing research for a possible exhibition on kelp gardens in the water near the island. His letter extensively details the types of species he found on his research trip. It also makes note of the then recent news that World War II has begun, with Childs stating that he feels concerned and distracted by the news.

The drawings appear to have been done using colored pencil and are in very good condition. Below, you can see Childs’ idea of how a diorama of the Santa Catalina Kelp Gardens at the AMNH would appear from the exhibition hall.

View from outside exhibition

Looking at the below drawing, you can see that his vision for the exhibition involved a walk-through, immersive, experience – much like being underwater.

View from inside exhibition

In the below drawing you can see the idea for what would have been the floor plan.

Floor plan of exhibition. You can see the path visitors would walk through.

From what we can tell, this exhibition never came to fruition, but it was fascinating to learn about how the research and conceptualizing process works.

Among the materials we cataloged today was a collection of accession records from the 1930s through the 1950s for materials used in AMNH exhibitions such as the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial and on the polar expeditions of Amundsen-Ellsworth and Admiral Richard E. Byrd. The most interesting part of these materials were the inventory lists of Admiral Byrd’s Antarctic expedition equipment. Should you find yourself in need of a reference for what to bring on a trip to Antarctica, I think we might be able to help you.

Sample expedition exhibition inventory list.

Also, it appears that Admiral Byrd’s footwear of choice was made by Thom McAn.

Advertisement for Thom McAn shoes.

Something else we learned today is that the Museum once had a Department of Geography. This department was quite short-lived, starting in 1934 and ending in 1938. According to the documents in the collection we worked with, once the department was closed, its Geographical Exploration collection’s materials were transferred to the Custodial department for storage.

Internal memo about Dept. of Geography's demise and subsequent material transfer.

There are extensive inventory lists from the Dept. of Geography for all items kept by the Museum from various expeditions, such as ones done by Lincoln Ellsworth, Admiral Byrd, and E.O. Hovey. There was also a ledger of geographical collections accession records from the department, which included details about photographs and other materials from expeditions that were once kept by this department.

Page from accession records ledger.

There were plenty of things to explore in this collection. However, one thing that remains a mystery to us is the more recent provenance of these records. They were found in a box with unrelated records from the Office of Public Affairs and seem to have come from the Department of Preparation and Installation. Perhaps they were just misplaced at one time. Hopefully, the data we have gathered will help to place them closer where they belong in the future.

As we continue to work through department records, we often stumble upon some interesting materials that have somehow ended up placed in a box with unrelated materials. Today, while cataloging some records from the AMNH VP’s office from the 1970s, we discovered a folder containing scripts for motion picture title cards from the early 1920s. These scripts contain scene descriptions, also known as title cards, to be inserted into silent films as text between images. You can see an example here on a negative that was found in this folder along with the papers:

Example of a title card on film

One conservation issue to consider is that this negative is showing signs of yellowing. It could possibly be nitrate film, so our next steps are to consult with the conservator to see if it needs to be removed and properly stored.

For some of these documents, it was not evident what the direct relationship was between the film and the museum, though the subject matter mostly covered New York City history and science. One could speculate that, perhaps, the museum contributed descriptions for the films or the film itself. However, one very interesting item in the folder was a document listing title cards for a film of the AMNH’s Crocker Land Expedition titled “Life in the Frozen North.”

As indicated by the initials in the upper right corner, the document contains notations made by Edmund Otis Hovey, the leader of the relief expedition sent to rescue the stranded explorers. His notations provide numbering, spelling corrections, and additional titles. The information found here could be a valuable reference to someone working with the Crocker Land photographic collection.

Unfortunately, it is unclear whether this film on the Crocker Land Expedition exists today. However, it is likely that many of the images from the expedition can be found in the AMNH Library Special Collections.


We worked on several interesting subjects today, such as Hayden Planetarium financial papers and reports related to its development and construction and a collection of materials from the AMNH Department of Education’s Natural Science Center educational exhibits and programs for young people.

Since opening in 1954, the Natural Science Center has provided the opportunity for budding naturalists to learn about plants, animals, and rocks that are native to New York City through exhibitions and educational programs. The collection we worked with today contained scrapbooks of articles and photographs that showed how the children gained new and exciting experiences at the Center. The participating children watched, touched, sensed, and smelled the objects or living animals that were provided by the Center, exploring a unique unknown world.

There is no greater experience comparable to these sorts of programs; they offer unforgettable and intriguing memories, and they would have definitely triggered their further intellectual curiosities. It is one of the ways that the educational programs are supposed to be.

Hey my baby opossum, calm down...

Treating baby owls well

The box contained some negatives and mounted photographs randomly. We will leave them as they are; however, they will need some preservation in near future.



On our first day in the AMNH Archives, we got acquainted with the collections, primarily focusing on departmental records.

We worked on a variety of material types ranging from the early to mid-20th century. It was a great place to start the project and to know the history of AMNH at a glance, it included administrative reports, historical analysis of charters, constitution and law, report of history of Museum founding, donation and consultant reports on the future and funding of the Hayden Planetarium.

