Charles Phelps Smyth (1895-1990) was born in Clinton, New York and studied chemistry at Princeton and Harvard Universities. Smyth served in the National Bureau of Standards and Chemical Warfare Service during World War I and was a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry at Princeton University from 1920 to 1963. During World War II, Smyth worked on the Manhattan Project and, at the end of the war, traveled to Germany as part of the ALSOS Mission to locate and secure scientists and equipment involved in Germany's nuclear research. The photographs found in Smyth's personal papers document his professional activities and achievements, most notably his travels through Germany at the end of World War II.
Before undertaking any research, take a close look at the photographs in the slideshow on the right and draw some initial conclusions based on what you observe in the photos, as well as any captions, dates, or locations.
According to the photograph captions, all of these images were taken in Germany in 1945, which may lead researchers to conclude that they were taken at the end of World War II. The presence of military vehicles in some of the photographs is a further indication that they were taken during the war, perhaps in one of the newly recaptured territories occupied by American troops.
Some of the photographs show groups of people boarding the trucks or walking around with suitcases, though these people are not identified in the titles or captions. However, a researcher could conclude that they are German citizens who have been uprooted from their homes or are being relocated elsewhere.
What is interesting about these photographs is the lack of destruction evident in them. Despite the presence of military vehicles and the timing of the photographs, the streets and bridge are intact, presenting an interesting contrast with familiar images of the destruction of Dresden and other German cities as a result of the strategic Allied bombing campaign.
Below are a list of questions that may come to mind when viewing these photographs:
1. Where in Germany were these photographs taken?
2. Are these areas where the Allies took control?
2. When in 1945 were these photographs taken?
3. Why did Charles Smyth want to photograph this? What was he trying to say with these photographs?
4. Why are some of the trees marked with white paint?
5. What was the relationship between the Americans and Germans at this time?
6. What differences did Smyth notice about Germany since his trip in 1920?
7. Did any fighting happen in any of these locations?
8. Who are the people getting onto the trucks? Why are they carrying luggage with them?
9. Why was Smyth in Germany? As a civilian? As part of the military?