The (Not-So) Elusive Whaleman

Okay, to start: make sure you have read this post. If you want more background information, take a moment to read this one.

And now back to this week. In addition to some of the other fantastic things that happened to me this week (thanks to the Smithsonian Institution Archives,) one VERY EXCITING discovery was made in my research. It’s been hard to hold this back for so long (I wanted to post it here right away) but…


Okay, so if you want to speak technically, I wasn’t the one who found him. I took the results of the previous week and contacted the Reference Request Team at the Smithsonian Archives, eager to hear back about the contents of Records Unit 95. However, being the impatient person that I am, I decided to do a little digging on their website, where I was introduced to the email of an assistant archivist. I quickly sent her the information I had compiled.

About an hour later, the archivist responded: unfortunately, the elusive whaleman was not in any of the series of RU95. But, she had an idea: she was going to pursue a different route in the National Anthropological Archives, and let me know ASAP.

A couple hours later, in the midst of afternoon classes, I received a series of emails. It appears that the records were located in the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History. She sent me the finding aid of the U.S. Fish Commission collection, and highlighted the most likely boxes and file folders for its location.

This email had then been forwarded to an archivist of the collections at the National Museum of American History, who had taken the time to search the Bulletin #27 collection and found the whaleman – box 8, folder 1, 2nd to the last photo. Attached to the email was a low-res scan of the photo itself! (I’m not sure what the restrictions or licenses are involved with the photo, so to stay on the safe side, I won’t share it on my blog for now.)

Let me tell you – it was difficult to sit through the rest of class, and I had to keep myself from running out and going to share this with everyone. So I waited the remaining few minutes and contacted just about everyone who knew about the search with my results. Naturally, none were as excited as my supervisors and I. Finding this photo was amazing for the presentation – not only because we were looking for it for so long, but because it blew away our expectations as well. The cyanotype shows the Kanaka whaleman standing in front of a building, dressed in a suit. He’s quite a dapper gentleman.

It feels great to have found this picture – I know that I’ve said that part of research is not finding things, but another part of it is ACTUALLY FINDING THINGS. And even better, actually finding things often leads to more questions than answers. In this case: where is the whaleman standing? Can we find out who he is? Did Smilie have anything to say about it? What about the other photographs in the collection – what can these photos tell us? WHAT MORE IS THERE? (Obviously, this is all a little overwhelming at first, so that’s probably why I delayed writing this article.)

My plan for the next week or so is to continue on this lead – find a few more photos, find some more information, and continue taking in this achievement. It’s also spring break – and to make this story more interesting, I’m actually on my way to Washington D.C.

While I was unable to book an appointment at the in the archives at the NMAH, I was able to squeeze in an appointment to see the whaleman’s picture in person. So while this is slightly disappointing, it’s still fantastic. Here’s to the next part of my research story of the semester!

Thank you to everyone involved in the search, and I’m extremely excited to know I will be seeing the whaleman in person this Tuesday!

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