Secretary Clough holds "Alligator mississippiensis" from Georgia, specimen USNM 6151 in the Natural History Museum’s collection (Photo: Jeremy Jacobs)
Before his retirement in 2014, G. Wayne Clough, the first Southern-born secretary of the Smithsonian, had become curious to learn what the institution’s collections could tell him about South Georgia, where five generations of his family had lived and he spent his childhood. The investigation that followed, which began as something of a quixotic scavenger hunt, became a journey filled with unexpected outcomes. And for every artifact that turned up, a story emerged about remarkable collectors, curators, and figures of history.
Clough’s discoveries—animal, plant, fossil, and rock specimens, along with cultural artifacts and works of art—serve as a springboard to understanding how dynamic changes over 15,000 years led to what we see today. His family history becomes part of the story, as does that of his fellow South Georgian, President Jimmy Carter, who is represented in the collections by portraits, books, election paraphernalia, and even a solar panel. Along the way, Clough’s search shows how the Smithsonian collections and new digital search capabilities can be used to illuminate personal history.
Join Clough for a conversation with Frederica R. Adelman, director of Smithsonian Associates, as he links recollections of his own experiences with treasures in the Smithsonian’s archives and demonstrates how family, community, and natural history are intertwined.
Clough’s book about his experience, Things New and Strange: A Southerner’s Journey Through the Smithsonian Collection (UGA Press) is available for sale and signing.