In Memoriam: Whitney Smith
The Briscoe Center pays tribute to Dr. Whitney Smith, who died on November 17, 2016. He was 76 years old. Dr. Smith was the world’s preeminent scholar on the history of flags and heraldry (Vexillology) and the founder of the Flag Research Center, whose archives were acquired by the Briscoe Center in 2013.
“Dr. Smith’s achievements were extraordinary. Not many people can rightfully claim to have founded a field of study, and shepherded it through to maturity as a community of scholars, publications and enthusiasts,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “Part of his legacy is the collection he donated to the Briscoe Center. The collection is not simply being preserved — it is open for academic research and will act as a magnet for similar collections in the future.”
Whitney Smith was born in Arlington, Massachusetts in 1940. Interested in flags from an early age, he founded the field of Vexillology (from the latin vexillum) and became the world’s leading authority on the history and meaning of flags. Smith received his Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in 1961 and his Ph.D. from Boston University in 1968. His dissertation was titled “Prolegomena to the Study of Political Symbolism.” Smith founded the Flag Bulletin in 1965, the worlds’ first periodical about flags. He also founded the North American Vexillological Association in 1967 and helped found the Fédération Internationale des Associations Vexillologiques in 1969. During his career Smith wrote 27 books on the subject of flags and was the designer of the national flag of Guyana. Adopted in 1966, it is perhaps the most unique national flag in use today.
The Whitney Smith Flag Research Center Collection includes the contents of the Flag Research Center, created in 1962 by Smith. The collection is the most important and complete archive of its kind. The center was home to thousands of books, charts, pamphlets, serials, clippings, and flags, as well as troves of associated memorabilia. Migrating the collection took a crew of twelve people four days to pack into two 53-foot trailers.
Obituaries for Dr. Smith appeared in the Times of London, The Economist, The New York Times, and the Boston Globe.