The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Environment
The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970, and was organized by Gaylord Nelson, US Senator from Wisconsin, to raise environmental awareness in the United States. By 1990, Earth Day went international with 200 million people participating in events in 141 countries.
Leading up to an Earth Day 1990 conference, the Smithsonian held a conference in September 1989 between media professionals and scientists to encourage new strategies in reporting critical environmental stories in the news. Covering the Environment: Front Page or Yesterday's News? is a thirty minute video based upon these discussions, which was only distributed to media professionals.
The chairmen for the discussion were Senators Timothy E. Wirth and John Heinz. Some of the participants included biologist and ecologist Paul R. Ehrlich, Stanford University; atmospheric chemist Susan Solomon, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; environmental biologist Stephen Schneider, National Center for Atmospheric Research; television journalist Lesley Stahl, CBS News; television journalist and correspondent Andrea Mitchell, NBC News; and executive editor Ben Bradlee, Washington Post.
Another participant was biologist and researcher Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University. In the clip below Wilson talks about the need for a "world survey of species" and "a complete biotics inventory." In 2007, the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) began with a mission to create an online species database, of which the Smithsonian is one of the five original cornerstone institutions. While a 2007 TED speech by Wilson served as a catalyst for the creation of the EOL, Wilson clearly had been thinking about the idea for awhile.
Lastly, Thomas E. Lovejoy, Assistant Secretary for External Affairs at the Smithsonian at the time (and also responsible for introducing the term "biological diversity" to the scientific community), gives us some final thoughts about the environment.
The Smithsonian continues its interest in the issues at the core of Earth Day. One of the four grand challenges in the Smithsonian’s current strategic plan is: "Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet," and to this end, the Smithsonian will work to "advance our knowledge and understanding of life on Earth, respond to the growing threat of environmental change, and sustain human well-being." Celebrate Earth Day 2012 with the Smithsonian, where several museums including the National Zoo and the National Museum of the American Indian, will be hosting events.
- OUCH! There’s a reason why “auto polo” never took as a professional sport. This gem comes from the Library of Congress’ Flickr Commons stream [via Neatorama].
- The Smithsonian’s Secretary on how we’re working to make the Institution a more sustainable place.
- Okay, so maybe you’re tired of the “What you think” meme, but check it out for a chuckle: “What Archivists Do” [via Marguerite Roby, SIA].
- “Every week, 20,000 new volumes arrive . . .” It’s the Internet Archive, but they still have a tremendous physical archive [via Marvin Heiferman].
- The Smithsonian owes its very existence to a coin? The National Museum of American History blog profiles the bequest of James Smithson, the founder of the Smithsonian.
- Dan Brown film trailer or exhibition announcement?: “100 original documents, preserved for 400 years in the Popes’ Archive, will leave the confines of the Vatican City walls for the first time in history, and will be admired at the Capitoline Museums in Rome, from 1st March till September 2012, for the exhibition Lux in arcana - The Vatican Secret Archives reveals itself” [via @archivesireland].
How many birds have you seen recently? For over one hundred years, birders around the world have paid special attention to more than just the two turtle doves, counting how many birds were near their homes in December. On Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman proposed the first ever “Christmas Bird Count” or Census, as part of the Audubon Naturalist Society’s programs. An officer in the new Society, Chapman wanted to replace the common practice of the “Christmas Side Hunt” where hunters would shoot birds to see who could bring in the biggest pile of feathers that day. Twenty-five bird counts were held that first year, counting some ninety species. In December 2008, almost 60,000 bird watchers participated in 2,113 organized Bird Counts around the globe.
The Archives holds the official records of the Audubon Naturalist Society of the Central Atlantic States, and so it has good documentation of the growth of this program over time. Christmas Bird Count information can be found in many of our other collections. For example, the Smithsonian’s sixth Secretary, Alexander Wetmore (1886-1978), developed an interest in ornithology as a small boy growing up in North Freedom, Wisconsin. He wrote his first article, "My Experience with a Red-headed Woodpecker,” for the journal Bird Lore, when he was only fourteen and learned taxidermy through a correspondence course. By the time he entered the University of Kansas in 1904, he was participating in Christmas Bird Counts, establishing connections with the larger ornithological community. That year he noted that he observed birds from 8:40 am to 12:30 pm, on a mild Christmas day when the temperature ranged from 48 to 60 degrees with light northeast winds. Among the many birds he recorded was the lapland longspur and brown creeper, as well as the more common junco (250 counted) and robin (60 counted). We have the records from his early counts in the Wetmore Papers in the Archives, as well as those of many other ornithologists.
The Christmas Bird Count has not just switched people from shooting to observing. The records were carefully compiled by the Audubon Society allowing many different types of studies. Changes in bird populations could be observed over the decades, in response to loss of habitat and pesticide use. More recently, Christmas Bird Counts have demonstrated changes in bird migration patterns in response to changes in the climate. This massive data compilation is part of what is known today as “Citizen Science,” the participation of ordinary people in collecting large sets of data of great use to scientists. Visit the Audubon Society website if you’d like to participate and maybe find your partridge in a pear tree.