The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Archive
One of the best things about my internship this summer is the interaction between archival research and the living world beyond the walls of the Smithsonian.
Step outside any of the Smithsonian buildings around the National Mall and you’ll be sure to hear a symphony of cheeps, chirps, and coos from the birds who call the Mall home. Each day I make it a priority to spend time in one of the beautiful spaces created and maintained through the hard work of Smithsonian Gardens. The Fountain Garden in the Enid A. Haupt Garden and the curvilinear windings of the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden are quickly becoming personal favorites. Amidst the serenity of these thoughtfully cultivated landscapes, the lively abundance of passerines (also known as perching birds, or songbirds) never ceases to delight and amuse me.
Inside the walls of the Smithsonian there is a long-standing tradition of ornithology. As part of my internship, I’ve been working on the oral history interviews of Roxie Collie Laybourne, or “Roxie” as she is simply and affectionately called. Roxie worked in the Smithsonian’s Division of Birds from 1944 until 1988, and remained active as a research associate until her death in 2003. While her greatest achievement is the establishment of the field of forensic ornithology, Roxie is fondly remembered in the hearts of many for her weekly bird-skinning classes, hosted on Thursday evenings in the basement of the Natural History Building. The class was offered free of charge, and was open to any person who expressed an interest in attending.
The birds most commonly used in class were those collected around the National Mall, including common starlings, house sparrows, and brown-headed cowbirds. In a 2001 interview, Roxie commented that the equally abundant doves were less desirable because “doves lose their feathers very easily, they are usually fat, and most of the time you skin one and [laughter] you may not have much left but the head!” At the heart of the class was the desire for a fuller appreciation of the beauty of natural history, and of birds in particular. Listen to Roxie talk about her work at the Smithsonian in the audio clip below.
Roxie Collie Laybourne talking about her work at the Smithsonian.
Today there are new opportunities for learning about birds and their lives. On July 25, 2012, Smithsonian Gardens established the Urban Bird Habitat Garden outside of the Natural History Museum. The garden has been planted with native trees, shrubs, and perennials to provide food, shelter, and nesting areas for local birds. Today, the habitat garden even boasts its own snag, providing a home for cavity-nesters such as woodpeckers, bluebirds, and chickadees!
Unfortunately a new teacher has yet to take up the challenge of weekly bird-skinning tutorials. But you can see mounts of all of our local birds in the Birds of D.C. exhibit on the ground floor of the Natural History Museum.
- Video of Gray Catbird Singing at the Castle, Gabrielle F. Graham
- Video of Birds Bathing in National Botanic Garden, Gabrielle F. Graham
- The Smithsonian Urban Bird Habitat, Smithsonian Gardens
- Birds seen around the National Museum of Natural History, Encyclopedia of Life
- Record Unit 9610 - Oral history interviews with Roxie Collie S. Laybourne, 2001, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- On Monday, Asian elephants Swarna, Maharani and Kumala finished their 30-day quarantine and made their public debut at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. [via Smithsonian Science]
- Guess who's on Pintrest? - The Library of Congress that's who! [via InfoDocket]
- The Field Book Project sheds some light on what one does with a field book. [via Field Book Project blog, NMNH and SIA]
- Check out the awesome video series by Cooper-Hewitt, Design Dictionary, which illustrates the various design techniques employed in the museum's collections via video. [via Cooper-Hewitt Labs]
- The story continues, Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, voluntarily testifies at a congressional hearing regarding the loss of email at the IRS. [via The New York Times]
- Answers to a question you may not have thought of . . . what happens to my social media profiles after I die? [via Mashable]
- This week the Library of Congress released its recommended formats for the long-term preservation of six types of creative works. [via InfoDocket]
- Last week saw the passing of Stephanie Kwolek, a scientist at DuPont who invented Kevlar. [via Core77]
- Last chance - The National Zoological Park announced that they would be closing its Invertebrate Exhibit on Sunday, June 22. [via Charismatic Minifauna blog, Wired]
- Skills required - Taking a look at the job requirements for digital archivists. [via hangingtogether.org, OCLC Research]
- Can't get there yourself? No problem, Google Street Art allows you to explore street art from around the world. [via Colossal]
- Still chugging away - An 80 year old film printer still contributes to preservation. [via Media Matters blog, NARA]
- Archival explorations at the New York Public Library - Lydia Maria Child, author, abolitionist, and advocate for human rights. [via NYPL blog]
- Discussions on preserving digital and software-based artworks from the National Digital Stewardship Alliance. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- A first - President Obama's scanned 3D portrait. [via The Torch, SI]
- Never too early to start - 5th graders archiving websites. [via The Archive-It blog]
- Recently we received a collection of Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory records from the Harvard Depository in Southborough, Massachusetts, home to some 10 million books. Here's a look at the facility. [via InfoDocket]
“We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.” – Max DePree
Many organizations are affiliated with the Smithsonian. The Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) in Oklahoma City has a mission to "collect, preserve, and share the history and the culture of the state of Oklahoma and its people." As the digital archivist of this Smithsonian Affiliates organization, I was able to participate in a two-week Visiting Professional Program at the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA). During the information-packed two weeks, I gained a plethora of experience and knowledge about innovative digital processes that are valuable to the Oklahoma Historical Society Research Division's present and future collections.
