The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: American History
Volunteers have been an integral part of the Smithsonian since the beginning. As our historian Pamela Henson likes to say, we have always relied on the kindness of strangers. Our first Secretary, Joseph Henry, coordinated a group of about 600 people across North America to send in weather data which he posted on a map in the Smithsonian’s Castle (this program eventually led to the founding of the National Weather Service.) Our second Secretary, Spencer Fullerton Baird, created a network of collecting volunteers who sent biological specimen to the Smithsonian for study and inclusion in its first U.S. National Museum.
Today, on site volunteers number almost the same as staff; 6,373 staff and 5451 volunteers. Since kicking off our first pan-Smithsonian digital volunteer website in June 2013, the Smithsonian Transcription Center, we nearly doubled our volunteer base by 4,919! The number steadily climbs and it is likely to soon outnumber our in-person volunteers, and eventually our staff.
Although digital volunteers work from all over the world, there is a sense of community amongst the volunteers through social media and the Transcription Center itself. I regularly field questions/comments from volunteers in very different time zones. It also seems like serving as a digital volunteer yields the same sense of purpose as our in-person volunteers:
“…I was also keen because anything I do helps to open up access to the Smithsonian collections and this results in improved connections and knowledge for everyone. Scientists, citizen scientists, historians, school children, from anywhere with an internet connection. The fact that anyone can view the transcriptions and that there is open access to the transcribed data was a very important factor in me donating my time,” Transcription Center Volunteer
“ What drives me, in particular, is the preservation of the study of astronomy. There were countless hours spent in freezing observatories with eyes glued to instruments and eyepieces hoping for good tracking and sky conditions. All during this was the painstaking logging of notes - figures and frustrations alike. This must never be lost, for it shows determination, drive, perseverance . . . and a great deal of hope. Thank you for the opportunity,” Transcription Center Volunteer
From working our information desks to transcribing primary source documents, our volunteers are large contributors in making the Smithsonian all that it is. It is delightful to think that people all over the world now have more opportunities to contribute from wherever they are. Below is a list of Smithsonian projects that rely on the kindness of strangers (a.k.a. crowdsourcing projects) that I compiled back in September 2014. If one appeals to you, come aboard and help us to achieve our mission of increasing and diffusing knowledge. And please know that we very much appreciate your work, not just during Volunteer Appreciation Month, but throughout the year. Please listen to a message of thanks from our Director, Anne Van Camp.
- Digital Volunteer Certificate, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Baird’s Network, Bigger Picture Blog
- Volunteer for the Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Growing to a Community of Volunpeers: Communication & Discovery, Bigger Picture Blog
Volunteer now for any of these Smithsonian projects!
- Access American Stories – Crowdsourcing audio descriptions of exhibition for accessibility
- Agriculture Innovation and Heritage Archive – Crowdsourcing oral histories related to agriculture
- Biodiversity Heritage Library Machine Tagging – Crowdsourcing machine tags for inclusion in the Encyclopedia of Life
- Community of Gardens – Crowdsourcing oral histories and media related to community gardens
- eMammal – Crowdsourcing camera-trap images to survey of wildlife
- Global Treebanding Project – Crowdsourcing scientific data about tree biomass and the impact of climate change
- Leafsnap – Crowdsourcing tree data set for mobile app
- Our American Journey - Crowdsourcing oral histories of American experience
- People and the Post: A DigitalMemory Book - Crowdsourcing oral histories from postal workers
- Smithsonian Transcription Center– Crowdsourcing transcriptions of historic documents and collection records
- Stories from Main Street – Crowdsourcing oral histories of rural America
- Wikipedia edit-a-thons - Crowdsourcing Wikipedia Articles about Smithsonian collections and resources
- Will to Adorn - Crowdsourcing oral histories about dress
This month marks the 45th anniversary of Smithsonian magazine. The subscription-only publication was initially available to Smithsonian Associates members for $10 per year. The first issue exceeded a circulation of 200,000 and was unique in that it encompassed science, arts, and the humanities in a single magazine. Subject matter in the April 1970 issue included the relationship between the Earth and humankind; the breeding of elephants on Ceylon; the destruction of the Pacific coral reefs by the crown-of-thorns starfish; the centennial of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; education in a multimedia environment; the University of Maryland's Black Studies program; the revival of the ancient craft of macramé; and overpopulation predictions by John B. Calhoun based upon experiments with rats and mice. The issue also included commentary by Secretary S. Dillon Ripley, book reviews, and a listing of Smithsonian events.
