The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Archive
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 Prior to his resignation, Harwit had collected copies of all of NASM's current and historical documents related to the Enola Gay in order to prepare for his testimony during Congressional hearings on the matter; however, the hearings occurred shortly after his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.
- The World Wildlife Fund launched a new campaign to raise awareness of endangered species by using the #LastSelfie and Snapchat's self-destruct count-down method of viewing photos as a metaphor for the diminishing numbers of certain endangered species. [via PetaPixel]
- The New York City Dept. of Records added 30,000 newly digitized historical photographs to its online gallery. [via Jennifer Wright, SIA]
- Uncertain fate - The Rosa Parks Archives remains in a warehouse waiting to be sold. [via San Jose Mercury News]
- On a high note - William Grant Still's composition, "Grief," has been performed incorrectly due to an error that was introduced after the song was published. His daughter, Judith Anne Still, with the help of the Library of Congress' Music Division, was able to correct the error to his composition by finding the original unpublished manuscript that Still had deposited with the Copyright Office on June 15, 1953. [via Library of Congress blog]
- The Tate Museum releases a new digital audio archive that features 245 hours of material with over 1,640 artist interviews. [via InfoDocket]
- Let the computers do the work - Movement towards automated processing of electronic records. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Setting the record straight - The National Museum of American History revised their exhibition label for a DNA model template to recognize the important work of scientist Rosalind Franklin which helped lead to the discovery of the structure of DNA. [via O Say Can You See?, NMAH]
- Moving to DC, the National Museum of Natural History welcomed the Nation's T-Rex this past week where it will find a home while it's on loan for the next 50 years for 50 years from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. [via Smithsonian Science]
A common inquiry I receive from Smithsonian staff is whether it is better to keep their files in electronic or paper format. The best answer to this question is "it depends." There are several factors to consider.
1) How long do the files need to be kept?
Paper files, especially when accumulated over a long period of time, require a lot of physical storage space, but if the space is cool and dry, little needs to be done to preserve and maintain them in the long-term. Electronic files generally require little space, but must be regularly reviewed to determine if they need to be migrated to new media or converted to a new file format to ensure they can be accessed in the future.
2) Does one format have more value than the other?
A common example of one format having more value is documents containing signatures. Signatures are often proof of an agreement or testimony. Traditionally, they have been handwritten on paper documents. These paper documents with original signatures are generally necessary for ensuring the authenticity of a signature and are therefore more valuable than a scanned version of the document. The technology surrounding digital signatures, however, allows for the electronic file to ensure authenticity and a printed copy is not as valuable.
3) Is one format easier to use?
In the 21st century, most documents are created electronically and some just don't translate well into a printed format. All sorts of reports and even the data tables can be printed from a database, but printouts just can't be used as efficiently and the database itself can. Another example is a website. A printout does not allow a user to click on links or even give any indication of where the link goes. Not to mention the audio and video elements of a website do not translate at all in a printout.
The opposite can also be true. It is not uncommon for many different electronic files to be printed and compiled into a single printed document, such as a publication. A user could identify all of the electronic files and then attempt to read them in the appropriate order, but it would be easier just to look at the paper version.
4) In what format are the majority of the records already?
There can be value in having all related records in the same format (paper or electronic), but scanning or printing on a large-scale is time-consuming and potentially expensive. It is often best to choose the format that will require the least amount of printing or scanning. A cost-benefit analysis should always be done prior to converting files to a new format. Leaving existing files as is and documenting which files are paper and which are electronic may be a reasonable alternative.
In some cases, there may be significant benefit to maintaining files in both formats. One should be designated as the official copy – the format that will be maintained and preserved – and the other as a reference copy. An electronic version of a document may be suitable to maintain locally for quick reference or electronic searching while a paper version designated as the official copy could be stored off-site and retrieved if needed. Electronic files designated as official copies may be printed to create a paper file that can be easily browsed.
The decision to maintain files in paper or electronically is not an easy one, but by thinking it through and asking the right questions, a solution can often be found that will meet everyone's needs.