Currently, the OHS houses more than 3 million digital pages of newspaper with 1 million digital pages online free to the public. The photographic archives contain more than 10 million images. More than 150,000 are digital files. In addition to print media, the OHS houses audio and visual materials that contain sound recordings on a variety of formats. The digitization of these in-house collections has become more prevalent and the imminent step, today, is to continue this mission by creating effective digital content management practices. My residency with the Digital Services Division was an initial step toward this goal as OHS' digital archivist.
Riccardo Ferrante, Director of Digital Services & IT Archivist, supervised a well-orchestrated schedule of events, workshops, lectures and internal collaborations, to direct my residency toward fulfilling the goals to improve the digital content management practices of the OHS. During my residency I learned about the Digital Services Division's mission and their current and future projects. Time was spent exploring conservation processes, and multiple practices and methodologies.
Of particular interest to me, I learned about the Collaborative Survey of Born Digital Collection Holdings. "Born Digital," describes all items that were created in electronic or digital form. A two-phased survey, this project focuses on born-digital holdings across the Smithsonian's archival units, by addressing the challenges faced by the inflow of digital materials. Participants include the Archives of American Art, the National Anthropological Archives and Human Studies Film Archives at the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum Archives, the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History Archives, and the Smithsonian Institution Archives. The survey goal is to conduct a multi-archive inventory of born digital holdings and identify the level of risk these historic digital files face in terms of current and future accessibility, and current and future requisites of care. Based on the survey findings, the best practices of the Archives' Electronic Records Program can be refined and implemented at the other archival units.
The survey directly relates to OHS goals by identifying endangered or obsolescent materials and preventing future deterioration through specific measures, which has been developed through collaborative efforts among the Smithsonian units. These efforts combine multiple-processes concerning reformatting and migration of data, database creation, and the importance of well-developed workflow management. The Archives provided plan initiatives and its changes to initial methods as a learning model to serve as a guide for implementation within OHS' current processes and, specifically, how the survey model can be applied to various digital projects. As technology changes and adapts to newer ideas, establishing a firm platform to build upon can be the most imperative step through the starting line into the progress.
With well-orchestrated scheduling, the Archives guided my experience in a practical and valuable manner. By learning about the processes, templates, workflows, and techniques used at the Archives, it is without doubt that the OHS will be better positioned to fulfill its mission.
Last week I caught an interesting and moving documentary on HBO, Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr. By coincidence, just a few days earlier I was looking through our finding aid to the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Papers in the Smithsonian Archives collection. Hirshhorn had gained his fortune in the mining and oil industries, and also amassed a large art collection - the core of which became the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden that opened in 1974 as part of the Smithsonian Institution. The finding aid to Hirshhorn's papers listed a folder containing correspondence with Robert De Niro, and I wondered at the time, why would actor Robert De Niro be writing Joseph Hirshhorn?
As I started watching the documentary, it finally clicked that Hirshhorn's relationship was with Robert De Niro, Sr., part of the New York School of artists who had success in the 1940s and 1950s, but whose fortunes would soon fade in the 1960s and 1970s when Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism began to take center stage, and De Niro refused to change his artistic style and point of view.
The documentary is a son's tribute to his father and his father's art.
The De Niro/Hirshhorn correspondence echoes themes in the documentary and sheds additional light on De Niro Senior's financial struggles and his sometimes tumultuous relationship with art dealers and patrons.
- Record Unit 7449, Joseph H. Hirshhorn Papers, c. 1926-1982 and undated, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Robert De Niro, Sr., artwork at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden