JAIC 1996, Volume 35, Number 1, Article 3 (pp. 23 to 43)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1996, Volume 35, Number 1, Article 3 (pp. 23 to 43)




In the early years of the Smithsonian Institution, pest control measures were carried out by collectors and museum preparators. During the first half of the 20th century, the responsibility for pesticide and fumigant treatments shifted from collectors to collections maintenance staff. As concern about human safety became more prevalent, the focus of pest control changed from the treatment of entire collections to the treatment of items with active infestations.

The paucity of records regarding the use of pesticides on specific items within the anthropology collections has required reconstruction of a very general history of the use of specific chemicals. Early published reports, archival records, collections notes, and conversations with various museum personnel have helped to delineate the uses of these chemicals to specific time periods. General dates for the uses of specific pesticides and fumigants are summarized in figure 3. This time frame can be used to help determine which collections might have been treated with particular pesticides at the time of their arrival in the museum.

Fig. 3. Summary of pest control measures used from 1800 to the present for the anthroplogy collections, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Furthermore, this history of collections management practices for anthropology collections provides some general information about the treatment of these vast collections. Recent re-evaluations of the effects and efficacy of pesticide and fumigant treatments have led to a more complete understanding of the interactions among museum personnel, collections, and these chemicals (Dawson 1988). Many institutions with natural history collections have similar histories of pesticide and fumigant use. The historical survey presented here provides a basis for further investigations into the potential health hazards for individuals entrusted with their care.


I would like to thank Mary Ballard, Candace Greene, Greta Hansen, Stephen Koob, and Dennis Piechota for their encouragement in this research. I would also like to thank all the individuals whom I interviewed for their recollections. Catherine Hawks and Jane Walsh were generous in providing me with direction and reference suggestions. The staff at the Smithsonian Institution Archives were all extremely helpful in my pursuit of evidence. Thanks are also due to Kathryn Makos of the Smithsonian's Office of Environmental Management and Safety for helping to provide information included in table 1 and to Catharine Zwiesler for graphing the data in figure 3. Lastly, I would like to thank Lori Schlenker and Barbara Watanabe for their help and support.

Copyright � 1996 American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works