- Managing Active Records, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- What Does an Electronic Records Archivist Do?, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Describing Digital Preservation: As Easy as a Walk in the Park, The Signal: Digital Preservation, Library of Congress
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
Many people think of the National Mall in Washington, DC, as one long undifferentiated stretch of green from the base of Capitol Hill to the Washington Monument. In times past, however, parts of the Mall not only had specific names but were covered by structures unimaginable today, including a railroad station and train tracks. The plot bounded by Constitution Avenue on the north, Independence Avenue on the south, Sixth Street on the east and Seventh Street on the west is a good example.
Beginning in 1855, the Armory Building, built to store arms for the city's volunteer militia companies, occupied the southeastern corner of this twenty-two-acre area, which then became known as Armory Park or Armory Square. During the Civil War, the building anchored a hospital complex with multiple temporary structures. After the close of the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, the Armory Building was used as temporary storage for exhibit materials transferred to the United States National Museum. It was later used by the US Fish and Fisheries Commission (1881-1932). The building stood on the site until 1964. The west end of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum (built 1972-1976) occupies the site today.
In 1887, the head of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds wrote Spencer F. Baird, secretary of the Smithsonian as well as head of the Fish Commission, to suggest renaming Armory Park in honor of Joseph Henry: "Among the eminent scientists of the present century, no man stood higher in every possible way, than your distinguished predecessor, Prof. Henry." Joseph Henry, a prominent physicist, had been elected in 1846 as the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and continued until his death in 1878.
Despite the renaming, the old name persisted. In 1913, fourth Smithsonian Secretary Charles Doolittle Walcott described the site as Armory Square in reference to the proposed (but never built) George Washington Memorial Building, which was to border Constitution Avenue and be administered by the Smithsonian. Four years later, however, when temporary buildings for use of the army and navy departments began to cover the site, official documents referred to the location as Henry Park.
At the time of the renaming in 1887, the northern end of the site was dominated by the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station, which had been built in the mid-1870s, and a 510-ft.-long train shed that extended partway across the Mall. Tracks continued south across the Mall along Sixth Street. The station and tracks were abandoned in 1907 when Union Station was opened; the old station was demolished the following year. Clay tennis courts that had been installed beginning in 1916 were removed in 1936 to make way for the construction of the West Building of the National Gallery of Art (built 1937-1941). Complaints following the demolition of the tennis courts included one from E. Claude Babcock, president of the American Federation of Government Employees and also secretary of the Smithsonian Tennis Association.
A search of old issues of The Washington Post might lead one to conclude that the name "Henry Park" went out of existence with the tennis courts in the mid-1930s. But recently it seems to have resurfaced. A muggle Quidditch tournament was to be held in Henry Park in April 2011, before muddy conditions forced it to relocate. Those planning to attend comedian Jon Stewart's 2010 Rally to Restore Sanity were directed to "an area known (to someone, at least) as East Seaton Park and Henry Park, between 3rd and 7th streets NW on the Mall." In response, a commenter complained, "There is no East Seaton Park, and there is no Henry Park. In fact, people keep moving those labels around the Mall on the Google Maps. It's all the National Mall."
Despite that claim, Henry Park has appeared in the very official Geographic Names Information System, maintained by the United States Geological Survey, since 1991. The entry lists "Armory Grounds" as a variant name. If you follow the link under Mapping Services to "GNIS in Google Map," you will see a red balloon in the correct section of the Mall. But if you click the red balloon to see "feature detail," you are taken to a tiny Henry Park designated by an icon just southwest of the intersection of Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues near the West Wing of the National Gallery of Art. Might the wizards of Hogwarts have something to do with this transformation?
- Record Unit 7471 - George Washington Memorial Association, Records, 1890-1922, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Dian Olson Belanger, "The Railroad in the Park: Washington's Baltimore & Potomac Station, 1872-1907," Washington History, vol. 2, no. 1 (spring 1990), pp. 4-27.
- For information on Henry Park, see Kay Fanning, Cultural Landscape Inventory (Inventory Number 600213), 2006, pp. 12-20 (chronology), and 48 [graphic], and Historic American Buildings Survey No. DC-678, pp. 15, 18, 20, 36-38.
- For additional information on E. Claude Babcock, see Morgan Baker, "The Federal Diary," Washington Post, April 7, 1935.
- World Cup VII, International Quidditch Association
- 1 of 84
- next ›