The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Archive
My laptop's dictionary illustrates the word "idiosyncrasy" with colorful examples, attributing distinctive modes of behavior to regal figures (a queen who imperiously demands a certain food) or referencing odd places that demand unorthodox responses (how major baseball sluggers exploit the "Green Monster" at Fenway Park). The origins of the word provoke distinctly idiosyncratic daydreams. In Greek, idiosunkrasia referred to one's own private mixture (idios + sun + krasis), to the modes of thought or behavior unique to an individual.
The Science Service collections are, without question, idiosyncratic, but their foibles and oddities are collective as well as individualistic. The mixture unites thousands of different correspondents and ways of seeing the world – all ages, all sorts of motivations, all walks of life.
By the mid-1930s Science Service had become ever more engaged in educational activities directed at young people. That interest stimulated the organization's Science Clubs of America, "Things of Science" projects, and involvement in the Science Talent Search competition. Long before such formal activities, however, students had sought help by writing letters, just as today's students email Smithsonian Institution archivists, historians, and curators.
In 1935, a high school senior Viola Anderson wrote this letter to Science Service:
52 Anderson Avenue
Staten Island, New York
April 13, 1935
For my Senior Speech in High School, I have to select a topic which interests me. I have always been curious about the subject of idiosyncrasies.
Would it be possible to get any information on idiosyncrasies? Unfortunately, I have been unable to secure material, and the extent of my knowledge is my observations. I would appreciate any information you could possibly give me.
As we enter Women's History Month, it would be nice to imagine that Viola Anderson grew up to be a scientist. Such an inquiring mind befits a budding researcher. The letter she sent to Science Service in 1935 is well-written. Perhaps she became an author, a dramatist, a poet, a philosopher. Do you recognize the little girl who knew that observations alone would not suffice and asked for more information?
- Science Service Records at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Ruth MacCoy Blackwelder is a woman who, even after extensive research, is still very much cloaked in mystery for me. Currently, the only online records of her existence lie in a line or two in various biographies about her husband, Richard, the byline of a book she co-wrote with him, and a newspaper article with details about her estate after her death in 1989. Thanks to the Smithsonian Transcription Center, that is about to change.
Ruth Blackwelder was born in El Oro, Mexico on September 9, 1910 to American parents Frederick and Ella MacCoy. On January 3, 1935, she married Richard Eliot Blackwelder, an entomologist who had just graduated from Stanford with his PhD. Shortly after their wedding, Richard received the Walter Rathbone Bacon Travelling Scholarship from the Smithsonian Institution to conduct research in the West Indies. On June 22, 1935, the pair set sail from New York, and arrived in Kingston, Jamaica five days later.
During their trip to the West Indies, Richard and Ruth Blackwelder kept separate journals of their activities. The majority of Richard's entries relate to his collecting work in the field, whereas Ruth's entries detail the life and experiences of an American woman in a foreign country. Her journals not only provide insight into her daily activities, but they also provide information about current events and shed light on the interests and hobbies of this otherwise unknown woman.
One of the things that Ruth's journals make obvious pretty quickly is her love of stamp collecting. She often talks of the joy of receiving boxes of stamps for gifts, and the many nights she and Richard spent sorting and cleaning them. It seemed that her primary interest was in American and Caribbean stamps, and she often located collectors on the various islands they visited with whom she could trade or purchase additional stamps for her catalogue. After the couple returned to the United States, Ruth Blackwelder enlisted the help of J. F. Gates Clarke, curator in the Division of Insects at the Smithsonian Institution, to secure first run editions of stamps that she could not obtain locally. It is unclear what became of her seemingly large collection of stamps, but it is clear that the collection was something that she was proud of.
The last document we have from Ruth Blackwelder is a letter from July 1940. After that, her name doesn't surface again until she is listed as a co-author on Directory of Zoological Taxonomists of the World in 1961. She passed away on November 27, 1989 in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri, where she and Richard moved after his retirement. Now that Ruth Blackwelder's journals from her trip to the West Indies are in the Smithsonian Transcription Center, what else can you uncover about the life of this mystery woman?
- Record Unit 140: United States National Museum Division of Insects, Correspondence, 1909-1963, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 96-099: Richard E. Blackwelder Papers, 1926-1964, Smithsonian Institution Archives
As we begin Women's History Month, I wanted to focus on another group of women documented in the Archives collections, those women in the field of humanities. Humanities studies how people interpret and record the human experience, or in other words the study of human culture. Areas of study could include languages, literature, philosophy, religion, musicology, history, art, and archaeology among others. Just as women in science at the Smithsonian make and contribute to the research and activites at this Institution, so do women in the humanities.
