The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Smithsonian History
When I began doing oral history interviews at the Smithsonian in 1974, I went to see Louise Daniel Hutchinson (1928-2014) of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, now the Anacostia Community Museum (ACM). She was a pioneer in community oral history and experimented with new media, such as video, that captured settings and body language. She maintained the highest standards of scholarship at the same time that she welcomed the inexperienced, those outside the ivy-covered walls of academe. Her dedication to African American history was infectious, and she had a major effect on the development of the Anacostia Museum.
Born in 1928 in Ridge, Maryland, Hutchinson’s parents were teachers and civil rights activists in the District of Columbia. As a college student, she sat-in at lunch counters and attended the arguments for Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. She received her B.A. from Howard University in 1951 and pursued graduate studies in sociology. She married Ellsworth W. Hutchinson, Jr., and worked as a substitute teacher as they raised six children. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Hutchinson reassessed her life and decided she had to make more major contributions to improve the world for her children. As she was looking for an outlet, she was asked to take on an education project at the National Portrait Gallery that would focus on working with the District of Columbia public schools. So in 1971 she became a researcher at the Portrait Gallery, working on the African American portraiture of William Harmon and Winold Reiss, with a goal of linking to the local community. She also contributed to the exhibit The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution while creating a solid program of educational activities.
By that time, the Smithsonian was beginning to change a bit. Secretary S. Dillon Ripley had created the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum in 1967 to reach out to the local African American communities that rarely visited the Mall museums. Community activist John Kinard was named director, and he brought Hutchinson to the Museum in 1974 to direct its Research Center. She quickly began a series of dynamic programs that engaged the community. The museum was housed in an old movie theater which a cadre of volunteers helped convert to a museum. The Anacostia Historical Society grew under her watchful eye, and she created a research center where locals brought their treasured bibles and photographs for preservation.
Hutchinson curated several ground-breaking exhibits, such as The Anacostia Story: 1608-1930, Out of Africa: From West African Kingdoms to Colonization, and Black Women: Achievements Against the Odds. Meticulously researched, they were accompanied by books that made this history available to a broader audience. Smithsonian administrators had viewed the Anacostia site as a temporary exhibit venue to attract visitors to the Mall, not an actual museum. Hutchinson worked hard to redefine the museum's mission and eventually succeeded "against the odds" in making it a full scale museum. But she and her colleagues had to overcome significant inertia and even opposition on the Mall. The museum's Research Center collected a wealth of materials on African American history, including interviews of community members. She ensured that the contributions of the Anacostia and wider African American community were recognized in the historical record, and then shared that information with K-12 teachers and their students, community members, scholars and college students alike. She also rewrote Smithsonian history with her book, Kind Regards of S. G. Brown, on Professor Solomon Brown, the first African American employee at the Smithsonian who spent 54 years at the Institution.
Hutchinson was always busy, but never too busy to mentor younger folks who needed guidance. Always generous with her time and expertise, Hutchinson placed the Anacostia Community Museum on a firm foundation and developed a cadre of young people to carry her work forward.
Please listen to the following audio clips from the oral history interviews with Louise Daniel Hutchinson:
- Louise Hutchinson on the impact of the Martin Luther King , Jr. assassination on her work.
- Louise Hutchinson on working against all odds.
- Solomon Brown: First African American Employee at the Smithsonian Institution, online exhibition, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Eminent scholar leaves lasting legacy, East of the River DC News
- Record Unit 9588: Oral history interviews with Louise Daniel Hutchinson, 1987, Smithsonian Institution Archives
In the spring of 1992 the Smithsonian's "Internet Implementation Committee" was working to connect the Smithsonian to the Internet. Every organization on the Internet needs a domain name, which references a specific range of Internet Protocol (IP) numbers. What domain name should we use? What names were available? What name could we request? Several possible names were researched – we could spell out Smithsonian or we might use an abbreviation such as "SI", or "Smith". However, any other abbreviation seemed contrived, artificial, and unusable. “Smithsonian” would certainly work, but seemed too long and cumbersome. At that time the domain name choices were limited to the original six historic, or generic top level domains or gTLDs: ".com", “.edu”, “.gov”, ".mil", ".net", and ".org".
The Smithsonian clearly did not want to join the ".com" domain (Sports Illustrated already had the "si.com" domain name, and still has that name today). The “.net” (usually reserved for organization supporting network operations) and “.mil” (usually reserved for the U.S. military) domains seemed inappropriate; and the “.org” domain was usually reserved for other organizations, also inappropriate. The two most logical, available, and promising name options were presented to the Internet Policy Team: we could apply for either the “si.gov” or “si.edu” domain name.
The sense of the technical team was that it did not really matter which domain name was selected; any name would work exactly the same from a technical point of view. So it was, perhaps, more of a political consideration. The Smithsonian Institution is a trust instrumentality of the United States. Someone at the planning meeting said, "The Smithsonian is technically not part of the government-- can we be “si.edu”?, and that was how “si.edu” was selected.
The Smithsonian applied for and was awarded (on June 19, 1992) the Internet domain name “si.edu”, which became the Smithsonian's first identity on the Internet.
The physical Internet connection was made in July 1992. At that time Internet services were limited to: E-mail (SMTP), file transfer (FTP), and remote login (Telnet). The Smithsonian staff would use these services to access remote computer resources, such as library catalogues, and databases. These services predated the web and the first desktop PC web browser. Little did we know how the rapid growth of the World Wide Web and expanded Internet services would change everything! The official announcement of the Smithsonian’s Internet connection was made by John Moreci, Communications Manager, Office of Information Resource Management, “Smithsonian Connects to Internet”, September 28, 1992.
With the Internet infrastructure established, the Smithsonian website was launched on May 8, 1995, and the rest is history . . .
From that simple beginning with a single domain name, the Smithsonian has, like many large organizations, come to own many domains – nearly 400 as of this writing. Most are not in use and were registered to ensure Smithsonian control over the trademarked Smithsonian name. When the Smithsonian Institution ventured into more commercial endeavors, a “.com” domain -- Smithsonian.com (operated by Smithsonian Enterprises) – did in fact become appropriate. It is in use today, as are a number of other single-purpose domains (e.g., inventionatplay.org). Many of these domains exist for marketing and communications purposes; some are standalone websites, others are simply redirected to “si.edu” subdomain addresses (e.g., emammal.org redirects to emammal.si.edu).
One unanticipated and interesting benefit for the Smithsonian is that search engines like Google evaluate search results from “.edu” domains as originating from an authoritative source and therefor rank the search result higher than those from other domains.
Since the Smithsonian registered “si.edu”, the requirements to register an “.edu” domain have become more strictly focused on accredited educational institutions. According to Educause (the non-profit association responsible for overseeing “.edu”) "only U.S. postsecondary institutions that are institutionally accredited by an agency on the U.S. Department of Education's list of Nationally Recognized Accrediting Agencies" are granted new “.edu” domains.
Previously granted “.edu” domains (such as Smithsonian’s) are grandfathered-in under the newer policies.
- Report of the Internet Implementation Committee to Robert S. Hoffman, Assistant Secretary for Science, August 14, 1992, Smithsonian Institution Archives
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