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In Memoriam: James R. Glenn (1933-2002)

James R. Glenn, former senior archivist in the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, passed away on October 13, 2002, following complications from surgery. Glenn was 68 years old and lived in Savannah, Georgia with his wife, Susan (Libby) Glenn, both of whom retired from the Smithsonian in 1996.

When Jim arrived at the Smithsonian in 1972, the National Anthropological Archives held a poorly arranged and undescribed collection of historical manuscripts, photographs, maps and linguistic materials that had been gathering in the Department of Anthropology and the Bureau of American Ethnology since the mid 19th century. For more than 24 years, Jim worked tirelessly to provide physical and intellectual control over the collection, supervising the first systematic inventory of the collections, contributing standardized collection records to the institution's first electronic catalog, contributing to the publication of a four-volume Catalog to Manuscripts in the National Anthropological Archives (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1975), and eventually publishing the archive's first comprehensive Guide to the Collections (Smithsonian Institution: 1992; revised 1996).

At the same time, Jim helped to broaden and strengthen the archive's core collection focus. The Smithsonian's main repository for historical manuscripts concerning Native American cultures and American colonial possessions soon grew to include, with Jim's help, a world-class collection of contemporary ethnographic materials relating to the world's peoples, fieldnotes and associated materials created by non-Smithsonian anthropologists conducting research throughout the world, the records of anthropological organizations, and cultural materials of interest to anthropologists. Often, these included eclectic but nevertheless valuable manuscripts and photographs created by amateur ethnographers, such as newly returned Peace Corps volunteers and missionaries documenting little-known languages. Finally, Jim is remembered for initiating a host of outreach efforts with professional anthropological organizations such as the American Anthropological Association, the American Ethnological Society, and the Society for American Archaeology.

James Richard Glenn was born in Waurika, Oklahoma on December 3, 1933. A graduate of the University of Tulsa (BA 1955), his first job was as the assistant principal double bassist in the Tulsa Philharmonic Orchestra. Seeking steadier work, he joined the Army (1959-1961), and afterwards returned to Oklahoma to complete his masters degree (U. Tulsa, 1962). He spent the next two years teaching English and history for the Ministry of Education in Kampala, Uganda. When he returned to the States, he taught history at Southeastern Missouri State University.

In 1969, Jim began what was essentially a third career as an archivist, working first at the National Archives and Records Administration's Office of Presidential Libraries, and later in NARA's Natural Resources branch, where he was responsible for reference and project work on records from the Department of Interior, the Smithsonian Institution, and the WPA. In December 1972, Jim joined the staff of the NAA, where he would ultimately serve as senior archivist and, from 1986-89, its acting director.

In addition to writing comprehensive collections finding aids and guides, Jim published articles about the Smithsonian’s early collections in Anthropological Linguistics, History of Photography and Visual Anthropology and contributed to the Biographic Dictionary of American Naturalists, Dictionary of Anthropologists, and History of Physical Anthropology. He also mounted two photographic exhibits at the National Museum of Natural History: “Woman at Work” (1980) and “Historical Japanese Photographs” (1980). He taught archives administration and management of photographic collections at The Catholic University of America (the first such course offered in the country), which brought a steady stream of interns through the archives. He was a faculty member at the Modern Archives Institute and consulted for the Brookings Institution, the United Mine Workers of America, and Resources for the Future.

Those who knew Jim recall his readiness to help researchers, a terrific recipe for curry that he translated from a Swahili cookbook, and his penchant for dancing Swan Lake whenever the archives staff needed a good laugh.

Jim is survived by his wife, Libby Glenn, formerly of the Smithsonian Institution Archives, and four children. Memorial contributions in Jim's name can be made to the Backus Children's Hospital, c/o Memorial Health Trust, P.O. Box 23089, Savannah, Georgia 31403.

 


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