Exploring Africa with Dr. Hatt

In the summer of 1961, Dr. Robert Hatt, Director of Cranbrook Institute of Science (CIS) from 1935 to 1967, took a field trip to Africa to study small mammals in South Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Using his travel journals, photographs, and his published articles, we can follow his field work, analysis, and conclusions quite closely.

On his trip he kept one scientific journal and one for general observations from region to region, which provides a rich source for social, political, geographical, and anthropological insights into the region’s society.

Dr. Hatt and his wife, Sue, set off for Africa on July 1, 1961, traveling from New York to Dakar then through Ghana, Nigeria, and the Congo, arriving at the Atlantica Ecological Research Station (AERS) in Salisbury, (now Harare, Zimbabwe) on July 21st.

CISB5117b
Dr. Robert Hatt and his wife, Suzannah at the Atlantica Ecological Research Station in South Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. August 1961. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Upon arriving at Salisbury airport, they were met by Rudyerd and Louise Boulton. Rudyerd, an American ornithologist and the Director of AERS, had invited Hatt to undertake the study with financial support from the New York Zoological Society. Hatt began his field study journal at this point, writing,

“The house is charming, stone walled, 1 storey, good garden beyond. The lab building attached still under construction but RB had my desk set up and equipped—a dozen volumes on mammals in a book shelf, ready to work. RB & I went out with my collector, Kenny, and made an incomplete circuit of the property, setting 15 Sherman traps out near stream.”

Journal #44, Africa. Robert T. Hatt Papers (1999-14)
Atlantica Ecological Research Station, South Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). July 1961. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

It is fascinating to see his research data in its raw form, which can be compared with his account in the CIS newsletter and a more formal and scientifically dense report in a published journal, later reproduced in Zoologica.

Hatt studied the small mammal population of Zimbabwe from July 21 until the beginning of September, similar to the research he conducted in Michigan and other regions (his doctoral dissertation was on a type of red squirrel). In Zimbabwe, he contributed to an understanding of the local fauna, which presents a nuisance to agriculture and animal husbandry.

With assistance from his wife, he captured mice, rats, shrews, and elephant shrews which were measured, weighed, and marked in the ears with a serial number to recognize them if recaptured. In the first three weeks of field work, they had marked and released over 150 animals with 65 recaptures, some recaptured 3 or 4 times.

Journal #44, Africa. Robert T. Hatt Papers (1999-14). Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

Hatt variously notes these small mammals as generally uncooperative with the study, and remarks,

“This matter of ear marking is not to the animal’s liking and despite my use of rubber gloves and plastic handling boxes, rare is the morning in which I am not given some identifying perforation of my own by their sharp teeth.”

Cranbrook Institute of Science Newsletter, Vol. 31, No. 2, October 1961, p.13
Dr. Robert T. Hatt and his assistant, Kenny, handling mice. August 1961. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Hatt describes the landscape of the 150-acre Station as a combination of grassland and Brachystegia woodland, noting the prevalence of “picturesque kopjes” which provided good lookout sites and defensive structures for Bushmen and Bantu prior to the British colonial settlement of Salisbury in 1890. Most interesting are the “Bushmen paintings” that evidence early occupation of the area. One location, Somerby Farm, is recorded both photographically and in his manuscripts. This group of paintings indicates the presence of elephants, hippopotamus, buffalo, hartebeest, kudu, and reedbuck.

Somerby Farm Cave Paintings, South Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). August 1961. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

The Hatts left Salisbury on September 4th, heading first to Arusha, Tanzania; then to Nairobi, Kenya; Uganda; Khartoum, Sudan; and finally to London.

Hatt’s small journal includes his observations along the way and his comments include the cockroaches in their first hotel bathroom, types of trees, cocoa tree disease, termites, religious missions, types of goats, museums, meetings, markets (and what was for sale in them), local people, anthropological marks of beauty, and signs on shops and wagons. The latter include “Aim High,” “Do Good,” “Still it makes me laugh,” “Give all to God,” and “Forget me Not.”

One comment on his journey from the Ivory Coast to Accra made me smile, as I could relate to the experience of plane food:

“Our plane, DC-3, was “First Class” and we were obliged to pay $50 extra for upgrading our ticket (Nigerian Airways). All we got for it was one whiskey and a sandwich which I wouldn’t eat.”

Journal #43, Africa. Robert T. Hatt Papers (1999-14)
Kiva Volcano and Travelers’ Rest in Kisora, Uganda. September 1961. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

Often archives hold information on individuals, institutions, and society that were not the original purpose of the document, and this is true with Hatt’s Papers. His field journals yield rich information not only on his process of data collection and analysis, but they also provide a lot of description of human geography and regions that he visited, as well as biographical insights into Hatt himself. The CIS collections are a wonderful resource for many avenues of study, and we would welcome researchers to come and explore these wonderful and valuable resources.

Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Editor’s Note: This Sunday, join the Center for a fascinating discussion with Elizabeth Rauh, Assistant Professor, Modern Art and Visual Cultures, American University in Cairo for her talk, “Iraq en Route: A Photographic Journey, 1952-1953.” Rauh has conducted a year-long study into the photographs Dr. Hatt took on his 1952 trip to Iraq, and her presentation will weave together Hatt’s images with the history of both ancient and mid-twentieth century Iraq.

