The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Entertainment
Have you ever noticed that the Smithsonian was mentioned in a novel, TV series or film? Do you have a favorite book about the Smithsonian? Are you partial to The Simpsons couch gags about the Smithsonian? Are Smithsonian forensic anthropologists really like Bones? What actually happens in Smithsonian museums when the public leaves, the curators finally go home, and the collections have the museums to themselves? Did that curator really commit the murder in the conservation lab with the acid-free cloth tape?
We’ve been looking at how the Smithsonian, with its museums full of specimens and research labs full of scientists, is portrayed by popular media such as movies, television and books. Public perceptions of museums and researchers can be very different from how Smithsonian staff think about themselves. Over the years, Smithsonian staff have been portrayed in mysteries, romances, dramas, comedies, and science fiction. What does this tell us about what the public thinks goes on behind the scenes? Spy novels have their protagonists disappear into the dark halls at the Natural History Museum. Movies portray secret collection storage areas under the National Mall. How have these ideas about the Smithsonian developed and changed over time?
The Smithsonian Institution, perhaps more than any other museum, has been the setting for fiction writing ranging from work by Gore Vidal to the TV series Bones to films including Night at the Museum. Its buildings, iconic American landmarks, often set the scene for books, television and films, while characters with ties to the Smithsonian appear in many genres. There are some subtle differences in the portrayal of science, art, anthropology, and history. But, anthropology has been perhaps the most popular topic for fiction writers. On our new website The Smithsonian in Popular Culture you can explore the different novels, episodes and movies that involve the Insituttion. You can even ask, the question, "Did the Curator Really Do It?" and discover how popular writers construct the characters of museum workers and research scientists and what they think of the Smithsonian's world.
What is your favorite book, TV program or film about the Smithsonian? We would like to continue to expand the website and are looking for input from you. We invite you to send information about your favorite program or book, movie or film to us at SIHistory@si.edu, or leave a comment below.
- The Smithsonian in Popular Culture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- The steady march of time has archivists racing to preserve records created using old technology. [via Jennifer Wright, SIA]
- More tips for you about how to store your personal digital archive. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- As more renovation gets underway, some iconic objects are being pulled off of display the National Museum of American History, including one of my personal favorites, Jerry Seinfield's "puffy shirt." [via O Say Can You See?, NMAH]
- Congratulations to the Freer and Sackler Galleries for raising more than $170,000 through a crowdfunding campaign for the upcoming exhibition, Yoga: The Art of Transformation, opening on October 19 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
- While deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, helicoptor aerial gunner and artist studying at the San Francisco Art Institute, Ed Drew, took the first combat zone tintype photos since the Civil War. [via PetaPixel]
- Listen below to the Smithsonian's own, Günter Waibel, talk to Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program about digitization at the Smithsonian.
Does the jovial fellow riding Ambika the elephant look familiar? It's Fred Rogers, leaving his neighborhood for a visit to the National Zoological Park in the spring of 1982. The host of the children's show Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood met giraffes, tigers, and lions as well as pachyderms Ambika and Shanthi; Keepers Jim Jones and Barbara Bingham were featured guests.
Despite rainy conditions, everything went smoothly until the elephant ride. According to The Torch:
As soon as Mr. Rogers was perched atop Ambika's back, she decided she wanted a bath and lumbered eagerly towards the pool. While zoo keepers headed her off, "little" (4,000 pound) Shanthi's curiousity was piqued by the cameraman and his fascinating equipment. As she set off to investigate, our fleet-of-foot staffers quickly foiled a farcical finale.
The episode filmed at the zoo was titled Mr. Rogers Talks About Pets, broadcast on June 4, 1982. You can a find a synopsis at The Neighborhood Archive.
Shanthi and Ambika still live at the National Zoological Park, enjoying their new home, the Elephant Trails exhibit. Now Shanthi is up to 9,000 pounds!
- Record Unit 371 - Office of Public Affairs, The Torch, 1955-1960, 1965-1988, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- On Thursday, the Founders Online project was launched. The website/online tool brings together the papers of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. [via InfoDocket]
- At the Bodleian Library staff can call upon a boxed collection of "dated and datable pins" (and paperclips) collected over the years to help identify the date of manuscripts, a veritable "prickly taxonomy." [via Heather Ewing, SIA]
- The ephemeral quality of digital artwork is put to the test, after the artwork, The World's First Collaborative Sentence by Douglas Davis needed to be restored. [via Carl Schaefer, SIA]
- In the third part of a series on preserving family history, Bertram Lyons, an archivist at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, answers questions about manuscripts, video, and other issues. [via The New York Times]
- Before Facebook, there was MySpace; before MySpace there was Friendster; but before all of these were a myriad of online communites that included Usenet, CompuServe, and bulletin board systems among others, that connected people. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Musical traditions are an integral park of people's cultural history, but in some instances are in danger of being forgotten by newer generations. The Carolina Chocolate Drops are one example of a group that is keeping the sound and tradition of Southern black music from the 1920s and 1930s alive. [via O Say Can You See?, NMAH]
Tomorrow marks the anniversary of a momentous occasion for children visiting the National Mall; on April 12, 1967, the Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley opened a carousel in front of the Arts and Industries Building.
Some people were concerned at the time that the carousel, along with popcorn wagons, outdoor puppet and musical performances, would lead to the Smithsonian becoming an "ivy-covered Disneyland" ("Some Fresh Air for the Nation's Attic," New York Times, April 9, 1967), but as we can see today, that did not happen.
The first carousel was built in 1922 by the Allan Herschell Company and was accompanied by a 153 Wurlitzer Band Organ. It is hard to imagine now, but at the time, rides were 25 cents (currently the cost is $3.50).
Due to wear and tear that carousel was replaced in 1981 with a carousel from Baltimore's Gwynn Oak Amusement Park. This carousel is 10 feet larger in diameter and has 60 horses, as opposed to the former which had 33. The carousel was built in 1947 also by Allan Herschell Company. The seemingly benign carousel however, has a rich history, best told in Amy Nathan's book, Round and Round Together: Taking a Merry-Go-Round Ride into the Civil Rights Movement. Gwynn Oak Amusement Park was a segregated park and became integrated after a nearly decade-long effort in 1963.
The carousel continues to bring laughter and joy to those who ride it today, many of whom may not know of its place in history, but enjoy it nonetheless.
- Round and Round Together: Take a Merry-Go-Round Ride into the Civil Rights Movement, Amy Nathan
- The Carousel on the National Mall, Washington Post