The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
- Wahoo! New folks on the Flickr Commons: The Reykjavik Museum of Photography and the Keene and Cheshire County (NH) Historical Photos. [via Effie Kapsalis, SIA]
- This year is the 50th Anniversary of the Xerox machine. The Atlantic investigates how the propagation of paper enabled the cheap spread of information, irritated publishers, and spawned a new age of self-publishing.
- Researchers have come up with software using fuzzy logic that could change the world of photo archives, by matching old catalogue descriptions with the millions of digitized photos now available in collections and archives worldwide. [via Prison Photography]
- The Wall Street Journal reports on a New Mexican librarian who is keeping an unofficial archive and tally of drug-related killings in Juárez and making her findings free to anyone who wants them.
- YouTube experiments with Citizentube—a feed of the latest breaking citizen and professional news videos on YouTube. [via Mashable]
- Speaking of YouTube, the Guggenheim is inviting the public to submit video art via the site for consideration for a biennale of video art this Fall.
- Ever wonder what the future of sound looked like in the 1930s? Check out this archive of Radio Shack catalogues. [via Effie Kapsalis, SIA]
- The man with the world’s largest record collection, which he refers to as “the archive.”
As part of my work as the historian for the history of the Smithsonian, I’ve been working for the past year on preparations for the Centennial of the National Museum of Natural History building, creating an exhibit, recording oral history interviews, and preparing a website. For these projects, we’ve uncovered many images of the Museum, from its earliest designs, through all the stages of construction, to recent changes. The new website for the NMNH Centennial was launched May 28, 2010, with the opening of the Centennial exhibit the following day in the Natural History Building.
When the building opened on March 17, 1910, it was called the “new” United States National Museum and it displayed collections of art, culture, history, and natural history, all under one roof. The first U.S. National Museum building, now known as the Arts and Industries Building, had opened in 1881, but only a year later, Museum Director G. Brown Goode, was asking for a new, larger building, since that building was already full. In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt, a naturalist himself, signed legislation providing for construction of the new Museum.
The original design for the building, by architects Joseph C. Hornblower and James R. Marshall, had a more ornate central dome and entranceway than the final version. The Senate Park Commission, which was trying to move Washington, D.C. architecture to the classic style the city founders had envisioned, requested that it be redesigned. Two of the Commission architects, Charles F. McKim and Daniel Burnham, redesigned the simpler Roman design we see today.
The new National Museum building took seven years to build and when finished in 1911 held 468,118 square feet of space for collections, exhibits, research, and staff (click here to see a series of photos documenting the building process). At that time the National Museum held about ten million artifacts and specimens, and most of them were moved into the new building using horse-drawn carts. Curators of anthropology, art, geology, history, and natural history moved into the spacious new facilities and soon filled every nook and cranny with new collections. Over the years the collections continued to grow and new Smithsonian buildings were built so that today the National Museum of Natural History contains only anthropology, mineral science, and natural history collections. From 1910 to 1912, exhibits opened to display new specimens of exotic mammals from Africa, a dazzling array of gems and minerals, cultural artifacts from around the globe, and masterworks of American art, eventually making the National Museum of Natural History the most visited museum in the world.
Check out the new website to learn about the building, the people who worked there, and its most interesting objects, and view “Then and Now” images of the Museum at to see how the museum has changed over the years. And scroll along the Timeline to learn about the collections and research at the Museum.
What is your favorite memory or photograph of the Museum? Join in the celebration of the Museum’s Centennial by sharing your stories and photographs of the Museum and your vision for its future at their Share Your Memories site.