References

Hatt, Robert Torrens. The Mammals of the Atlantica Ecological Research Station, Southern Rhodesia, reprinted in Zoologica, Scientific Contributions of the New York Zoological Society, vol.48, issue 2, Summer 1963

Hatt, Robert Torrens. ‘Hunting Africa’s Smallest Game,’ Cranbrook Institute of Science Newsletter, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp.10-14

Celebrating Women in Science: Marcelle Roigneau Hatt

Over the years the Kitchen Sink has remembered the stories of Cranbrook Institute of Science Director, Dr. Robert Torrens Hatt. But did you know that his wife of 22 years, Marcelle Roigneau Hatt, was also a respected scientist and exhibition curator?

Marcelle Roigneau Hatt by the “big bomb”, Mexico, ca 1947. Photograph by Robert T. Hatt. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Marcelle was born on October 19th, 1898, in Bordeaux, France, to Hubert and Francine Chetot Roigneau. After moving to America, she took courses at Columbia University in vertebrate zoology, evolution of man, and vertebrate paleontology with Profs. James Howard McGregor and William King Gregory, who both rated her highly among their students. Marcelle worked as a staff assistant in the department of Human and Comparative Anatomy at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York. Robert T. Hatt also worked at AMNH from 1928-1935 as the Assistant Curator of Mammals.

Robert and Marcelle were married in 1929. In the Fall of 1930, they traveled together to the Yucatan on a grant-funded expedition to discover evidence of a possible land connection between the Yucatan and the West Indies. The first few weeks were spent at the ruined Maya city of Chichen-Itza where mammals and reptiles were collected. Following this, the Hatts explored a large number of caves in the Yucatan’s low mountains, for the remains of extinct animals. Fossils were obtained in every site excavated, though the numbers were small.

Following the Yucatan expedition, Marcelle was engaged in planning a series of exhibitions as an introduction to Human and Comparative Anatomy. The exhibition, “Top of the World in Yucatan” described her experiences on the expedition with her husband. In 1934, Marcelle was promoted to Assistant Curator in the Department of Comparative and Human Anatomy at AMNH.

 

In the Spring of 1935, the Hatts moved with their young sons, Richard and Peter, from New York to Michigan when Robert accepted the position of Director of the Institute of Science. In response to her resignation, the Executive Secretary at AMNH wrote in a letter dated March 27, 1935:

“In transmitting your letter of resignation, Doctor Gregory paid high tribute to the excellent work you have done throughout your connection with his Department, emphasizing especially your invaluable assistance in supervising the preparation and installations of exhibits in the hall of “Introduction to Human Anatomy;” your splendid cooperation in the preparation for labels and guide leaflets and in his researches on the evolution of the skull of vertebrates; and the competent manner in which you handled the sale and exchange of casts and models. Congratulating you on this enviable record and assuring you that you carry with you, in your new field of activities, the best wishes of your associates and colleagues.”

Marcelle continued to work on a variety of projects at CIS during the 1930s and 1940s, including photographing specimens, assisting Dr. Hatt on additional field trips to Mexico, and curating an exhibition of Native American baskets that opened in April, 1941.

Exhibition catalog

Exhibition catalog prepared by the Art Project of the Works Project Administration, Detroit, by the silk-screen process. Printed on the Cranbrook Press, 1941.

“Basketry of the North American Indians” opened on Easter Sunday. The exhibition featured examples of baskets from pre-historic cave dwellers to woven hats, snowshoes, and mats of Modern Michigan tribes. Marcelle Hatt organized the display of 183 specimens and the accompanying catalog.

Basketry Exhibition

Visitors at the “Basketry of the North American Indians” exhibition, 1941.

On March 27th, 1951, Marcelle Roigneau Hatt passed away at the young age of 52. Her contributions to Human and Comparative Anatomy live on in the Journal of Mammalogy, Science, and The Science News-Letter of the American Museum of Natural History.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Sources:

“Science News.” Science 79, no. 2058 (1934): 8a-11a.
“In Science Fields.” The Science News-Letter 25, no. 684 (1934): 312-13.
Hatt, Robert T. “Notes concerning Mammals Collected in Yucatan.” Journal of Mammalogy 19, no. 3.
The Robert Torrens Hatt Papers, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives/Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.
The Cranbrook Institute of Science Director’s Papers, Courtesy Cranbrook Archives/Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Curiosity and Wonder: Life at Cranbrook and Beyond

I recently processed the James H. Carmel Papers, a small collection that largely consists of correspondence between Carmel and Cranbrook Institute of Science Director Robert Hatt from 1973 to 1989. It is wonderful correspondence that conveys an enduring friendship across the miles as, after Cranbrook, they lived on opposite sides of the country.

James H. Carmel, ca 1950s

One of the delightful aspects of their correspondence is their enthusiasm for their work, and how the interests that drew them into their professional roles remained with them after retirement. They never lost their curiosity and wonder, or their sense of humor. On a similar note, their love of Cranbrook did not end when they left campus, as they kept up with and discussed new developments that are shared through bulletins and newsletters. I feel sure that many readers of this blog site are just the same.

Carmel mounting ant specimens, 1955

James H. Carmel was the Assistant Preparator at Cranbrook Institute of Science between 1939 and 1942 when he joined the Army Air Corps. He returned to Cranbrook after the war and remained as Preparator, Trustee, and Head of Exhibit Section until 1973, when he moved to California to work for the George C. Page Museum in Los Angeles.

Cowfish and Queen Triggerfish in a Bahaman Reef, Coral Reef Exhibit, 1959

A notable exhibit that was supervised and assembled by Carmel was the Coral Reef Exhibit (1959), which was a reconstruction of the Coral Reef at Nassau made up of approximately 5,000 painted beeswax models. He is the author of Exhibition Techniques: Traveling and Temporary (1962). He died on July 30, 2016, aged 97 years.

-Laura MacNewman, Archivist

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