The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Combining Interests: You never know what you might find at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
As part of the work I do as a volunteer with the Digital Services Division at the Smithsonian Institution Archives, I often check the playback of videos within our collections to determine condition and required software for viewing. While reviewing the records of the Archives’ Accession 12-096—Audiovisual Recordings, National Museum of Natural History, Office of Public Affairs, c. 1983–2009—I found a VHS tape entitled “Putting Triceratops Together Again.”
Since I am also a volunteer at the FossiLab at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), this title caught my eye. At the FossiLab I work as a preparatory, which involves tasks to clean and maintain fossilized remains. Among other duties, I work to remove dirt, called matrix, from around fossilized bones collected by the paleobiologists at the museum. Steve Jabo, the fossil preparator I work with at NMNH, appears in a couple of the video clips I encountered in the Archives’ collections. How could I not check this out?
The tape contains several short videos related to the Triceratops exhibit at NMNH. The videos tell the story of how the Triceratops specimen first came to NMNH more than one hundred years ago, and about some of the more recent work to restore, correct, maintain, and redisplay the exhibit.
One video shows how computer programs and scanning technologies were used to create digital representations of the Triceratops bones. These digital representations were used to fabricate models of missing bones for the Triceratops. Scanned data also provided an internal view of bone integrity. This information was used to aid conservation activities.
Another video shows how animation was used to investigate the way the Triceratops probably moved. Team members explain how they were able to make small scale replicas of Triceratops bones using computer technology. Using the smaller scale bones and computer animation, they worked to understand Triceratops movement.
Using the data scanned from the bones, the Triceratops was recreated in a virtual world on the computer. With the aid of animation and their knowledge of bone structure, the paleobiology team was able to determine a more realistic stance for the Triceratops mount in the Dinosaur Hall at NMNH.
There are a total of six short videos on the Archives’ VHS tape discussing various parts of the work to restore, maintain, and understand the Triceratops mount displayed in the Dinosaur Hall at NMNH. These videos are also a part of the exhibit at the Natural History Museum. By digitizing these kinds of collections at the Archives, we not only preserve the video content currently found in this exhibition, and make it accessible to many audiences, but we also help preserve the history of exhibitions at the Smithsonian and how they change over time.
As I often find in my own work here, there’s no telling what you might find, and the connections you might make, as you search through the Archives’ collections.