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History of Scholarly Publishing

"The worth and importance of the [Smithsonian] Institution are not to be estimated by what it accumulates within the walls of its building, but by what it sends forth to the world."

Joseph Henry, First Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Board of Regents, 1852:20

The current Smithsonian Contributions Series are the most recent serial publications among a rich history of publishing at the Smithsonian Institution. Before the establishment of the Smithsonian Contributions and Studies Series, the Institution had issued its publications in Miscellaneous Collections, Contributions, Bulletins, Proceedings, Annual Reports, Circulars, and Special Bulletins. Brief descriptions of the most significant of these serial publications follow.

Smithsonian Contributions and Studies Series
The Proceedings and Bulletin of the United States National Museum, which were museum-oriented publications, were terminated in favor of new, subject-oriented serials that could fulfill the publishing needs of the growing number of Smithsonian research units: the Smithsonian Contributions and Studies Series. Former (now discontinued) serials include:

  • Smithsonian Annals of Flight (1964–1974)
  • Smithsonian Contributions to Astrophysics (1956–1974)
  • Smithsonian Contributions to the Earth Sciences (1969–2002)
  • Smithsonian Folklife Studies (1980–1990)
  • Smithsonian Studies in Air and Space (1977–1990)

Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge (1848-1916)
These consolidated quarto-size papers. Individual papers often had been published and distributed years before compilation into single volumes. Each paper was separately paginated, and the original date of publication appeared on each paper’s title page.

Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections (1862-1968)
These consolidated octavo-size papers. As with Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, these papers often had been published previously , and the original publication date appeared on each paper’s title page.

Serial Publications of the Former United States National Museum
Bulletin of the United States National Museum (1875–1971): Each Bulletin comprised a single monograph (occasionally in several volumes) of general systematic treatises, large zoological and faunal works, reports of expeditions, and catalogs of type specimens and special collections. Contained within the Bulletin were two "subseries": Contributions from the United States National Herbarium, which was first issued in 1890 and carried an independent numbering system; and Contributions from the Museum of History and Technology, which was first issued in 1959 but did not carry a numbering system independent of the Bulletin. The Bulletin ceased publication with number 298.

Proceedings of the United States National Museum (1878–1968): Each volume contained multiple papers that reported on new facts in biology, anthropology, and geology; on descriptions of new forms and revisions of limited groups; and on the collections of the United States National Museum. Copies of each paper, in pamphlet form, were distributed as they were published. The publication date for each separate paper was recorded in the table of contents of each volume. The final volume was number 125.

Annual Reports (1881–present): This serial has had various names, including Report on the Progress and Condition of the United States National Museum for the Fiscal Year Ended . . .; The United States National Museum Annual Report for the Year Ended . . .; and Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution. The format and content have varied greatly over the years. Before 1905 the annual reports were large volumes that contained administrative reports as well as scholarly papers. After 1905 they reported mostly administrative information, but they did include a list of all accessions received by year-end. The publication continues today as Smithsonian Year and serves as a public relations tool. Supplements to Smithsonian Year included the annual accession information and lists of publications and donors. In 1993 the supplement became a separate publication, Annals of the Smithsonian Institution, and has been expanded to include not only the former information but also administrative reports and lists of board members and awards.

Circulars (1881–1929): The circulars were short works, often only one page long, and primarily addressed curatorial and exhibition issues. A total of fifty-three circulars were published. Circulars 1–18 were reprinted in Proceedings of the United States National Museum, volume 4; circulars 19–23 in volume 6; circulars 24–31 in volume 7; circulars 32 and 33 in volume 8; circular 37 in volume 10; and circular 35 in the Report of the United States National Museum for the Year Ending June 30, 1886.

Special Bulletin of the United States National Museum (1892–1915): Only four volumes were published.

The first complete list of all the serial publications of the United States National Museum was issued in 1902 in Bulletin of the United States National Museum, number 51. It covered the years 1875–1900. A supplement brought the list up to date through 1906. In 1946 a cumulative volume, Bulletin 193, was issued. It contained the two earlier lists plus all titles published in the intervening forty years. A supplement brought the list up to date through June 1958. Bulletin 298, the final volume, was issued in 1971. It included all titles published from 1947 to 1971, including those listed in the supplement to Bulletin 193.

Serial Publications of the Bureau of American Ethnology
The Bureau of American Ethnology was established in 1879. In 1965 it merged with the Department of Anthropology of the National Museum of Natural History. During its history, the bureau published several serial publications under its imprint, including Annual Reports, Bulletins, Miscellaneous Publications, Contributions to North American Ethnology, and Publications of the Institute of Social Anthropology. A concise description of these serial publications can be found in the Bulletin of American Ethnology, number 200 (final volume).

  • Contributions from the United States National Herbarium (1902-1974)
  • Smithsonian Annals of Flight (1964 - 1974)
  • Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology (1965 - present)
  • Smithsonian Contributions to Astrophysics (1956 - 1974)
  • Smithsonian Contributions to Botany (1969 - present)
  • Smithsonian Contributions to History and Technology (1969 - present ; formerly Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology)
  • Smithsonian Contributions to Museum Conservation - NEW SERIES (2010-)
  • Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology (1969 - present)
  • Smithsonian Contributions to the Earth Sciences (1969 - 2002)
  • Smithsonian Contributions to the Marine Sciences (1977 - present)
  • Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology (1969 - present)
  • Smithsonian Folklife Studies (1980 - 1990)
  • Smithsonian Studies in Air and Space (1977 - 1990)