The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Archive
In the spring of 1992 the Smithsonian's "Internet Implementation Committee" was working to connect the Smithsonian to the Internet. Every organization on the Internet needs a domain name, which references a specific range of Internet Protocol (IP) numbers. What domain name should we use? What names were available? What name could we request? Several possible names were researched – we could spell out Smithsonian or we might use an abbreviation such as "SI", or "Smith". However, any other abbreviation seemed contrived, artificial, and unusable. “Smithsonian” would certainly work, but seemed too long and cumbersome. At that time the domain name choices were limited to the original six historic, or generic top level domains or gTLDs: ".com", “.edu”, “.gov”, ".mil", ".net", and ".org".
The Smithsonian clearly did not want to join the ".com" domain (Sports Illustrated already had the "si.com" domain name, and still has that name today). The “.net” (usually reserved for organization supporting network operations) and “.mil” (usually reserved for the U.S. military) domains seemed inappropriate; and the “.org” domain was usually reserved for other organizations, also inappropriate. The two most logical, available, and promising name options were presented to the Internet Policy Team: we could apply for either the “si.gov” or “si.edu” domain name.
The sense of the technical team was that it did not really matter which domain name was selected; any name would work exactly the same from a technical point of view. So it was, perhaps, more of a political consideration. The Smithsonian Institution is a trust instrumentality of the United States. Someone at the planning meeting said, "The Smithsonian is technically not part of the government-- can we be “si.edu”?, and that was how “si.edu” was selected.
The Smithsonian applied for and was awarded (on June 19, 1992) the Internet domain name “si.edu”, which became the Smithsonian's first identity on the Internet.
The physical Internet connection was made in July 1992. At that time Internet services were limited to: E-mail (SMTP), file transfer (FTP), and remote login (Telnet). The Smithsonian staff would use these services to access remote computer resources, such as library catalogues, and databases. These services predated the web and the first desktop PC web browser. Little did we know how the rapid growth of the World Wide Web and expanded Internet services would change everything! The official announcement of the Smithsonian’s Internet connection was made by John Moreci, Communications Manager, Office of Information Resource Management, “Smithsonian Connects to Internet”, September 28, 1992.
With the Internet infrastructure established, the Smithsonian website was launched on May 8, 1995, and the rest is history . . .
From that simple beginning with a single domain name, the Smithsonian has, like many large organizations, come to own many domains – nearly 400 as of this writing. Most are not in use and were registered to ensure Smithsonian control over the trademarked Smithsonian name. When the Smithsonian Institution ventured into more commercial endeavors, a “.com” domain -- Smithsonian.com (operated by Smithsonian Enterprises) – did in fact become appropriate. It is in use today, as are a number of other single-purpose domains (e.g., inventionatplay.org). Many of these domains exist for marketing and communications purposes; some are standalone websites, others are simply redirected to “si.edu” subdomain addresses (e.g., emammal.org redirects to emammal.si.edu).
One unanticipated and interesting benefit for the Smithsonian is that search engines like Google evaluate search results from “.edu” domains as originating from an authoritative source and therefor rank the search result higher than those from other domains.
Since the Smithsonian registered “si.edu”, the requirements to register an “.edu” domain have become more strictly focused on accredited educational institutions. According to Educause (the non-profit association responsible for overseeing “.edu”) "only U.S. postsecondary institutions that are institutionally accredited by an agency on the U.S. Department of Education's list of Nationally Recognized Accrediting Agencies" are granted new “.edu” domains.
Previously granted “.edu” domains (such as Smithsonian’s) are grandfathered-in under the newer policies.
- Report of the Internet Implementation Committee to Robert S. Hoffman, Assistant Secretary for Science, August 14, 1992, Smithsonian Institution Archives
As summer ends, you may be sorting (and labeling) hundreds of digital images from your holiday travels. Or perhaps you used the quiet time to organize family photos, especially those little black and white prints you inherited years ago and squirreled away in a box. Who were these people? Where were they standing? Is that Aunt Mabel? Is that the Grand Canyon in the background?
