AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXIV, No. 1 Spring 2002

 

Carnegie Institution of Washington Completes Archives Survey
by Shaun Hardy and John Strom, CIW

E. Kidson and H.F. Johnston on board a magnetic survey vessel
E. Kidson and H. F. Johnston making atmospheric electricity observations on board the magnetic survey vessel Carnegie, spring 1911. Photo courtesy of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution of Washington. Click on photo to see a larger version.

The Carnegie Institution of Washington (CIW), one of the first privately-funded scientific research organizations in the United States, is marking its 100th anniversary this year. As part of its centennial celebration, CIW contracted with History Associates, Inc. (HAI), an archival consulting and records management services firm based in Rockville, MD, to conduct Carnegie's first Institution-wide survey of archival records and practices. In spite of a wealth of historically-valuable material preserved at its facilities, CIW has until now lacked a systematic approach to archival preservation, control, and access.

HAI archivists conducted site visits to each of CIW's research centers and met with key scientific and administrative personnel. In reporting its findings to an inter-departmental archives task force, HAI cited the "rich and unique resources documenting the history of science in the 20th century" held by the Institution. The detailed recommendations and cost/time estimates in the HAI report have served as a blueprint for establishing a formal archives program.

CIW currently operates five research departments around the country, conducting advanced studies in the physical and biological sciences. History Associates recommended that most of the effort of the archives project target records generated by the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) and the Geophysical Laboratory in Washington, DC, and the Carnegie Observatories, based in Pasadena, CA. The Department of Embryology and the Department of Plant Biology have fewer archival materials, requiring less processing.

R.C. Meyer with 2-meter Van de Graaff generator, 1936
R. C. Meyer with 2-meter Van de Graaff generator at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, April 16, 1936. Photo courtesy of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution of Washington. Click on photo to see a larger version.

Record types are diverse, including administrative and professional correspondence files, field and laboratory notebooks, logs of research vessels, instrument specifications, observatory plans, and numerous series of geophysical, meteorological, and astronomical observations. Substantial collections of Carnegie-related material also reside in other repositories, such as the papers of Vannevar Bush and Merle Tuve at the Library of Congress, and the George Ellery Hale papers and Mt. Wilson Observatory collection at the Huntington Library in California. [See, for example, R. S. Brashear (p. 231) in The Earth, the Heavens and the Carnegie Institution of Washington, G. A. Good, ed., American Geophysical Union, Washington, DC, 1994.]

CIW is currently in the process of formulating an archives mission statement and collection policies. A guide to the administrative records at CIW headquarters, compiled by John Strom, has been placed online (www.carnegieinstitution.org/archives.pdf). The Observatories have started rehousing their historic astronomical plate collection in acid-free enclosures. DTM and the Geophysical Laboratory have begun planning a new storage facility for their 1000+ feet of archival records and 37,000-image photo collections. Over the next year, the Institution will seek to identify funding to enable full implementation of the work plans outlined in the HAI report, including hiring of a project archivist to coordinate processing activities at the various sites and the development of finding aids and resource databases. For more information, contact Shaun J. Hardy, DTM-Geophysical Laboratory Library, 5241 Broad Branch Road, N.W., Washington, DC 20015, hardy@dtm.ciw.edu, or John Strom, Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1530 P Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20005, jstrom@pst.ciw.edu.


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