Baird Society Resident Scholar Program: Collections

The Smithsonian Libraries’ Baird Society Resident Scholar Program allows researchers to explore the Libraries’ resources in depth, while taking advantage of the proximity of museum collections to provide contextual richness. The combined holdings of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, exceeding 1.5 million volumes, contain much of the secondary literature that places these source materials in a broader context. Research proposals that make use of the following Special Collections are eligible for funding through the Baird Society Resident Scholar Program:

Natural History Rare Books
The Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History contains the Libraries' rare books in the natural sciences. Located in Washington, DC in the National Museum of Natural History, the collection includes approximately 10,000 works published prior to the mid-1800s in the early history of anthropology, botany, vertebrate and invertebrate zoology, paleontology, geology, and mineralogy, as well as works on the early history of museums and scientific collecting. These works are an in invaluable resource for scientists researching taxonomy and systematics. The collection originated with James Smithson's own library, which contains an often inscribed and annotated mix of gentleman's reading and works on chemistry and mineralogy, at the Institution's founding. Publications from voyages of exploration from the 16th through the 19th centuries constitute a major strength of the collection, complementing the Institution's involvement in scientific expeditions since its inception in 1846.

Trade Literature
The distinguished collection of some 285,000 pieces of commercial trade literature in the National Museum of American History Library represent an estimated 30,000 companies, with most items dating from 1875 to the mid-twentieth century. Trade catalogs (the term derived from the expression, “to the trade”) are materials produced initially for wholesalers, retailers, and salesmen and ultimately, for consumers. Illustrated catalogs became an accepted way of publicizing industrial goods by the late nineteenth century, from plumbing fixtures and agricultural machinery and sophisticated precision machine tools to wall-coverings and tableware and sewing machines for the home. Researchers rely on illustrations in trade literature to identify museum artifacts and trace the history of products. The collection is used for economic, business, and labor history, by social and cultural historians, and by lawyers, restorers of old houses, and designers of period gardens.

World’s Fairs and Expositions
The collection of world’s fair and exposition material (some 1,700 titles) representing expositions held between the mid-nineteenth century and 1916 demonstrates the extent of the Smithsonian Institution’s role in many of the international fairs held in the period. Most of those titles were microfilmed in 1990 in an effort to preserve the fragile materials, so use of the microfilm, held in the National Museum of American History Library, is encouraged whenever possible. A list of this collection was published by the Libraries in The Books of the Fairs: Materials About World’s Fairs, 1834-1916, in the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Additional materials from later fairs were subsequently donated to the Libraries by the estates of Larry Zim and Edward J. Orth. The world’s fair material is held primarily in the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Library, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library.

Air and Space History
The DeWitt Clinton Ramsey Room was established in the mid-1970’s in memory of the early aviator Admiral DeWitt Clinton Ramsey. The National Air and Space Museum Library’s special collections include rare books and other scarce materials, such as sound recordings, early aviation related serials, and the Bella Landauer Collection of sheet music. Largely donated by William A. Burden, additions came from the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences. This collection has many writings by Samuel Pierpont Langley, third secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and includes other early literature on aviation, fanciful works on aerospace, first edition monographs, 18th and 19th century books and scrapbooks on ballooning, and 19th and 20th century works on aeronautics and space exploration. 

Decorative Arts, Architecture and Design Rare Books
The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Library’s rare books and special collections contain our premier collections of European and American decorative arts, architecture, and design (eighteenth to twentieth centuries); juvenile literature; and landscape design (dating from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries). The works of Palladio, Piranesi, and other famous architects compliment extensive holdings of nineteenth and twentieth century decorative arts, landscape design, and architecture.

Rare Materials on American and European Art and Artists
The Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library holds rare books, exhibition catalogues, catalogues raisonnés, periodicals, and dissertations that concentrate on American art, history, and biography, with supporting materials on European art. The Art and Artist Files in the library are particularly rich, and include ephemeral materials (uncataloged exhibition catalogues, newspaper and magazine clippings, exhibition announcements and illustrations, etc.) on American and European art, artists, art institutions, collectors, and special subjects.

If you have further questions about the Baird Society Resident Scholar Program or the suitability of your proposal, email SILResidentScholars@si.edu, or call 202-633-3872. Follow the links above to contact the individual branches if you have specific questions about their holdings.