Written by Ajay Yalamanchi, third year Integrative Biology major
After working with the Thaeler collection last semester, I had the opportunity to work with the Joseph Grinnell correspondence, letters and manuscripts written by or to Grinnell over the course of three decades. Unlike the correspondence from the Thaeler collection, the Grinnell correspondence did not reveal much about Grinnell personally since the vast majority of his correspondence was rooted in his work with the occasional letters of holiday greetings. However, it was interesting to witness what Grinnell and other accomplished academics talked about and the manner in which they addressed each other.
Aside from the impeccable grammar employed, a product of the time period
they lived in, all correspondence exuded an air of utmost respect and geniality highlighted by terms of endearment such as, “My Dear….” or “Very Truly Yours.” On a side note, it was also interesting that 99% of the time the correspondents only referred to each other by last name. After reading many letters, I was also mentally referring to the various correspondents only by last name. Along with cataloging the correspondents, my task also included cataloging correspondents’ institutions and origin of their correspondence, the various species mentioned, other related people mentioned, and localities mentioned.
While reading through a letter written to Grinnell by Harry Swarth on October 15, 1912, I came across a mention of President Theodore Roosevelt! Swarth informed Grinnell that “Roosevelt was shot and wounded last night at a political meeting, so Taylor just tells me, but went on with his speech anyway!” I was excited when I read this because sometimes I forget that Grinnell and his correspondents existed in the same time period and world as Roosevelt. Reading through the correspondence, it is easy to get lost in the world of academia and not consider what else was happening during that same time period. Although I know what happened when Roosevelt was shot from prior American history classes, I did not consciously make the connection that the MVZ/Grinnell sphere of existence was occurring simultaneously with other contemporary important events until I read Swarth’s letter to Grinnell. In a way, Swarth’s mention of this historical event took the metaphorical blinders off of my eyes, which made me consider what else was happening during that time period, what life was like, and what the world was like. I enjoyed finding this connection between two unrelated topics, and hope that there are more of these interesting “easter eggs” hidden in the collection!