The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Behind the Scenes
It is common to begin a new year with a pledge to better oneself. Many of us decide we will give more to worthy causes, but wonder how and when! We, at the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA), are excited by this season of inspired giving because we need you! Your time, talents, and treasure are so incredibly important.
- We ask for your time. We need your help reaching out into your community, building networks, and identifying other potential SIA friends. Help us expand our reach and impact by hosting an intimate social on our behalf, identifying individuals or organizations that can partner in moving our mission forward, or sharing your story with us about how SIA has benefited your work.
- We ask for your talents. We are always looking for volunteers with archival skills to help our archivists and conservators preserve our cherished collections. Your talent is a resource to making our collections available to the public.
- We ask for your treasures. Your fiscal support will allow us to continue preserving the legacy of the Smithsonian Institution and making its rich resources available to students, researchers, enthusiasts - everyone, everywhere. We are excited about our ability for you to support SIA via our website. Your support allows us to train the next generation of archivists and conservators through internships, maintain the latest technology to offer you a better experience, and preserve our one-of-a-kind collections.
We enthusiastically invite you to share our vision and combine your expertise with ours. Together we can make 2013 a landmark year in making the history and rich resources of our unique institution a benefit to everyone, everywhere.
To offer your time, talents and treasures – please contact Mamie Jackson Williams at the Smithsonian Institution Archives by phone (202) 633-5882 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Click here to make a quick, easy financial gift of any amount, on our NEW Online Donations page!
When people look back at this year’s inauguration ceremonies, they will remember an iconic image of that day. These images help us remember what happened, but also try to convey the mood and emotions that witnesses to the historical event feel. These images help tell our history. But what about the photographers behind the lens? How do they interpret the day and decide on what stories to tell?
Recently, I sat down with Smithsonian Institution Archives photographer Michael Barnes to find out. This year he will be photographing his fourth inauguration and has learned the best way to score the shot he wants.
Bellizzi: What inaugurals have you photographed?
Barnes: Both of President George W. Bush’s and President Obama’s first.
Bellizzi: What was your experience photographing your first inauguration?
Barnes: For the first [George W.] Bush Inauguration, I was stationed on 14th street and Pennsylvania Avenue. It was cold and rainy, and I had to get there super early. I made the mistake of not taking my gear home, and had to try and get to the Smithsonian to get the equipment. This was a good lesson to learn; now I always have my gear the night before. The roads get blocked off and it is difficult to get where you need to go. You have to get there early. At this inauguration I missed the swearing-in, because I was stationed for the motorcade shot. At this Inauguration the Smithsonian had about seven or eight photographers at the event and we had official stations and you could not leave your spot for hours. So, you could only take images from that spot. I tried to capture the general feel of the day, but stood there for hours to get the few seconds of the President passing by. I was told by secret service to leave, but showed credentials so I was allowed to stay. But, standing on marble for a few hours, it gets really cold.
Bellizzi: What was your second inauguration like?
Barnes: For the second one I was able to float in the crowd. I was just looking for people shots. People shots show the different reactions to the event and the day. I like to try and capture the joy of the moment.
Bellizzi: What was the most recent inauguration experience like?
Barnes: For Obama’s Inauguration I was on the National Mall. I wanted to capture the [Smithsonian] buildings to record them as the historical witnesses to the event. The Smithsonian is connected to historical events. I worked with Ken Rahaim that day. He wanted to get on to the top of one of the buildings, but anything on top of buildings has to be cleared. So he worked with Smithsonian security and secret service to get all of the permissions cleared. One of the challenges of the Inauguration is dealing with secret service and security. Security teams were in the towers of the Castle, and Ken had the clearance, but at the last minute the security team would not let him go, so he had to figure out an alternative location. I decided to take photographs on the [National] Mall between the Castle and National Museum of Natural History.
We spent the night before at the National Museum of American History. I had learned from previous inaugurations to spend the night. So I went and took shots of the Mall that night.
