The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Exhibitions
- That thing must weigh a ton! A vault door will great visitors to the new Numismatics Gallery at the National Museum of American History. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- Putting the pieces together - A curator's journey to find pieces of the history of the Art and Technology Program of 1967-1971 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The program was an initiative that paired artists with corporations in the areas of aerospace, entertainment, scientific research, and other industries. [via Unframed blog, LACMA]
- Ever evolving - Lessons in research instruction from the Biodiversity Heritage Library. [via Unbound blog, SL]
- Bibliophiles rejoice - More than 100 lectures from the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia are now available online. [via InfoDocket]
- Between a microfibre cloth, lambs' wool duster and HEPA filter vacuum cleaner, the dust removal winner is . . . [via The National Archives UK blog]
- 5 things you probably didn't know about the 'ukulele. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- The British Library announced this week their plan to digitize and make available online 500,000 "at risk" rare and unique sound recordings. [via InfoDocket]
- Start your Memorial Day Weekend with the following video from the National Archives and Records Administration which tells viewers of the importance of the holiday. [via Prologue: Pieces of History, NARA]
Being from Hawaii, I've had my fair share of mixed plate lunches. What is a mixed plate lunch you ask? A mixed plate lunch or just plate lunch is unique to Hawaii and finds it origins in Japense bento boxes. A plate lunch typically consists of two scoops of rice, macaroni salad and a main entree. As more immigrants came to Hawaii from other countries to work in the sugar and pineapple plantations, they brought with them their culinary cultures. As a result plate lunches started to include Filippino, Portuguese, Puerto Rican, Chinese, Korea, Okinawan, and Hawaiian foods.
On May 23, 1999 the exhibition, From Bentō to Mixed Plate: Americans of Japanese Ancestry in Multicultural Hawai’i, opened in the Arts and Industries Building. The traveling exhibition organized by the Japanese American National Museum featured artifacts, family photographs, and personal accounts that explored the role of Japanese-Americans in a wide range of areas and their adaptation to life in Hawaii. As part of the Smithsonian's exhibition, the National Museum of American History lent the Olomana, a 9-ton, six-wheel steam locomotive that was purchased in 1883 by the Waimanalo Sugar Co. to use on its 3-foot-gauge railroad located near the ocean on the northeast side of Oahu.
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and the Smithsonian has a number of events, programs, and resources that tell the stories of the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who came to the United States and influenced its history and culture.
- Asian Pacific American Heritage Month programs at the Smithsonian for 2015
- Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center
- Asian American and Pacific American related materials and content at the Smithsonian
- Accession 06-06: Office of Special Events and Protocol, Event Files, 1998-2001, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Like thousands of other aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, my husband and I recently wandered through Smithsonian museums as we photographed a paper cutout. In our case, "Flat John" had traveled from a second-grade classroom in Missouri and is now back home with many tales of an "adventure" in Washington, D.C.
Although poor Flat John could not pull or push the mechanical and electronic devices in the exhibitions he visited, his fellow (human) visitors, large and small, could – and did – with gusto. A century ago, Smithsonian exhibitions featured passive displays. Now, in every museum along the National Mall, adults and children watch videos, listen to exhibition narration on their smartphones, and touch screens in order to "interact" with the artifacts.
One of the pioneers in introducing such action to science museums was George Roemmert (1892-1952). His most famous development, the "Microvivarium," projected images of amoebas, infusoria, and other animalcules placed underneath a special microscope. In 1933 and 1934, Roemmert's display became such a hit at the Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago that local newspapers recommended that visitors skip the more commercial displays and head first to the Hall of Science.
The public's newfound fascination with motion pictures undoubtedly contributed to the popularity of the Microvivarium. Here, as in the films of Jean Painlevé, one could watch and wonder at a world in miniature. Worms, larvae, and water-fleas swirled, swam, and swallowed each other within the huge circles of light created by six projectors.
To this raw display of nature, Roemmert added a dramatic narrative. "The part of the show that gets the most fascinated attention from the audience," Science Service biology editor Frank Thone observed, "is a display of fierceness and flesh-hunger on the part of invisibly small one-celled creatures that is as awesome as though they were tigers or leopards. First, Dr. Roemmert shows you his little beasts of prey ... then he displays the animals that are to be the victims ... slipper animalcules ... pushes the two together ... and, with a ferocity which makes you shudder, each beastlet selects its victim, seizes it with unshakeable grip, and proceeds to devour it alive."
Roemmert's Microvivarium exemplified the excitement that Science Service wanted to associate with popularization of science. Thone therefore became caught up in the inventor's search for a permanent installation – no small task in the midst of an economic depression. Thone brokered a demonstration at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C., and he introduced Roemmert to William Mann, Director of the National Zoological Park, and other Smithsonian Institution scientists. Discouraged by his failure to interest any Chicago museum in offering a permanent home, in 1935 Roemmert returned to New York, where he continued negotiations with the American Museum of Natural History. Its offer, however, did not include more than nominal salary for Roemmert and the museum never had sufficient funds to support installation.
Roemmert's struggle to find a home for an acknowledged success mirrored the dilemma long faced by popular science projects. "Public institutions everywhere, however great their interest," he acknowledged to Thone, "are hampered by a lack of funds."
Such setbacks left Roemmert amenable to a pragmatic decision in December 1937. The Westinghouse Electric Company wanted the Microvivarium as the main feature of their hall in the 1939 New York World's Fair. Abandoning his dream of a non-commercial venue, Roemmert agreed to the company's terms, which allowed him to retain freedom in the laboratory and in how the Microvivarium was exhibited.
And so, when you next enjoy a lively science exhibition (perhaps accompanied by your own "flat" tourist), take a moment to remember George Roemmert, whose vision of popularization added a new dramatic dimension to biology. In the Microvivarium, Thone wrote, "single cells loom big as bushel baskets, [and] microscopic animalcule are as large and as lively as jackrabbits."
- Record Unit 7091 - Science Service, Records, circa 1910-1963, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 90-105 - Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- My how far we've come - A new website allows you to see when your digital images would lool like rendered on an old Commodore 64 computer. [via PetaPixel]
- In their own words, oral histories at the Archives of American Art shed light on the artistist, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, in their exhibition, Artist Teacher Organizer: Yasuo Kunioshi in the Archives of American Art. [via Archives of American Art Blog]
- Watch out manuscripts, the next step: Handwritten Text Recognition! [via InfoDocket]
- This week the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum announced the winners of the 16th Annual Desgin Awards. [via Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum]
- Four basic steps - Archiving the Arthur C. Clarke Collection. [via AirSpace Blog, NASM]
- Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, spoke with Smithsonian Magazine about the Baltimore protests, the role of museums during times of upheaval, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s plans for the future. For more from Lonnie Bunch about the museum, please see the video below. [via Smithsonian Magazine]
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