The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Web/Tech
Many of us read, write and send emails every day, but when did it all start at the Smithsonian?
In 1980 Smithsonian staff had typewriters and telephones on their desk, with one or two FAX machines per office. The Smithsonian operated a single general purpose computer, the Honeywell mainframe, for all Smithsonian data processing applications and which did not include an email application. Desktop computers were nowhere to be found.
When the Museum Support Center (MSC) was under construction in 1982, the Smithsonian was also researching an interactive computer system for the new facility to document and manage the movement of tens of millions of specimens and objects to the new Suitland, Maryland, storage facility. One of the secondary requirements was a "mail message system." Six of the seven responding vendors offered an electronic mail system. A VAX-11/750 from Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) was selected, and was operational in April 1983.
Email was used by the MSC software development team before the end of 1983, and its use was greatly expanded the following year, 1984. The period of 1985-1988 saw rapid technological advances in networking, minicomputers, personal computers, and Local Area Network (LAN) systems. Many different Smithsonian offices and bureaus (including National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Libraries, and the Office of Protection Services) acquired computer systems during this period which included email software. However at this time, most computer networks were proprietary networks. Initially a person could only exchange email with other people on the same email system. The development of standards, the adoption of standards, and inter-operability between different systems would arrive later.
The BITNET (Because It’s There Network) network supported both email and batch file transfer. This network linking more than 3,000 computers, principally in academic institutions, demonstrated to the Smithsonian community the speed and power of international email communications. The Smithsonian applied for membership in BITNET on August 15, 1986, and the IBM-4381 mainframe was connected later that year with a node name of SIVM.
Later, within the SI, the BITNET network was extended to two additional nodes: SIMSC and SIMNH. SIVM and SIMSC were still active BITNET nodes in March 1994, but probably disconnected soon after that. Listserv software was developed for BITNET, and mailing lists such as, MUSEUM-L (with 5,184 subscribers today) became very popular. However, with the rapid growth of the Internet, BITNET’s limitations became apparent, and its popularity and the use of BITNET diminished quickly.
In July 1992 the Smithsonian network was connected to the Internet and many internal email systems achieved greater interoperability as well as external connectivity, through the adoption of the SMTP Internet email standard. Smithsonian staff could communicate with colleagues globally, without waiting for a snail-mail reply.
I published the first Smithsonian Email Directory (March 1994) which listed ten different computer email systems (Internet hosts) and 4,846 email addresses. An unknown number of staff had email addresses on different computer systems, such as my own in both the SIMSC and SIMNH systems. This Directory made the following observation:
Electronic mail has evolved from many local e-mail applications to a state where most e-mail applications can now exchange messages freely with each other. Sometimes additional software, hardware, and/or network connections maybe required. However, there are still a few isolated islands in the archipelago, cut off from the rest of the Smithsonian and the rest of the world!
The largest email system at the Smithsonian, PROFS, was operated by OIRM (Office of Information Resource Management), and ran on an IBM-9121 mainframe, with 2,398 email addresses. PROFS supported both email as well as calendaring; the PROFS user manual was prepared in August 1990. This suggests that perhaps only 50-60% of the staff had email in 1994. GroupWise became the dominant email system in the late 1990’s, while competing with some offices using Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange email systems.
Initially most people treated email as very informal communication, not worthy of being saved or archived. However, as email usage spread and it became the common method of conducting business, this attitude changed. The possibility that email correspondence could be historically valuable or an official record was recognized in an informative 1997 pamphlet distributed to Smithsonian staff. More recent guidance is available to the Smithsonian community and the general public on the Archives website.
Eventually a decision was made to have one centrally supported email system for the Smithsonian. A single unified Smithsonian-wide email system was achieved when the last office was converted to Microsoft Exchange in 2005, more than twenty years after the first email was sent.
