The Smithsonian Institution Archives began its Oral History Program in 1973. The purpose of the program is to supplement the written documentation of the Archives'
record and manuscript collections with an Oral History Collection, focusing on the history of the Institution, research by its scholars, and contributions of its staff. Program
staff conduct interviews with current and retired Smithsonian staff and others who have made significant contributions to the Institution. There are also reminiscences and
interviews recorded by researchers or students on topics related to the history of the Smithsonian or the holdings of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
The History of Tropical Biology Oral History Interviews were compiled by Smithsonian fellow Catherine A. Christen as part of her research on the history of tropical biology
at the Smithsonian.
These interviews of Robert L. Dressler and William Louis Stern, conducted by Catherine A. Christen, cover their involvement with the Association for Tropical Biology
and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute during the 1960s.
The collection consists of two interview sessions, totaling approximately 1.5 hours of recordings, and transcripts. There are two generations of tape for each session:
original audiotape cassettes and reference audiotape cassettes. In total, this collection is comprised of 2 original audio cassette tapes, 2 reference copy audio cassette
tapes, and 57 pages of transcripts. The original tapes are reserved in preservation storage.
As part of her research for her Smithsonian postdoctoral fellowship project, in 1997 Catherine A. Christen conducted oral history interviews with two orchid specialists
who had conducted research in the neotropics. On 1 July 1997, she interviewed Robert L. Dressler (1927- ), curator and co-ordinator for the Orchidaceae Section of the Flora
MesoAmericana at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Dressler received the B.A. from the University of Southern California in 1951 and the Ph.D. from Harvard University in
1957. He was on the staff of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute from 1963 to 1987, when he was named a research associate. On 2 July 1997, Christen interviewed William
Louis Stern (1926- ), professor of botany, University of Florida. Stern received the B.S. from Rutgers University in 1950, the M.S. in 1951 and the Ph.D. in 1954 from the
University of Illinois. He was curator and then chair of the Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History, from 1960 to 1967. In 1967, he was appointed professor
at the University of Maryland. From 1978 to 1979, he was program chairman for systematic biology at the National Science Foundation. In 1979, he was named chairman of the
Department of Botany at the University of Florida. In 1985 he returned to teaching there as professor of botany. In Florida, he changed his research focus to studies on the
vegetative anatomy and systematics of the orchid family.
The recordings of the interview of Cameron and North is open for research use, however, the transcript has not been deeded to the Archives. Researchers may submit a written request to the interviewees, heirs or assigns, for written permission to use the transcript.