The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: American History
On this day in 1879 ground was broken for the construction of the United States National Museum building, now known as the Arts and Industries Building. Its concrete foundations were begun on April 29th and the brick-work of the walls on May 21st. The main walls would be completed by November 1st.
Closed to the public since 2004, the Arts and Industries Building began undergoing a repair and restoration project to fix and upgrade the exterior of the building in 2009. Unfortunately due to financial reasons, the building will not reopen at the end of 2014 as originally planned. It was to have held an interim program called Smithsonian Innovation Space, but after a year of program planning and financial review, the Smithsonian concluded that the cost of rehabilitating the building for public use and operating it exceeded its available funding sources at this time.
The exterior of the building has been structurally stabilized and the Smithsonian will continue to explore options to reopen the building, but it will remain closed to the public until further notice. For more information about the history and renovation of the Arts and Industries Building please see the video below.
- Arts and Industries Building, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- The Museum of London recently acquired a set of photographs by Christina Bloom, the United Kingdom's first female press photographer. [via PetaPixel]
- Just gotta use what works - The tale of Cooper-Hewitt downgrading their website to Wordpress. [via Cooper-Hewitt Labs]
- This past weekend, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of African Art paid tribute to poet Maya Angelou who celebrated her 86th birthday on April 4. [via face to face, NPG]
- Smithsonian Magazine announced their finalists for their 11th annual photo contest. [via Colossal]
- Available for download - 15 years worth of live Fugazi shows. [via The Verge]
- Added context - Famed classical singer Marian Anderson's outfit from her performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, was a bright orange and stands in contrast to the black-and-white images of her that day. [via The Torch, SI]
- This week saw the end of Microsoft's support for Windows XP. As one of the longest-living operating systems, one of its most recognizable elements was its "Bliss" wallpaper. Below is the story of that image captured by Charles O'Rear. [via PetaPixel]
Earlier this year, the organizations LeanIn.org and Getty Images announced a joint effort to change how women are portrayed in media content and advertising (New York Times, February 9, 2014). The project will create special collections of stock photographs that represent women "in more empowering ways."
The practices that have prompted this project are neither easily changed nor new. While I was researching my recent contribution for Women's History Month (a post about Science Service medical editor Jane Stafford), I came across a striking example that involved editorial decisions by two accomplished, smart women sensitive to the trends of their times.
In 1956, Faye Johannes Marley (1900-1992), editor of Independent Woman, the magazine of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs, asked Stafford to contribute an article that would focus on "scientific work for the peaceful and constructive use of nuclear energy" by the "small band of pioneers who showed that women could make contributions" to science. After a telephone conversation to discuss the story, Marley wrote Stafford and urged her not to "emphasize the scholarship angle," but instead to play up "the various types of scientific work" that women might pursue after marriage.
Among the many "treats" that await historians in archival records are handwritten and marginal notes. Along with letters and drafts, these scribbles often expose the messy construction process that can precede a finished work. They can also reveal how biases and stereotypes influence content and editorial choices.
Stafford's contemporaneous notes mention several non-scientific aspects, such as the "hazel eyes" and "brown hair" of astronomer Elizabeth Roemer. One note suggests that the article "play up the refugee angle" (a goal fulfilled by choosing Science Talent Search winner Taimi Toffer. Mentioning the husbands and fathers of the subjects (who included astronomer Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, chemist Marjorie Ann Gilbert Moldenhauer, ecologist Vera Rada Demerec Dyson-Hudson, and psychologist Gloria Lauer Grace) was another nod to cultural values of the time and a practice not usually followed when discussing male scientists.
Stafford's finished article emphasized, in language emblematic of the 1950s, that these representatives of the nation's "scientific womanpower" were "by no means the blue-stocking type." Young woman contemplating careers in science could have it all. The scientists profiled were said to "have feminine charm and athletic ability as well as intellectual prowess." "Playing this feminine role need not keep them from continuing their careers as scientists," she concluded.
For keen-eyed consumers of popular culture, such examples will seem eerily familiar. The mass media and social media continually transmit and reinforce statements about the role and status of women in science. Each March, we make a concerted effort to highlight the remarkable achievements of remarkable women but the challenge remains unchanged: how to describe and discuss women in real terms while demythologizing the notion that only "superwomen" can become "superscientists." Real female scientists have hazel eyes, families, and charm as well as Nobel prizes, hundreds of publications, and ground-breaking discoveries. The challenge in the future will be to break down constraining stereotypes, while not closing the door on diverse choices and life paths.
Lean in, readers. Let the discussion begin.
- Record Unit 7091 - Science Service, Records, circa 1910-1973, Smithsonian Institution Archives - Includes correspondence, drafts, and notes related to Jane Stafford’s article
- Think the org chart is complex at your company/organization? Check out this org chart for the New York & Erie Railroad from 1855. [via Wired Design]
- Mach 6.7 . . . Now that's pretty fast! Get to know the X-15 in the National Air and Space Museum's Milestones of Flight gallery. [via AirSpace, NASM]
- Look in the collections of most archives and you'll find paper, lots of it. In honor of ubiquitous paper, take a look at the Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory in Bhutan. [via Core77]
- That darn dust! All hands on deck at the National Museum of Natural History to help clean the cases and specimens in the Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals. [via Unearthed, NMNH]
- Come April 10-11, if you happen to find yourself in Indianapolis, Indiana, be sure to check out Personal Digital Archiving 2014 at the Indiana State Library. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- You've transcribed journals, diaries, and botanical specimens, now its time to transcribe currency proof sheets from the National Numismatics Collection at the National Museum of American History. [via O say can you see?, NMAH
- Anzu wyliei - one scary chicken and newly discovered bird-like dinosaur. [via Smithsonian Science]
- Whoa . . . that is pretty mesmerizing! Check out these animated gifs by Hungarian/German graphic designer David Szakaly. [via Colossal]
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