- Electronic Records - Responsible Recordkeeping; Email Records, 2007, Smtihsonian Institution Archives
- You've Still Got Mail, The Bigger Picture blog, Smtihsonian Institution Archives
- Awesome sauce! Can't wait for the Smithsonian American Art Museum's exhibition, Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty, the first restrospective exhibition in 20 years of Penn's photography and which will also include 48 previously unseen or never exhibited photographs. [via SI Newsdesk]
- Stanford University Libraries recently released the newest version of their open source program, ePADD, which addresses the privacy and access challenges of archives containing electronic communications and provides unprecedented access to email archives. [via Stanford University Libraries]
- How were you made "Steggy"? A look at how the papier mâché model of the stegosaurus was put together after having been on display at the National Museum of Natural History for 107 years. [via Unearthed blog, NMNH]
- Researcher beware - The papers of Marie Curie are still radioactive and will be for the forseeable future. [via Open Culture]
- A great behind-the-scenes look at the The Library of Congress’ Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation in Culpepper, Virginia. [via Wired]
- The complexities of film - This is a great video that explains the engineering behind a film projector. [via PetaPixel]
- The Smithsonian welcomes Dr. David Skorton as its 13th Secretary! [via The Torch, SI]
- This week the National Archives UK received their first born-digital records transfer from a government department which are now available in the online catalog, Discovery. Congrats! [via The National Archives UK News]
- Citizen Archivist Alex Smith is in the spotlight as he talks about his retirement project of helping the National Archives transcribe records in their collections. [via The National Archives Narrations blog]
- Now you know - Two news spaces are open at the National Museum of American History - Inventing in America (Exhibition includes patent models, prototypes, trademark examples and inventions to illustrate the ways that the United States has always depended on invention) and a new demonstration kitchen will host "Food Fridays" to connect food programming to the ideas of invention and innovation. [via SI Newsdesk]
- Snap away - First Lady Michelle Obama lifts the 40-year old ban on White House tour photos. [via The Verge]
- Discover the joy of vintage advertisements with The New York Times and their transcription project, Madison, which asks uses to tag and transcribe ads from the 1920s and 1960s. [via Core77]
- The Americans With Disabilities Act turns 25 this month. [via O Say Can You See?, NMAH]
- In the video below you see the exacting 10-month conservation of Charles Le Brun’s painting of Everhard Jabach and His Family. [via Colossal]
- Seven red pandas were born at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute! [via Smithsonian Science News]
- You never now what you'll find - A photograph acquired from an estate sale may have Vincent van Gogh amongst the people in it. [via Colossal]
- With funding from a Foundations planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the seven women’s colleges once known as the “Seven Sisters” launch College Women: Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education which brings together online digitized letters, diaries, scrapbooks and photographs of women who attended the seven partner institutions. [via InfoDocket]
- Holding out till the end - The story of Confederate Brigadier General Chief Stand Watie and the final surrender of the Civil War. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- This is how we do it - A digital behind-the-scenes tour at how the Bentley Historical Library is working to ensure long-term access to their digital content. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Photographer Kenji Kawano has an exhibit of his photographs taken over the span of 40 years of time spent with the Navajo people at the Navajo Nation Museum. [via Lens, NYT]
- 15 California State Universities will colloaborate to digitize nearly 10,000 documents and more than 100 oral histories related to the confinement of Japanese Americans during World War II. [via InfoDocket]
- A wonderful resource will be available by the end of 2016 as 1.5 million slavery era documents will be digitized from The Freedman's Bureau through a collaborative project between the Smithsonian, the National Archives, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. [via OpenCulture]
- Set to open on July1, 2015, the National Museum of American History's exhibition, American Enterprise, will have a portion dedicated to exploring the "economic dimensions of slavery and reflect on the institution's social and personal costs." [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- New blog alert - National Book Festival blog from the Library of Congress. [via LOC blog]
- From 2010 to 2013 photographer Jimmy Nelson traveled around the world to capture the portraits of disappearing people groups and to preserve glimpses of their rites, customs, and traditions with the hopes that the images would preserve the cultures even if they didn't survive themselves. [via PetaPixel]
- New releases - Three new interactive ebooks from the Library of Congress covering women’s suffrage, Japanese American internment, and political cartoons and public debates and from the Smithsonian Science Education Center comes a new web series called Good Thinking! that aims to clear up scientific misconceptions through its cast of colorfully-animated characters. [via InfoDocket and Tubefilter]
- Plant biologists are making great progress towards building World Flora Online, an online database of the world's plant species. [via InfoDocket]
- This week marked the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, which put in place many key tenets of good government and for the first time established the principle that everyone – including the king – was subject to the rule of law. [via The National Archives UK blog]
- From Smithsonian Channel - Plants That Explode to Disperse Their Seeds! [via Colossal]