Archivists face similar problems when they encounter caches of unlabeled family or travel photographs amongst some scientist’s professional correspondence files.
Here is an example of how you might help in identifying one such set.
On August 13, 1925, Science Service managing director Watson Davis sailed to Europe on his first trip abroad. After debarking at Plymouth, England, on August 22, Davis headed to Southampton, where he attended the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He then traveled to France (where he had an introduction to Marie Curie but did not apparently gain an audience) and to Germany (where he had a brief meeting with Albert Einstein). He returned to the United States on October 10 via the S.S. Republic.
Like tourists today, Davis snapped photographs of the countryside, famous cathedrals, and other sites. He most likely used the same German-made ICA Victrix folding camera he had purchased in May and had used during his western train trip in June and at the Scopes anti-evolution trial in July.
Among dozens of unlabeled photographs in Box 404 of Record Unit 7091 (the same box in which the Scopes photographs were found) are fourteen prints once inside a crumbling brown envelope labeled “England Miscellaneous Views Sept. 1925 W.D.”
We know the photographer and the date. Some of the subjects (e.g., the white cliffs of Dover) seem familiar; others are not so easily recognized.
Can you help the Smithsonian Institution Archives with definitive identification of the sights that Watson photographed in 1925?
- Science Service, Up Close blog post series, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Science Service collections at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
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- Get your submarine ready - This week the first digital geological map of the world’s ocean floor was released. [via InfoDocket]
- What's your story? Tales of first encounters with art in Southern California. [via The Getty Iris]
- National Geographic magazine, a nonprofit publication since its founding in 1888, will now shift to a for-profit status under a new partnership with 21st Century Fox. [via InfoDocket]
- Come celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month at the Smithsonian with a series of vibrant performances, lectures, family activities and exhibitions at various museums. [via SI Newsdesk]
- Check out DC Public Library's Fab Lab in the video below. [via InfoDocket]
At the Archives, much of the treatment we undertake is driven by need and request: in this instance, the Board of Regents requested that their historical meeting minutes be digitized for easy consultation, requiring that conservation staff survey and treat the collections in question to ensure they are stable for scanning.
The majority of the volumes were in stable condition with few interventive needs; however, volume 1, covering the meeting minutes from 1846 to 1856, required some structural reinforcement before it could be safely handled during digitization.
Volume 1 is an oversized book measuring 19.5” by 14”, and is 4” thick; it is bound in plum-colored leather, decorated in a style similar to one known as the Cambridge panel. The first volume begins with a transcribed version of James Smithson’s will and the Acts of Congress that created the Smithsonian Institution; after these items, the minutes of the Board of Regents meetings start, carefully written across penciled grid lines to ensure straight text.
Despite the overall fine condition of the volume, there were a few obstacles impeding its quick send-off to digitization. These were structural, based on the style and girth of the binding. As described above, the book is quite large and weighty, with heavy covers that stress the joint of the volume as the book is opened and closed. It also appears that when the book was made, the spine of the book was not fitted closely enough to the paper textblock; as a result, when the volume is opened, it wants to pull further than the textblock is able to move, causing the textblock to break at various points and leave loose pages. The book’s leather spine is heavily cracked, another result of the overlarge spine trying to open further than the textblock can. The stress of opening the book also caused the leather to break along the joints, particularly at the head of the front cover board where the joint is broken through completely. The headcap was heavily damaged as well, probably because it is a natural place to grip a book when removing it from the shelf; the leather was broken, exposing the heavy cord used to strengthen it, and revealing a large unsupported cavity that contributed to its damage.
Attention was devoted first to the textblock, with some light surface cleaning. Loose pages were reattached with V-shaped Japanese paper hinges: one side of the V was adhered with wheat starch paste to the textblock and allowed to dry before pasting out the other side and laying the loose page atop it. This ensured that the page edges aligned properly. Once all loose pages were in place, the dilemma described above needed solving—how to connect the separated pieces of the textblock but allow the binding to open fully, preventing the textblock from breaking anew.
