The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
- Happy Halloween! No doubt in some way your life will be touched by candy today. In honor of that here's a look at the history of prepackaged candy. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- Halloween cards abound in the New York Public Library's collections. [via NYPL blog]
- An all too common condition, missing metadata - CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) is asking for people's help in identifying scientists, equipment and projects being working on in images from their photograph archives. [via PetaPixel]
- Thousands of unseen lunar images will come to light and be in the public domain as part of the Surveyor Digitization Project. [via InfoDocket]
- Listen up - The Archive of Contemporary Music and the Internet Archive team up to create a music library. [via Internet Archive Blogs]
- Stanford Libraries makes available the earliest known website in the United States from 1991 for the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. [via Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig, SIA]
- An important question to be answered on Halloween - Can Cats Really Make Rats into Zombies? [via Smithsonian Magazine]
Ah, Halloween, my favorite time of year. With an upcoming photograph symposium on my mind, and the season getting drier, I'm inspired to make my costume up as a tightly wound vintage panoramic photograph. The fear of unrolling one never gets old, if you'll forgive the pun, because one never knows . . . what one might find lurking within (Meaning revealing prior damage, not the content – unless some creepy creature has taken up residence). Recently, I saw one rolled panorama so damaged by a historic water incident that the faces of the sitters had lifted right off the front of the print and stuck to the back of the paper facing it – leaving an eerie ghostlike effect on both sides similar in effect to the image below.
Truly, here at conservation HQ nothing actually strikes fear into our hearts more than unintentionally bad advice gone horribly awry. We've written a few posts on our conservative conservator approach to opening and unrolling rolled photographs, trying to strike a balance between too little and too much information (i.e. just enough to not get non-conservators in too deep). Some other authors online have taken it upon themselves to offer some pretty scary advice, such as steaming the roll with a steam iron or soaking the rolled photograph and then unrolling it in water. These both send shivers down my spine, and if you want to know why in great detail, you may dress up like a conservation student and read all about Properties and Stability of Gelatin Layers in Photographic Materials and their infinite variety of susceptibilities. Not all photographs are the same, and to give you an idea of what could happen, I'll just give you the cheat sheet by suggesting you imagine taking a steam iron or a hot soak to your favorite Halloween wiggly gelatin dessert. Bad idea, unless you want your dessert and photo to potentially look like The Blob or The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
In contrast to the unintentially bad advice gone wrong, there are some fairly on point instructions to be found online to help people humidify and flatten panoramic photographs. I found that an independent archivist has posted a photo-illustrated adaptation for the home user of a process written up by the National Park Service for their Museum Management Program, which does not give us the willies due to the care built into their setup. That said, for attempting either of these I would increase the safety factor further by choosing not to have free water available that could splash on to the photo if their container was bumped, but instead pour the water first onto clean absorbent blotter or bleed-proof toweling until that is saturated. I would also avoid the use of wax paper during drying, substituting silicon coated paper without creases or wrinkles. (Always note: consulting a conservator is best, especially if the object is resistant to movement, or if there appears to be writing on it or prior damage to the object.)
We recently had another panorama in the lab, and we put it through the gentle humidification process we describe in our posts listed below. This occasion also allowed us to addess what isn't discussed in any of these posts, namely how to store an awkwardly long photograph, say over six feet, afterwards if you do not have the space to store it flat between an archival folder and boards. Generally this technique is used for oversize flexible objects, such as textiles and massive works on paper. Occasionally when we must, we adapt the technique for smaller objects and roll onto large (to scale) archival paper core supports. This prevents crushing and increases the circumference versus rolling them around themselves like little cigarettes. If only Halloween pranksters would re-roll after toilet papering some unfortunate person’s home! Here is a short video of how we do it if a work is too large for flat file storage.
Happy and safe Halloween, everybody! May you take many pictures and keep them safe from becoming ghosts of themselves.
- Panoramic Panic! A Sticky Situation, Part 1, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Panoramic Panic! A Sticky Situation, Part 2, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Halloween Humidification Horrors!, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- A Health Resort for Paper, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
For our next Miscellaneous Adventure, you chose to open up Record Unit 548, the National Museum of Natural History’s Division of Meteorites Correspondence Records. This collection contains incoming and outgoing correspondence and memoranda documenting the operations of the Division of Meteorites from 1970-1988.
On October 15, 1963, the National Museum of Natural History’s Department of Geology split into the Department of Mineral Sciences and the Department of Paleobiology. The new Department of Mineral Sciences had three divisions: Mineralogy, Meteorites, and Petrology. The new division of meteorites had an active staff eager to track down specimens throughout the world. This is evident in their correspondence. When you open the collection boxes, folders labeled with the names of countries around the world and the word miscellaneous peek out from within. Upon opening these folders it is easy to see the prolific efforts of staff, including Brian H. Mason, curator; Roy S. Clarke, Jr., curator; and Kurt Fredriksson, curator and geochemist. The many letters in the folders discuss the identification and acquisition of specimens, research projects, and other professional activities, providing insight into how we have tracked meteorites around the world.
Two of the larger folders in the collection were "India – Miscellaneous" and "Australia – Miscellaneous." The correspondence includes conversations about specimen recovery from the Dhajala meteorite shower and a search to locate rare Tasmanian tektites. But this time, instead of picking out a letter and telling you all about it, I have decided to let you join on the adventure. To uncover what interesting meteorite mysteries await, head over to the Smithsonian's Transcription Center to rifle through the folders containing correspondence from Australia and India. While you are there, you can try out transcribing the correspondence and find out more about meteorites found in India and Australia. Don't forget to let us know what interesting things you find on your Miscellaneous Mysteries of the Universe adventure by commenting on this post, our Facebook page, or the Transcription Center’s page. Best of luck and have fun!
As for our next adventure let us know what you would like to see next:
- Record Unit 548 - National Museum of Natural History, Division of Meteorites, Correspondence Records, circa 1970-1988, Smithsonian Institution Archives
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