The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Digitization
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]
October 10, 2015, marks the fourth annual Electronic Records Day. Organized by the Council of State Archivists, this day is designed to raise awareness among state government agencies, the general public, related professional organizations, and other stakeholders about the crucial role electronic records play in their world.
Here on The Bigger Picture, we are no strangers to discussing electronic records, their role in documenting the activities of the Smithsonian, and the challenges they present in ensuring that historically and legally valuable electronic records are saved and remain readable over time. To celebrate Electronic Records Day, we’d like to highlight just a few of our previous posts.
- What Does an Electronic Records Archivist Do?, by Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig, August 10, 2010
- Passwords and Paper Printouts: Preserving the Electronic Records of the Devra Kleiman Papers, by Julianna Barrera-Gomez, July 28, 2011
- Challenges of Appraising Records in the Digital Age, by Jennifer Wright, October 12, 2012
- Paper vs. Electronic: The Not-So-Final Battle, by Jennifer Wright, April 10, 2014
- Web and Social Media Preservation: Capturing Today’s Websites for Future Archival Research, by Stefana Breitwieser, August 12, 2014
- One Lens for Multiple Archives: A Pan-Institutional Survey of Born-Digital Holdings, by Ricc Ferrante, May 28, 2015
- The History of Email at the Smithsonian, by David Bridge, July 21, 2015
- Yes, We’re Still Talking About Email, by Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig, August 4, 2015
- Electronic Records Day 2015, Council of State Archivists
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