Some examples of women in the humanities represented in our collections are:
Margaret Brown Klapthor
Margaret B. Klapthor (1922-1994) was born in Henderson, Kentucky. She graduated from the University of Maryland, B.A., 1943, and shortly thereafter was employed by the Smithsonian Institution as a scientific aide in the Civil Section of the Division of History, United States National Museum. Klapthor was assigned to restoring the First Ladies' dresses, the collection of White House gowns, which eventually became the First Ladies Hall exhibition at the Museum of History and Technology in 1964. Her positions later included Assistant Curator, 1947-1948, in the Section of Civil History, Division of History; Assistant Curator, 1949-1951, and Associate Curator, 1952-1957, in the Division of Civil History; and Associate Curator, 1957-1970, Curator, 1971-1983, and Curator Emeritus, 1984-1994, in the Division of Political History. Klapthor published many articles and several books during her tenure, including The Dresses of the First Ladies of the White House and Official White House China: 1789 to the Present.
Claudia Brush Kidwell
Claudia Brush Kidwell started her career at the Smithsonian as an intern in the Division of Textiles at the Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History) in 1961. After completing her undergraduate study at the University of Maryland and afer receiving her master's dregree from Pennsylvania State University in 1964, Kidwell returned to be a Curator in the Division of Costume. She would come to serve as Chair of the Division of Cultural History and would later serve as Acting Director of the Museum of History and Technology.
Mary S. M. Gibson
Mary S. M. Gibson a curator at the Cooper Union Museum (now the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum) from 1904-1945.
Dr. Lillian B. Miller
Dr. Miller was a historian of American culture and editor of the Peale Family Papers at the National Portrait Gallery. She started at the Smithsonian in 1971 and published five volumes on the Peale Family Papers as well as organized the traveling exhibition, "The Peal Family: Creation of a Legacy, 1770-1870" which included works produced over a century by 11 members of the Peale Family. She was the first member of her family to get a college education, graduating magna cum laude from Radcliffe College in 1943, having worked her way through school as a secretary to the astronomer Harlow Shapley. At first she had aspirations of persuing literature, but ultimately felt the pull of history. She attended graduate school at Columbia University to study American history, receiving her master's degree in 1948 and her doctorate in 1962. Her dissertation, "Patrons and Patriotism: The Encouragement of Fine Arts in the United States, 1790-1860" was published in 1966 and she was an associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin before coming to the Smithsonian. In addition to her work at the Smithsonian, Dr. Miller was a professorial lecturer at George Washington University; served on the Council for the Institute for Early American History and Culture in Williamsburg, Virginia; and on the executive board of the American Studies Association.
These women are just a small representation of those who contributed to the exhibitions, research, publications, and public programs put forth by the Smithsonian. They also just so happen to not have Wikipedia entries.
Please join the Archives for Women's History month as we share a series of blog posts on the women in our collections.
- Women's History Month at The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
What happens when an organization turns to the Internet 'crowd' for help to make its online collections as accessible as possible? The Archives is several years into its crowd-sourcing initiatives: tagging photographs and solving mysteries on Flickr Commons and transcribing text-oriented materials on the Smithsonian Transcription Center. Our goals are focused on enabling people to virtually look inside these materials and apply data mining and other techniques, enriching and speeding their own work.
In just the past 18 months, over two thousand new volunteers plus an untold number of anonymous contributors have given us a big boost, and the results are remarkable. While the quality and quantity of the effort is impressive – over 300 transcription projects and hundreds more photos available to tag on the Flickr Commons, I am more excited by how I see volunteers' passion for knowledge grow, having an empowering and domino effect.
Looking for the Inside Stories
As the institutional archives documenting the Smithsonian's history of acquiring and disseminating knowledge, we hold a wide variety of both scientific and humanities oriented primary source material that reflects that diversity of the Smithsonian's activities from its earliest days over 169 years ago.
As we selected material for our digital volunteers, I expected them to engage with it, gaining insight and appreciation for the personal efforts and experiences of the individuals behind them. However, volunteers soon uncovered additional, noteworthy individuals and events buried inside those texts.
Going one step further, they began to find connections between different Archives projects, such as the professional and personal relationships between scientists and examples of their work.
Amidst all of these discoveries, the depth of access these volunteers have helped us create has enabled researchers to include these historical sources in computer-driven longitudinal studies.
#WeLearnTogether: The Domino Effect
#welearntogether is a Twitter hash tag these 'volunpeers' have taken to when discussing the projects they are working on. It reflects the community culture we have striven for since the first days of our crowd-sourcing initiatives. So what's this domino effect?
Domino 1: Our volunpeers are using the information they have found, finding links to data held by museums, libraries, and archives at the Smithsonian and helping us to connect those resources to each other.
Domino 2: The volunteers are reaching out to other organizations, and sharing what they have learned so those organizations, too, can update and enrich their own information catalogs. These include JSTOR and the United States National Herbarium.