Edward K. Thompson served as the first editor of Smithsonian, c. 1969-1979, and was awarded the Joseph Henry Medal in 1973 for exceptional service to the Smithsonian Institution.
- Magazine Debuts (page 2), The Smithsonian Torch, April 1970
- Noxious Bogs and Amorous Elephants: Smithsonian's birth, 35 years ago, only hinted at the splendors to follow, Smithsonian magazine, November 2005
- Smithsonian magazine records, Smithsonian Institution Archives
On exhibiton from September 26, 1997 to January 4, 1998, Mathew Brady's Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery displays the work of Brady, not his well known photo documentation of the Civil War, but rather covers the most productive years of his career, starting with his emergence in 1844 as a daguerreotypist in New York.
What stood out to me design wise, was that the brochure for the exhibition was styled as a gazette or newspaper from the mid-19th century which lended a bit of whimsy and helped to transport exhibition visitors to the time period.
- Mathew Brady materials at the Smithsonian Institution
On Friday, April 14, 1865, as the Civil War was drawing to a close, Joseph Henry left Washington with his daughter, Helen, and headed to New York City to inspect a fog signal under consideration by the United States Light-House Board. Leaving Helen in Princeton, New Jersey, where the Henry family had lived before Henry became Secretary of the Smithsonian in 1846, he continued to the city. After arriving at the Astor Hotel around 10 pm, Henry had a late supper, wrote a letter to his wife, and went downstairs to put his letter in the mailbox before going to bed.
While he was downstairs, he overheard a man who had just returned from the telegraph office with a report that President Lincoln had been shot. Although Henry later wrote that "the news was at first considered a hoax," [Marc Rothenberg et al., eds., The Papers of Joseph Henry (Science History Publications, 2004), v. 10, p. 498] he feared its "correctness, at least in part,"  and it was soon confirmed by others. Henry went to bed but was unable to sleep. Around 6 am the next morning, he asked someone passing by in the hall for the latest news from Washington and was told that the president was dying. Lincoln died at 7:22 that morning.
Before leaving the city later that day, Henry noticed that it "was in a state of intense excitement on account of the death of the President. Large bodies of men were seen gathering in squads at various points and fears were intertained that there would be outbreaks of popular feeling" [The Papers of Joseph Henry, v. 10, p. 499]. He completed his business and proceeded to Philadelphia where he attended church on Sunday and spent Monday conducting business involving Smithsonian publications. He found that city "much excited and popular feeling strongly against the south" [The Papers of Joseph Henry, v. 10, p. 499]. On Tuesday, April 18, he hurried back to Washington, arriving at his home in the Smithsonian Institution Building around 7 pm. There he found a letter from the Secretary of the Treasury asking whether Smithsonian officials would attend Lincoln's funeral. He replied immediately that they would [[The Papers of Joseph Henry, v. 10, p. 503].
The next day, Henry attended the funeral ceremony in the East Room of the White House with Assistant Secretary Spencer F. Baird and Smithsonian Treasurer William Winston Seaton. Although stands had been erected so that the six hundred attendees crowded into the room could see as well as hear, Henry thought the service should have been conducted in the rotunda of the Capitol to accommodate more people. Following the ceremony, Henry, Baird, and Seaton shared an open carriage in a massive funeral procession of some 40,000 people from the White House to the Capitol. Eight days later, Henry wrote to his friend and mentor, Alexander Dallas Bache:
On the day of the funeral more persons were assembled on the streets of Washington than was ever seen before in this city. All business was suspended and every countenance wore an expression of sadness. Mr. Lincoln had been constantly increasing in popularity, from the time of his reelection until the day of his death. His peculiar fitness for bringing the war to a successful termination was felt by all and the shock produced by his death cannot be described. [The Papers of Joseph Henry, v. 10, p. 509]
To his daughter Helen, Henry wrote:
As to his successor I can as yet say nothing, but I most sincerely pray that the mantle of Lincoln may fall upon him, that he may be imbued with the same honesty of purpose, the same kindness of heart, and the same moderation and prudence of action. [The Papers of Joseph Henry, v. 10, p. 504]
Although Henry had entertained doubts about Lincoln when he was first elected in 1860, he had gotten to know him well while serving as one of his science advisers during the war. By the time of Lincoln's assassination, Henry had come to admire and respect him and believed that only the president would be able to heal the divided nation. Henry mourned both his personal loss and that of the country.
- Joseph Henry: A Life in Science - Civil War, online exhibition, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- "Interruptions and Embarrassments": The Smithsonian during the Civil War, by Kathleen W. Dorman
- The Papers of Joseph Henry