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

Squawk Like an Animal

While many of us know that George Booth’s acquisition of a mineral collection formed the nucleus of the Institute of Science, who knew that Cranbrook once maintained a zoo? In 1929, Cranbrook’s “Natural History Museum of the [Cranbrook] Foundation” was established (it was the pre-cursor to the Institute of Science) with naturalist W. Bryant Tyrrell as the director. In addition to the mineral collection, Cranbrook’s “modern scientific” museum also had a small collection of taxidermied birds and mammals which were housed in what is now the Academy of Art administration building. A workshop was set up in the basement which doubled as a preparation space and classroom where Tyrrell taught Cranbrook School boys about natural history. Tyrrell was also instrumental in designing the science portion of Cranbrook’s first exhibition space.

When the first science building (designed by George Booth) was constructed in late 1930 on Sunset Hill, plans were made for a small zoo which would eventually house smaller mammals, reptiles, and amphibians of the Great Lakes Region in “pens of modern design.” With Tyrrell’s experience as a taxidermist and naturalist at both the Field Museum in Chicago and the Detroit Children’s Museum, Cranbrook’s Natural History Museum found itself the recipient of live raccoons, snakes, frogs, and even a mother skunk and her babies.

Feeding Shelter, Mar 1930. W. Bryant Tyrrell, photographer. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Soon, the informal Cranbrook zoo spilled out of the rear of the new building and down into the small ravine behind it. Temporary cages for the animals were placed along the edges of the ravine, and were of considerable interest not only to the Cranbrook School boys but also to the general public. The first issue of the Institute’s Newsletter (November 1931) stated that “the zoo is growing rapidly, and is beginning to achieve quite professional proportions with the addition this month of a wildcat, red fox, several weasels, and three white rats. The rats were loaned by [student] J. O’Connor of Cranbrook School.”

Cranbrook School boys with flying squirrels, May 1930. W. Bryant Tyrrell, photographer. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

However, not all were so enamored with the idea of live animals including George Booth, especially when a black snake was found in the hallway by one of the secretaries who fainted in fright! And, in fact, the Institute did not have the resources to support a really good zoo. Ultimately, several factors contributed to the demise of the short-lived zoo including a new curator for the museum (which led to Tyrrell’s resignation in June 1931) and the formal establishment of the Institute of Science in 1932. The national-wide financial crisis and the Bank Holiday of 1933 put a final end to Cranbrook’s brief foray into zookeeping.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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