The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Digitization
Managing a special public trust
In 1846, when the United States Congress had finally settled on what to do with James Smithson’s generous bequest, the Smithsonian Institution was established and a board of regents vested to administrate that public trust in keeping with Smithson’s desire for “an establishment for the increase and diffusion on knowledge.” Composed of government leaders and private citizens, the Board of Regents has guided the Smithsonian from a single building and a nascent national collection to today’s nineteen national museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities working around the globe. Can you imagine the issues this body had to consider along the way?
Making this public record accessible
Since the Smithsonian is an organization in the public trust, the meeting minutes of its Board of Regents are a matter of public record. For a long time, accessing these records meant a trip to Washington, D.C. to the Smithsonian Institution Archives to review a physical copy of the minutes.
However, today we live in a digital world. The Meeting Minutes from this past decade are posted on the Smithsonian website for anyone to review. Not only can someone read the Board’s Meeting Minutes, but finding the references to the Giant Magellan Telescope over the years can be as easy as a Google search.
What about the previous century’s Smithsonian Board of Regents Meeting Minutes? The Archives has tackled that challenge. Those Minutes have been digitized and are being prepared to go up on the web.
With the help of digital volunteers, we will make over a century’s worth of these important historical records just as searchable as the Meeting Minutes from 2006 on. These recently digitized Board of Regents Meeting Minutes are being launched in the Smithsonian Transcription Center so digital volunteers can read and transcribe these records. Once completely transcribed, that meeting’s minutes becomes immediately fully searchable. Over time, anyone will be able to search online for telescopes and the Smithsonian Board of Regents and find all of the references across the whole range of Meeting Minutes from 1846 on. Did you know the first Smithsonian astrophysical observatory was located right behind the original building in Washington, D.C.? With volunteers’ help, people will be able to discover what considerations the Board of Regents gave to these developments across the decades.
Board of Regents Records, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Board of Regents Bibliography, Smithsonian Institution Research Information System
Images of the Board of Regents, Smithsonian Institution Research Information System
About The Board of Regents, Smithsonian
It’s no secret that the Smithsonian’s first Secretary Joseph Henry was passionate about science and scientific research: from his own experiments, to the corps of meteorological observers he encouraged, to the young scientists who lived in residence in the Smithsonian Institution Building. Henry’s attitude towards collections was less enthusiastic, and perhaps influenced his decision to place the responsibility for the National Museum’s collections in the hands of his Assistant Secretary Spencer Fullerton Baird.
Baird describes the early vision for collections in a letter to Professor Alexander Winchell who, like many others, was excited by the prospect of contributing to the Smithsonian vision and hopeful that the specimen collections he sent in would help to make the Institution’s collections more comprehensive and complete.
“It is true Prof. Henry is opposed to indiscriminate collections; so’m I; but our idea is a complete North American at least.” Spencer Baird wrote to Professor Alexander Winchell on March 19, 1853.
The careful development of a national collection was a task Baird excelled in, and required a balance of seeking out new collections as well as sorting through and assessing the collections volunteered from across North America and overseas. After Baird was named the first curator in 1850, the scope quickly grew beyond his ability to handle singlehandedly. Additional curators were brought on board. The United States National Museum, Secretary Baird’s dream, opened in 1881.
A Deeper Dive
The Smithsonian Institution’s Annual Reports, like other organization’s annual reports, are a distillation of more detailed reports from within the Institution. The holdings in the Archives collection “Record Unit 158, United States National Museum, Curators’ Annual Reports, 1881 – 1964” is just that: direct reports from the curators of each year’s activities at the department, division and/or section level within the Museum. Coming straight from the curators, they offer up additional detail, insights and opinions about the development and stewardship of collections beyond that reflected in the Institution’s Annual Reports. What were the priorities for collecting different types of material? What expectations did the curators have of the usefulness of their collections? How did they manage the process of reviewing unsolicited specimens?
Enhancing Access with the Help of Digital Volunteers
In order to provide researchers online access to this collections, the Archives has embarked on an extended digitization project. This affords researchers around the world simultaneous access. However, our goal is to provide the ability to search across the full text of each report and across reports. These curators’ reports will be added to the Smithsonian Transcription Center beginning the first week of June where digital volunteers can help us to transcribe this valuable body of historical documents. The complete transcripts will then be made available fully accessible on the Archives website.
Record Unit 158, United States National Museum, Curators’ Annual Reports, 1881 – 1964, Smithsonian Institution Archives
SIA Acc. 12-492 - United States National Museum. Division of Graphic Arts. Section of Photography, Photographic Collection, 1933, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Lord of the Rings fans! A newly-discovered map annotated by Tolkien. [via Open Culture]
- A last call for Archives Month to contribute your stories and memories of gardens and gardening to the Community Gardens digital archive. [via Smithsonian Gardens]
- Gorgeous fly-throughs of 17th Century London before The Great Fire from a talented group of students at De Montfort University. [via Open Culture]
- A progress report on the open access movement in museums that mentions the American Art Collaborative, a consortium of American art museums sharing their collections data which was started by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. [via New York Times]
- In other open news, Harvard’s “Free the Law” project will make 40 million pages of American case law available via an open searchable database. [via InfoDocket]
- 55 minimalist book covers of vintage psychology, philosophy, and science books animated with electronic music. [via Open Culture]
- On Monday, October 19, David Skorton was installed at the Thirteenth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. [via The Torch, SI]
- Be proactive - Save web content now before it disappears. [via The Atlantic]
- The General Services Administration, which owns one of the nation's oldest and largest public art collections with over 26,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, new media, and more, lauunched a online gallery of public art. [via InfoDocket]
- Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty opens today at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and is the first museum retrospective of Penn's work in twenty years. [via Eye Level blog, SAAM]
- Unintended consequences - A drought in Mexico allows a 400 year old church to emerge in a resevoir. [via Colossal]
- You see them everyday, but did you know the history behind gylphs like the hashtag and slash? [via Wired]
- If were not able to make it to The Tate Modern to see the 130-foot art installation by Sara Fanelli that provided museumgoers with a sprawling roadmap showing the major artistic movements and important artists of the 20th century you can experience it in the video below. [via OpenCulture]
- Prepare to be wowed as the National Museum of Natural History prepares the Nation's T. Rex for the new National Fossil Hall. [via Washington Post]
- RIP library catalog cards, you will be missed - After nearly 2 billion printed, OCLC printed its last library catalog card. [via InfoDocket]
- List of digitization priorities at NARA. [via NARAtions blog, NARA]
- Congratulations to the Archives own Pamela Henson, Historian, who was awarded the Herbert Feis Award for distinguished contributions to public history from the American Historical Association. [via AHA Today blog, AHA]
- In acquisition news, the National Air and Space Museum acquired the Sally K. Ride Collection which is comprised of 182 items and 40 cubic feet of papers. [via SI Newsdesk]
- More images are available online this week: 170,000 Depression-era photos from Yale University, 226 Ansel Adams photos of American National Parks, and over 8400 photos from Apollo astronauts. [via Gizmodo, OpenCulture, and PetaPixel]
- The Archives' Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig, Electronic Records Archivist, answers questions about web archiving at the Smithsonian. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Planned for opening in Fall 2016, architect Phil Freelon, who is the leading the design team for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, talks about the design of the museum in the video below. [via NBC News]
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