The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: What Gets Saved
Last month, curatorial staff at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) contacted the Smithsonian Institution Archives to discuss plans for documenting social media related to the opening of the museum on September 24. We were asked, “How have you documented museum openings in the past?” In short, the answer was “Not like this.”
NMAAHC is the first new Smithsonian museum to open during the age of social media. Previously, the most recent Smithsonian museums to open were the National Museum of the American Indian’s Washington, D.C. museum in September 2004, and the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in December 2003. Popular social networking sites at the time included Friendster and Myspace. Facebook (then for Harvard University students only) and Flickr were both launched in 2004. Social networking was still very personal during this time and had not yet been widely adopted by organizations as a marketing and communication tool. Most Smithsonian museums didn’t begin using social media until at least 2008.
Documentation of museum openings in the past typically consisted of photographs, audiovisual recordings, press releases, press packets, newspaper clippings, ceremonial programs, brochures, and other publications. The museum would collect these materials and eventually transfer them to the Archives, sometimes decades after the opening.
Many of these materials (and much, much more) are now disseminated to the public electronically via websites and social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram, and may not exist in paper format at all. They also may only exist for a very short time online. Time-sensitive website content can be overwritten quickly. If an account is particularly active, social media posts can easily get buried beyond the reach of any web capture tools. Content on platforms such as Snapchat and Periscope will disappear almost immediately unless the account holder takes measures to save it.
Over the past few weeks and likely for a few more, staff from the Archives and the National Museum of African American History and Culture have been working together to ensure that much of the online content related to the opening of the museum is being captured for historical purposes while it is still live on the web. This includes content distributed via the museum’s website and official social media accounts as well as that distributed via other Smithsonian museums and even Tweets by others using the hashtags promoted by the museum.
The Archives has used portions of this approach for major Smithsonian events over the past few years, such as the arrival of the space shuttle Discovery at the Udvar-Hazy Center in 2012, the Smithsonian Summer Showdown contests in 2014 and 2015, and the reopening of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in 2014. To date, the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture is the largest-scale online media and communication campaign that the Archives has attempted to document.
Smithsonian NMAAHC (@NMAAHC), Twitter, National Museum of African American History and Culture
National Museum of the American Indian in Washington Marks 10th Anniversary, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
NASM's Udvar-Hazy Facility Marks 10 Years, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- A new Smithsonian traveling exhibit, When Things Come Apart, highlights the inner workings of everyday objects! [via BuzzFeed]
- The Hammer Museum, with the support of the Mellon Foundation, is putting the archives for several exhibits (starting with this one on African American artists) online. [via LA Times]
- Forensic anthropologists confirm a gruesome history at Jamestown. [via Washington Post]
- Thanks to technology, portions of a biblical scroll can now be deciphered. [via NY Times]
- The wonderful stories of personal connections to the collections at our new National Museum of African American History and Culture. [via Washington Post]
- A writer tested out our founder, James Smithson's, method for brewing coffee...and even applied it to brewing beer! [via Smithsonian Magazine]
- Over 144 million species at our National Museum of Natural History [via Great Big Story]:
- Lend a hand to "Wiki Loves Monuments" to improve Wikipedia articles about U.S. historic sites.
- The Banned Book Handbook, 2016 edition. [via Info Docket]
- Didn't get tickets to the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture Museum opening? You can still attend the surrounding festival featuring The Roots and Public Enemy! [via NY Times]
- The first non-white male is sworn in as Librarian of Congress, aka Carla Hayden. [via DCist]
- The exhibition history of MOMA now online. [via Info Docket]
- A (long) list of Mark Twain's favorite comfort foods (of course includes apple pie.) [via Open Culture]
- Ick, sneeze in slow motion. [via NPR]
- Aww, baby oranguatan and momma at our National Zoo. [via Smithsonian Magazine]
- New to the interwebs: a massive archive of 150 years of photography capturing Russian life from more than 40 institutions and collections. [via Hyperallergic]
- Nominate your favorite .gov website for the U.S. Federal Government End of Term Web Archive! [via The Signal, Library of Congress]
- Why save a computer virus, indeed?! [via The Conversation]
- Giant pandas are no longer endangered
extinct! And the Smithsonian Zoo's biologists had a lot to do with that. [via Seeker]
- Some insight into what the new Smithsonian African American museum means to D.C. locals. [via City Lab]
- The Smithsonian’s 3-D Digitization Program and Teva made shoes for our arthritic elephant! [via Washington Post]
- Archives pay tribute to Gene Wilder. [via University of Iowa Libraries]
- A behind-the-scenes look at the Academy Film Archives' efforts to save historic films...and the task is enormous. [via NY Times]
- The director who's making history on 9/24 with the opening of our National Museum of African American History and Culture, Lonnie Bunch. [via Smithsonian Magazine]
- Speaking of the new museum, there is children's book inspired by it. [via Washington Post]
- Hilarious - A new archivist's coloring book to inspire mindfulness! [via Society of American Archivists]
- A celebrity gag that didn't end up in the Smithsonian's museums. [via Washington Post]
- I want to work in a museum where they hire a collections protection dog. [via ABC and National Maritime Museum]
- Check! The entire collection of our national design museum, Cooper Hewitt, is now online!