Viewport: The Rest of the Iceberg
- By J.R. Dailey
- Air & Space magazine, January 2001
In the course of serving almost a year as director, I have learned a lot about some of the extraordinary activities in this Museum and how they fit our three primary responsibilities: to commemorate, to educate, and to inspire. Every day as I walk in the door I see evidence that these responsibilities are being met, from the display of the collection to educational events, such as our evening lectures.
Everyone is aware of our collection and its impact on visitors, but not as much is known about the scholarly research we support. This research adds to the value of the collection and ranges from hands-on studies of the materials and components used to build air- and spacecraft to library and archive searches that reveal the societal aspects of aviation and spaceflight. The work of our own staff is enriched immeasurably by the contributions of those who fill our research chairs and fellowships.
We host the Lindbergh Chair in Aerospace History, the Ramsey Fellowship in Naval Aviation, the Verville Fellowship for aerospace history, as well as competitive historical and scientific fellowships supported by the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, and research grants to individual staff members. We provide the facilities to conduct research on subjects of mutual interest, and, as a result, exceptional contributions have accrued, producing benefits for both the Museum and the scholars.
Past holders of chairs have included historians David Lewis, Williamson Murray, and Ron Davies, geophysicist James Van Allen, turbojet inventor Hans Von Ohain, and the late Donal Engen, my predecessor as Museum director. Alfred Verville, who began his career helping Glenn Curtiss design the Jenny in 1914 and for whom the fellowship is named, was a fellow of the National Air Museum (our progenitor) in 1962. In this issue, an article by Marshall Michel, "The Christmas Bombing," is based in part on work he did here during the time he held a Verville Fellowship.
Nominations an selections of fellows are made through peer review process and are very competitive. Members of the Museum staff do not dictate the results of research but often provide assistance and advice and, in the case of our younger fellows, can offer a valuable mentoring experience. Washington is a museum-rich environment, and researchers have access not only to the Museum's unmatched archives and staff but often to some priceless object that may have played a pivotal role in the are of their interest.
The payoff from scholarly research at the Museum extends beyond the explanatory labels that accompany artifacts. Like the artifacts and displays, labels are only the tip of the iceberg. The work of the fellowship program takes the form of books, monographs, and articles in professional literature. Quite often the results of research bring to light pieces of history that have been overlooked.
We play a clever game here: The chairs and fellows think they are the beneficiaries, but I would argue that in the end, the history and science of aviation and space are the winners.
J.R. Dailey is the director of the National Air and Space Museum.