We also worked with a collection of manuscripts that consisted of translations of newspaper and scholarly articles about snails, oysters, pearls, and shells. These translations were done between 1938-39 for the Works Progress Administration Translation Project. The original articles were obtained from the New York Public Library and were written in various languages, including English, French and German. Some of the handwritten papers in this collection have become brittle, but most of the typescript pages, which make up the bulk of the collection, are in good condition.

We encountered some subjects that we were not very familiar with; therefore, doing research about the topics that we worked on the papers today will definitely help our work for the next time!


Today marks the end of my journey with the Hayden Planetarium Interplanetary Reservations collection. It has been a long and tedious journey but the mission has been accomplished successfully. Although I cannot guarantee that humans will ever navigate via spacecraft from planet to planet, I can guarantee that if you wrote a letter to the Hayden Planetarium between the years of 1950-1953, and it was subsequently kept on file, then you can find your letter in this collection. I can also say that these letters are ready to be shipped to any company seeking passengers for space travel in the future. Although the passengers may be a bit old, or even deceased, this company will have a pool of hundreds of avid space travelers to choose from. It has been a joy arranging and describing the letters in this collection. I must admit that that I spent many hours just reading the letters from individuals all over the world longing for an opportunity to suit up and blast off to their favorite planet. The letters also brought me back in time a bit. Being 24 years old I kind of missed out on the whole Space Race of the Fifties and Sixties, and the excitement and paranoia that went along with it. So it was both cool and educational to read an elder generations thoughts and emotions. It was really interesting to read about the passion and enthusiasm, and at times pessimism, that Americans and all earthlings had for astronomy and “all-things space”. I implore anyone who has not read any of these letters to visit the Flickr site at and read some of the more interesting ones.

This particular individual was so excited for an opportunity to travel into space that he wanted the entire selection process to be skewed in a way that put him at the top.


We finished up the last big push of our attempt creating collections for the Hayden Planetarium materials today. While we still have to physically organize quite a few items we were able to organize a great deal of it, particularly our media collections.

Of all the things we’ve done so far with the Hayden Planetarium collection we think this has been our most important effort: making the archives look pretty and searchable again! It was certainly a very cathartic (and at times, frustrating) effort for us to untangle the mishmash of boxes up here.

There are still miles to go before we sleep in terms of completing our efforts on the collection but we think we’ve earned the right to pat ourselves on the back right now, and to sit back and enjoy the view of a finally organized shelf.

For several weeks now I have been working on a unique collection of letters in relation to the Hayden Planetarium. I find the collection to be truly fascinating and have enjoyed arranging it. The letters are truly genuine and are often times hilarious and, in some cases, perhaps too honest. There was one letter I discovered from an individual who was fascinated with dinosaurs. In her letter she expressed her wish to travel to Venus because, according to her, it was a known fact that dinosaurs did indeed live on Venus.

In an attempt to publicize their exhibit “Conquest of Space”, the Hayden Planetarium set up what they called the “interplanetary-tour reservations desk”. This offices primary function was to draw patrons in by advertising the idea of future space travel. The late 1940s and early 1950s showcased major breakthroughs in astronomical technology and space exploration was on the minds of individuals across the globe, especially in the United States. Through advertisement in major magazines and publications in the U.S. and overseas, the Planetarium was able to generate an incredible amount of publicity for their exhibit. Potential space travelers flooded the Hayden’s inbox with letters requesting reservations for themselves, their friends, their unborn children, and even their dogs. To this date the museum has not let the public down, even if the promise of future space travel was a bit premature in 1950. Perhaps in the future, the several hundred individuals who wrote letters to the museum all those years ago will finally get their chance to travel to a distant planet.

Those wishing to view some of the letters can see them online at the following sites:
Beyond Planet Earth (AMNH Exhibition)
Letters on Flickr

Easily one of the best moments so far in this project has been looking up from the work we’re doing and seeing how much we’ve already accomplished. So far, we’ve been able to develop collections for all the paper items in the Hayden Planetarium Collection. When we look at one of our previous disorganized rows of boxes we find that – wow! – it doesn’t look so disorganized any more.

While today was spent mostly correcting any errors we thought we had made in the spreadsheet and on the shelves, we did make a discovery elsewhere that’s pertinent to our collection and to our childhoods. As you may know, Titanic is being re-released this week. As you may not know, James Cameron was convinced he had to alter the night sky in one of the final scenes of the film by AMNH’s very own Neil deGrasse Tyson. Watch Tyson discuss this below.

Today we uncovered thirteen boxes full of photographs of various astronomical events and equipment. There were pictures of telescopes, observatories, and antennas – oh my! There were pictures of space shuttle missions, star maps, nebulae, galaxies, and all the beautiful things we associate with outer space. Perhaps most interesting were the reprints of pictures of nebulae and galaxies taken in the late 1800s. These black and white photos show us the arrangement of the cosmos as it was then, and it’s pretty much how it appears to us now. A century is a but a drop in the bucket to the universe after all.

We had something of a hard time figuring out how to catalog and describe these photographs, which ended up being separated into two distinct collections. This was decided by the simple fact that on their boxes they were labeled as coming from either File Cabinet 1 or 2. All the same, we were baffled by the diverse array of topics in the boxes and ultimately had to describe them as falling under the broad category of “astronomical events and objects.” A note to people filing photographs in the past (and present!): narrow down the topics in your file cabinets please! For the sake of the interns!