The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: American History
The Archives recently received a collection of records from former National Air and Space Museum (NASM) Director, Martin Harwit. Formerly an astronomer on the faculty of Cornell University, Harwit was Director of NASM from 1986-1995. Accession 14-100 consists of records created and maintained by Harwit which document plans to exhibit the Enola Gay and the resulting controversy.
The Enola Gay was the Boeing B-29 Superfortress commanded by Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr. that on August 6, 1945 dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan that destroyed 90 percent of the city and instantly killed 80,000 people with tens of thousands more dying later of radiation exposure. This bomb along with another dropped on Nagasaki three days later lead to Japan's unconditional surrender in World War II.
A script for "The Crossroads: The End of World War II, the Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War" was released for comment in January 1994. As a result of the feedback the exhibition was retitled "The Last Act: The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II" and the script underwent several major revisions through January 1995. Each version of the script was met with controversy, particularly from veterans groups and Harwit ultimately resigned as Director on May 2, 1995. Prior to his resignation, Harwit had collected copies of all of NASM's current and historical documents related to the Enola Gay in order to prepare for his testimony during Congressional hearings on the matter; however, the hearings occurred shortly after his resignation and Harwit was not asked to testify.
On June 28, 1995, a completely different "Enola Gay" exhibition opened to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. The exhibition contained several major components of the Enola Gay including two engines, the vertical stabilizer, an aileron, propellers, and the forward fuselage that contains the bomb bay. Other parts of the exhibition included interviews with the crew before and after the mission to bomb Hiroshima, information about the history and development of the Boeing B-29 fleet used in bombing raids against Japan, and the Smithsonian's efforts to restore the Enola Gay. The exhibition closed in 1998 and after the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center opened the entire aircraft was put on display in 2003.
After his resignation, Harwit continued to collect clippings, journal articles, and television coverage related to the Enola Gay and its exhibition as well as received related materials from veterans groups. He also spoke on the subject in a variety of settings. In 1996, Harwit published the book An Exhibit Denied: Lobbying the History of Enola Gay. A Japanese translation was published in 1997.
Materials in this collection include correspondence and memoranda; exhibition scripts (some annotated); Congressional hearing transcripts; journal articles, preprints, and book reviews; copies of An Exhibit Denied: Lobbying the History of Enola Gay in English and Japanese; Director's calendars, notes, and Rolodex; chronology of the Enola Gay's restoration and exhibition; lecture scripts and slide presentations; newspaper clippings and videotaped news stories and television programs; radio interviews with Harwit on audiotape; video elements created during the production of exhibition videos; and related materials. Also included are several compilations of documents related to the Enola Gay that served different purposes.
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
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