The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
- Awesome news - NARA has a new, updated National Archives Catalog, to help make it easier for people to search and find records in their collections. [via NARAtions blog, NARA]
- The Digital Einstein Papers launched last week, making available the collected papers of Albert Einstein, including a letter he wrote to Marie Curie supporting her and giving counsel on how to deal with her critics. [via Open Culture]
- The last of the Hidden Collections awards were given out by the Council on Library and Information Resources. The awards were created in 2008 and is supported by ongoing funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The program has awarded 129 grants totaling about $27.3 million and has allowed repositoties to process and make available collections that were previously hidden. [via InfoDocket]
- The report is out - The FADGI (Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative Audio-Visual Working Group) report on "Creating and Archiving Born Digital Video" was released this week, and the Archives was one of the contributors. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Science lesson for the week - Five major advances in scientific knowledge that have occurred since the National Museum of Natural History opened in 1910. [via Unearthed blog, NMNH]
- Available now - Two new online exhibitions from the Biodiversity Heritage Library - Early Women in Science and Latino Natural History. [via Field Book Project blog, NMNH and SIA]
- Watch as paleontologists discover Sue, who at 42 feet long and weighing nearly 4,000 pounds, is the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever found. [via Underwire, Wired]
This fall I have been working on cleaning, organizing, and creating catalog records for the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents Meeting Minutes (you can see the beautiful, new, clean records here). While I know this doesn't sound like particularly exciting work, the minutes hold plenty of drama. Let me make my case before you stop reading.
The Regents are the group of people, designated by Congress, who are responsible for administration of the Smithsonian. In the early years I’ve been working on there were a lot of strong, differing opinions about what the institution should be – no surprise when you get the Vice-President, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Mayor of Washington, three Senators and three Representatives together in one room. There were arguments over building the Smithsonian Institution Building, more commonly known as the Castle; whether to accept government collections (without which we might not have a museum, let alone nineteen); an embezzlement case; a resignation that sets off an investigation by Congress, lawsuits; firings; and contract disputes. It's safe to say that the first few years weren't dull.
The other day I came across yet another controversy that was new to me. On March 3, 1857, Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian, mentions an article published by Prof. S. F. B. Morse, "containing charges against his moral character and his scientific reputation." While not knowing what to make of this, I knew it must be serious because a committee formed to examine the issue. It turns out that Morse made some pretty serious claims: that Joseph Henry had lied under oath while giving testimony in a telegraph patent dispute. How did Joseph Henry get mixed up in this? Well, he specialized in electromagnetics and invented the type of magnet used in Morse's telegraph. He was subpoenaed to testify for defendants in several patent infringement cases brought by Morse. (You can read more about it here) This made Morse so angry, that he attacked Henry's research and reputation in an article that took up over ninety pages and entire edition of a magazine. The Board surveys the evidence – letters between Joseph Henry and Samuel Morse, from lawyers involved in the court case, and from other scientists involved in electromagnetism and telegraphy – and concludes that "Mr. Henry's deposition of 1849, which evidently furnished the motive for Mr. Morse's attack upon him, is strictly correct in all the historical details." They further concluded "that Mr. Morse has failed to substantiate any one of the charges he has made against Professor Henry, although the burden of proof lay upon him; and that all the evidence, including the unbiased admissions of Mr. Morse himself, is on the other side. Mr. Morse's charges not only remain unproved but they are positively disproved." Good news for Joseph Henry, but a sad end to a professional relationship that began in friendly collaboration.
- Board of Regents Minutes, online resource, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- A Forgotten History: Alfred Vail and Samuel Morse, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 1 - Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents, Minutes, 1846- , Smithsonian Institution Archives