In the end, the knowledge of our collections has grown, their accessibility improved, resulting in tangible benefits for today’s and tomorrow’s Smithsonian collections users. It is so rewarding to watch these volunteers’ voyages of discovery stoke a passion to discover more and fire an enthusiasm about these collections that has proven to be contagious.
- Record Unit 7148 - David Crockett Graham Papers, 1923-1936, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 7272 - Frederick Vernon Coville Papers, 1888-1936 and undated, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 7267 - Vernon Orlando Bailey Papers, 1889-1941 and undated, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 7417 - Florence Merriam Bailey Papers, 1865-1942, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Hidden in Plain Sight: Reading Between the Lines with the Smithsonian Transcription Center Volunteers
The Smithsonian Transcription Center volunteers have been busy unlocking the hidden stories from the Smithsonian's collections - including the women in science hiding in plain sight in these digitized pages. From amateur collectors to seasoned gardeners, women made valuable contributions to the Smithsonian's collections. Here's what we're learning and doing together with their information.
Last July, I shared some of the progress of volunteers and their growth as a community. The highlights? Over 450 volunteers transcribed 13,412 pages including 46 different Archives projects. Since then, we have grown our community to over 4,500 volunteers and the completed text of 66,598 pages can now be indexed. This remarkable growth includes 247 completed Archives projects as well.
Updated statistics: Over 450 volunteers at that point had transcribed 46 different Archives projects. That was part of the total 956 volunteers who had completed 13,412 pages by July 2014. Since then, 2,147 volunteers have helped wrap up a whopping 247 Archives projects! The community has grown to over 4,700 volunteers total; they have worked together to completely transcribe and review 67,205 pages - to make searchable text in Smithsonian's Collections Search Center.
Through mysteries, connections, and achievements, the Archives continue to recognize the women in science in their collections. The Archives also shares field notes and books in the Smithsonian Transcription Center, where we have fully transcribed field notes and photo albums from women scientists including Doris Cochran, Cléofe Caldéron, Florence Bailey, and Mary Agnes Chase. Volunteers - whom we call #volunpeers - have also been able to identify at least 25 women who contributed specimens and were recorded in field notes by Joseph Nelson Rose.
Rose was a botanist with the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the Smithsonian Institution; his work was prolific and highlighted his great commitment to botanical work and cooperative discovery. How fitting that by transcribing his detailed notes, volunpeers would open a window: private citizens and researchers alike sharing specimens with the Smithsonian Institution. Many of the women in science we've uncovered in the pages were involved in science with informal work or non-institutional roles. The collectors in Rose's pages were professional botanists, and collecting sisters, wives, and amateurs.
In addition to notes on women cultivating botanical collections, we also see women in science in the entomological specimens labels and botanical specimens sheets that volunpeers transcribe. One challenge emerges: what can we do with the knowledge that emerges from the digitized pages? How can we acknowledge the effort of all of the collectors and honor the work of volunteers?
As Smithsonian staff begin to incorporate that information into official records and institutional narrative, we can discuss the challenges openly - in Google Hangouts, blogposts, and social media. By working with volunpeers and others, we might open the problem to group solutions. We can also acknowledge the scientific work in spaces like Wikipedia where challenges remain with representation of women. In this way, the knowledge generated from the Archives' and other Smithsonian collections can be shared with the public. As we approach Women's History Month, we have another opportunity to connect the women in science in these pages to the body of knowledge held at the Smithsonian Institution Archives and the energy of Wikipedia editors.
You can let science talk and help the stories of these women unfold in two ways: by joining the Archives in a Wikipedia edit-a-thon on March 27, 10:00-4:00 pm EST. Here is the running list of women from Joseph Nelson Rose’s field notes:
Women Without Wikipedia Representation
- Wilmatte Porter Cockerell
- Helen S. Conant
- Grace M. Cole
- Mrs. Anna W Kidder
- Miss Jesse P Rose
- Ruth C. Ross
- Miss Gertrude Sinscheimer
- Sister Mary Regina of St. Mary’s Convent (NY)
- Elsie McElroy Slater
- Mrs. Florence A Standley
- Miss Nellie Standley
- Miss V. Tasker of Pennsylvania
- Miss F. N. Vasey
- Mrs. Irene Vera
Women With Articles in Wikipedia
Women Currently Identified by Names Other Than Their Own
- Mrs. Charles Bly
- Mrs. D. D. Gaillard
- Lady Hanbury
- Mrs. Dan Hansen
- Mrs. Eugene A Harris
- Mrs. S. L. Pattison
- Mrs. L. L. Roller
- Mrs. G. M. Wolfe
Or you can share your passion for Smithsonian collections by transcribing with other volunpeers in the Transcription Center.