On Inauguration day, people were very nice. They did not stand in the gravel so I could still get around. It was cold that day. I wanted to show the people photographs again. Show the story of mother and kids trying to stay warm. She had the kids wrapped up, but got them up for the actual swearing in. The expressions on people’s faces were great. I wanted to capture people during specific moments of the speeches and their reactions to it.
Bellizzi: Was the cold a challenge from a photographer’s point of view?
Barnes: Dealing with the cold, equipment can get changed. When you go from inside the building to the outside, things can fog up. You need to adapt the camera to the element. Even though it was cold, things were fine that day, because I kept moving and was well prepared with lots of layers.
Bellizzi: Are there any other challenges to photographing an inauguration?
Barnes: Getting to where you need to be for the shot. Too many people, too many check points. The challenge is to get to the shot that you want to capture in time. But I like the challenge of roaming around and I will do it again this year.
Bellizzi: Do you work with other photographers to capture the event?
Barnes: We work out beforehand who will cover what area. But we work independently during the event. Photographers have different viewpoints. We have a plan of certain ideas of the types of images that we want to get. We try to get those, but the event also presents the opportunities for the images.
Bellizzi: Why do you think it is important for the Smithsonian to have these types of events covered?
Barnes: Because it is right at your doorstep. The events tell history, and we are about history. Anything that happens near the buildings, these images tell the story of the buildings’ history and the events that help shape it. The buildings set the scene and witness the event. For example there are so many marches for different causes. Whether you agree or not, it is important to know what the story is and capture the event so that there is some type of record.
This is the first installment of a new quarterly series that highlights the collections that people are using at the Archives and the kinds of projects, publications, productions, and exhibitions our collections are a part of. Please enjoy!
When asked what the Smithsonian Institution Archives collects, we say we hold records about the history of the Smithsonian and its people, programs, research, and activities. While accurate, this doesn't really give people a clue about what is actually in those records.
The Archives' Reference Team handles an average of around 5,000 queries per year, and if you ask us what people have been researching at the Archives recently, you'll get some pretty interesting responses. Although not comprehensive, here's a snapshot of the diverse range of information encompassed by the history of the world's largest museum complex.
Over the past three months, researchers' long-term projects have included:
- Joseph Henry’s correspondence with Japanese ambassador Arinori Mori
- The history of tropical research stations in the Caribbean in the twentieth century (including the Smithsonian's Tropical Research Institute).
- The Smithsonian's entry to the internet in the 1990s.
Upcoming use of our photos or documents includes:
- A Christmas Flight, by Mary Lipsey
- Aboul'l Baha in America, by Mona Khademi
- Enlightened Zeal: The Hudson's Bay Co. and Scientific Networks, by Ted Binneman
- 10,000 Birds: Ornithology since Darwin, by Bob Montgomerie which will include a portrait of Alexander Wetmore, ornithologist and sixth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution
- T. Rex: Scavenger or Predator?, by Jacqueline Adams, which will include a portrait of paleontologist Barnum Brown
- "The Fruit Hunters," film by Yung Chang
- "War in Washington," TV production for The Smithsonian Channel by Patrick Hare
- "Dancing Salmon Home," film by Moving Image Productions
- "Girlrillaz," film by Bridget Rafferty
- Radio broadcast commemorating the 50th anniversary of Mariner, National Public Radio
- "Women of Innovation," The Canadian Science and Technology Museum website which will include a portrait of botanist Carrie M. Derick
- "Extraordinary Women: Science and Medicine since 1650," The Grolier Club, Princeton University
Taking honors as our most unusual reference query of the quarter was the request for a copy of a 1932 research paper on anesthetizing oysters. Two questions sprang to mind:
- How could you tell?
- Why would you?
While it turned out that the research wasn't conducted by the Smithsonian, we were able to locate a contemporary newspaper article on the study that gave direction to the researcher -- and answered the questions:
- The muscle closing the oyster's shell relaxes.
- The oyster is easier to shuck.
- Reference Services at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 95 - Photograph Collection, 1850s, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 90-105 - Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Thank you to everyone for reading this year. As a token of our appreciation here is an inside look at how we spend our 12 days of Winter! (If you are tight on time and still have to do some last minute shopping...fast forward to day twelve for the full effect). We hope you enjoy it, and from the staff of the Smithsonian Institution Archives, we wish you and your families a happy holidays and wonderful new year!
