The Cinema of Science

What do birds, cicadas, and solar prominences have in common? These were all subjects of films produced by the Institute of Science in its first decade of existence. Maybe it’s those Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom episodes I watched in syndication as a kid, but when I uncovered films made and produced by some of the Institute’s earliest scientific staff, I felt like I had hit the jackpot.

The 2014 Center for Collections and Research exhibition, Cranbrook Goes to the Movies: Films and Their Objects, 1925-1975, featured a 1960 Institute promotional film titled, So, You’re Going to Visit the Institute, which introduced viewers to the museum’s exhibit halls. Fascinating though it is, the film was hardly the Institute’s first foray into film production.

Credits and introduction of So, You’re Going to Visit the Institute, Cranbrook Institute of Science, 1960. 16mm film, 13:14 minutes (full-length). Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

In fact, the Institute’s “Ciné Film Collection” had begun in 1935, just five years after the Institute opened. Scientists at the Institute, not merely content to rely on handwritten notes and still photography, embraced the new 16mm motion picture technology to record their field research and then craft educational films for Institute members.

Some of the raw footage taken in the field was recently recovered, courtesy of the Museum of Cultural and Natural History staff at Central Michigan University. These 177 films found their way back to Cranbrook after over fifty years on the road, journeying to North Carolina and back, by way of Mt. Pleasant, MI. Created by Walter Nickell (also affiliated with CMU’s museum), Edward T. Boardman, S.P. Stackpole, Florence Maxwell, and other Institute staff, several of them can be traced directly to the aforementioned early educational films.

Take for instance, Birds in Summer, the first production, which almost certainly used footage taken that same year by zoologist Edward T. Boardman, labeled “Great Blue Herons Bird’s Nests.” Couple that with the September 1935 Institute News-Letter [sic] announcement, “New Movies in Color,” which heralded the work of zoologists that summer, and you get a fuller sense of the flurry of filming activity. The article goes on to mention the capture of new footage of Michigan animals, including hummingbirds, baby herons, and others, that were soon to be edited into films.

Institute staff continued to film birds even after the 1935 educational film was completed. Walter P. Nickell, July 27, 1944. Harvey Croze, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Another early film drew from raw footage now in the Archives, perhaps again at the hand of Boardman or Donald T. Ries, Curator of the Division of Insects. Emergence of the Periodical Cicada at Cranbrook was released the following year and had several showings.

Also in 1936, a modern solar tower was built at the new McMath-Hulbert Observatory in Pontiac that made possible a film by Robert R. McMath, Institute Trustee and Chairman of the Astronomy Division, and Director of the Observatory. The film was shown publicly for the first time in the Cranbrook Pavilion, to the largest Institute audience to date: 575 people.

View of Dr. Robert McMath at the controls of the McMath-Hulbert Observatory’s solar telescope, 1940. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Some 3,000 feet of motion picture film footage was shot in just the first year of production, alone. Though it’s not yet confirmed how many in total were produced in the 1930s, nine resulting educational films are currently preserved in the Archives. While research work is the predominate focus, other films include exhibitions and staff activities, including field trips with the museum’s junior members.

Junior Members, on a field trip, descend into a quarry in Monroe, MI, September 1935. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Like So You Want to Visit the Institute, the Archives hopes to digitize all nine films. Get your popcorn ready!

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

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

Science Projects

Cranbrook Institute of Science (CIS) has long held a special place in the hearts of many area schoolchildren. Field trips, weekend family outings, and onsite demonstrations in schools and community centers are a part of the fabric of the metro Detroit K-12 educational experience.

Elementary students visit the Cranbrook Institute of Science in 1935. Robert T. Hatt, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

A recent discovery in our collections furthered my appreciation of the Institute’s educational outreach and its commitment to ensuring access to the world of science for all its surrounding communities. It all started with the folder titled “Pontiac Area Urban League, 1988” in the Institute of Science Director’s Records.

The Pontiac Area Urban League (PAUL), was founded in 1950 as an affiliate of the National Urban League. An integral part of PAUL’s mission was to improve educational opportunities for underserved residents. Through its Education Committee, they partnered with Pontiac Public Schools in the 1980s to empower students of color to seek equity in science and math education by providing real-world role models and encouraging parent involvement. In 1988 this effort took the form of a project that focused specifically on middle school students and lead PAUL to approach Cranbrook Institute of Science. The resulting partnership formed the basis of CIS’s relationship with students in the School District of the City of Pontiac that continues to this day.

A visiting school group, 1966. Robert T. Hatt, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

Correspondence in the CIS Director’s Records suggests that CIS had already been considering educational outreach efforts to Pontiac residents. Janet M. Johnson, Director of Education, states in a 1988 memo to Director Robert M. West regarding the possible partnership with PAUL: “This may be another avenue for us to pursue interests with Pontiac.” West expresses his “delight” a few months later in a letter addressed to PAUL’s Interim Director, Jaqueline Washington:

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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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