The solution arrived at is a modification of the V-shaped hinges. A W-shaped piece of Japanese paper, carefully scored and folded in advance, was created. This gusseted joint leaves the central peak of the W left free to flex across the opening of the book, distributing the stress and preventing future breaks. Each leg of the W was adhered in place along the spine edges of the pages facing across the break and left to dry under weight.
With textblock repairs completed, focus moved to the broken leather exterior. A simple but effective method of treatment, known as the Etherington hinge, was employed: strips of pre-colored Japanese paper, chosen to match the leather, were placed under the leather of the covers and of the spine to span the joint and adhered in place with wheat starch paste. Once this was set, the original leather was re-adhered atop the paper hinge. Slightly damaged endcaps can be repaired in a similar fashion.
The heavily damaged headcap needed more attention. As mentioned above, a large space inside the leather left the headcap without adequate support and resulted in significant damage. To fill this gap, a new core was created by wrapping the same Japanese paper used to repair the joints around a short length of linen thread; this was inserted beneath the leather on top of the original cord. A second, narrower one was created in the same manner to fill in the space left between the two cylindrical pieces, before re-adhering the original leather.
Finally, abraded and deteriorating areas of the leather were consolidated to prevent further loss of material.
Now in a condition to be digitized, the book was given a new Mylar wrapper prior to being returned to collection storage. However, in the process, something intriguing came to light: leather removed from a different book, lined with linen, and bound in to the rear of this volume. There is evidence of water damage as well as a repair done to fill a section of missing leather. But where did it come from?
Based on research in the Mary Henry diaries and conversation with Pam Henson, Smithsonian Historian, it appears that after the Castle fire in 1865, few to no records were saved, including the original minutes of the Board of Regents. This volume is in fact a sort of facsimile prepared from the edited and published versions of the minutes, copied into a new volume to create a similar effect to the original book. The style of the decoration is very similar and was possibly an attempt at reproduction.
Regardless of the “originality” of this volume, the minutes it preserves make up a valuable piece of the Smithsonian’s history. With a digital version forthcoming, it will be of even greater use to the Regents as they shape the present and future of the Institution.
- Smokin' Smithsonian, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Instituion Archives
- The Burning of the Smithsonian, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Color image of Smithsonian Castle on Fire, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 1 - Smithsonian Institution, Board of Regents, Minutes, 1846- , Smithsonian Institution Archives
One hundred sixty-eight years ago, on the first Monday in September, the Vice President of the United States George M. Dallas convened the first meeting of the Smithsonian Institution's Board of Regents. Congress entrusted the governance of an unprecedented public trust, "an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge," as stipulated in James Smithson's bequest, to this group that also included the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the mayor of the city of Washington, three members of the U.S. Senate, three members of the House of Representatives, and six citizens. The Board of Regents has since worked to guide the growth and development of the Smithsonian into a largest complex of museums and cultural heritage and scientific research centers unlike any other in the world today. Their input and oversight has seen the Smithsonian expand from a single research institution, to the first United States National Museum, and eventually to the 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park, and nine research facilities centered in Washington, D.C. with locations around the world.
The Archives has launched a rapid capture digitization project to make the whole of Record Unit 1 - Smithsonian Institution, Board of Regents, Minutes, 1846- , available online by early 2016. Normally a labor-intensive four stage process - preparation, scanning, metadata generation, and online publication, the Archives' rapid capture digitization workflow consolidates several steps and enables us to cut the time from scanning to online publication by an estimated 80%.
When digitization of this collection is completed and the Minutes are accessible online, digital volunteers in the Smithsonian Transcription Center will be invited to transcribe these historic documents so that scholars of American science, museology, and other disciplines will be able to use advanced research techniques with these important primary source materials.
In the months to come, we will share details about different parts of this project and tell you about what happens behind the scenes to make this project a success. Our first in depth post will come from conservator William Bennett who is preserving and preparing the oldest material in this collection for rapid capture digitization.
- Board of Regents Records at the Smithsonian Institution Archives