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to meet with Ursula B. Marvin, a retired geologist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory who has studied meteorites around the world and lunar samples collected during the Apollo missions.
Dr. Marvin received a history degree from Tufts College in 1943. In numerous lectures she has spoken about the path that led to her becoming a geologist. Tufts required two years of science courses for liberal arts degrees. Originally not enthused by this idea, Dr. Marvin was surprised by what happened next. She states in a 1997 Adventurous Women Lecture Series, "Geology lit a fire. I fell in love with it the first week." Considered an unacceptable profession for women, when Dr. Marvin approached her geology professor indicating that she wanted to change her major, he said, "You should be learning to cook." Undeterred, she took the "sneaky stratagem" of continuing to pursue history while also taking all the geology classes she could; enough to gain a minor in geology that led to a full-tuition scholarship to study geology at the Harvard-Radcliffe graduate school. At Harvard she became the first woman research assistant in the geology department and received her Master's in 1946.
When her husband Tom, an economic geologist, was approached by Union Carbide to search for mineral deposits in Brazil, Ursula accompanied him and the company paid her expenses. As she describes it, their first years of marriage were a great adventure. They worked in Brazil from 1952 to 1953, Angola from 1953 to 1954, returned briefly to Cambridge, and then returned to Brazil from 1956 to 1958.
With the launch of Sputnik in 1957, the Space Age had begun, and meteoritics opened up as a cutting-edge discipline. Back in Cambridge, Dr. Marvin was presented with the opportunity to study meteorites with Edward L. Fireman of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), and was officially hired in 1961. In 1969, the same year Dr. Marvin completed her Ph.D., she became co-investigator with her SAO colleague, John A. Wood, to study lunar samples collected during the Apollo missions. She continued to study lunar samples until 1996.
In 1973, Japanese scientists published a discovery that nine meteorites collected in Antarctica were four completely different kinds of meteorites, not nine pieces of the same meteor shower. The implications were quite significant; this meant that meteorites landing on the ice cap may be frozen in and concentrated together during ice motion, making the Antarctic a rich location for study. Dr. Marvin became the first woman on the American Antarctic research team, traveling three times: during 1978-1979, 1981-1982 and again in 1985.
Dr. Marvin has, from the beginning of her career, been a champion for women in science. She has given numerous lectures at professional meetings and universities, not only about her research, but on her experiences as a woman in a male-dominated profession. She was first in line to submit her $2.00 membership fee in 1946 when women were finally allowed into the Harvard Geology Club, she was the first woman to hold various positions in the geology discipline, and she served as the first Federal Women's Program Coordinator at SAO from 1974-1977.
Among her many accomplishments, Dr. Marvin has published on the Continental Drift, received the Geological Society of America History Award (1986), and has both an asteroid (Asteroid Marvin) and Marvin Nunutak (a mountain peeking through the Antarctic ice) named after her. Dr. Marvin retired in 1998 but continues to publish.
During my collecting trip to Cambridge, I worked with Dr. Marvin at her office and at her home to identify personal papers for transfer to the Archives. The materials shipped from Massachusetts include highlights of Dr. Marvin's work in the form of correspondence, lectures, professional activity records, reports, and images of her research activities. This new accession also includes documentation of Dr. Marvin's personal life, adding context to her professional papers. Dr. Marvin kept detailed journals, scrapbooks, family photographs, her original art work, and school coursework--all showing another view of her journey. As we looked through her personal papers and discussed her various activities, I learned a great deal about her life and career, and continue to be impressed with her work as I process this new collection.
The finding aid to the Ursula Marvin Papers, Accession 13-060, will be available in the next few months, and will be of particular interest to those studying meteoritics, geology and the history of women in science.
Marvin, Ursula. Continental drift : The Evolution of a Concept, Washington [D.C.] : Smithsonian Institution Press, 1973.
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics - Geologist Emeritas: Dr. Ursula Marvin