The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Archive: 2016 - Page 1
- One of the oldest photo archives, the George Eastman House, recently published a quarter million photos online. [via Hyperallergic]
- A groundbreaking astrophysicist, Vera Rubin, who confirmed the existence of dark matter, died at 88. [via NPR]
- How NOT to preserve a digital archive. [via Preservica]
- What does Star Wars have to do with digital preservation? The Data Formats of Star Wars Suck [via Motherboard]
- Over 70,000 Creative Commons videos are now available online via Dutch project, Videorooter. [via Kennisland]
- It's the 50th anniversary of Kwanzaa, and there are 2 more days left! [via History Channel]
- Embrace winter with a video of sled dogs! [via National Anthropological Archives]
The Smithsonian Institution Archives makes thousands of historic images of the exhibits, events, and happenings at the Smithsonian available online and, as the year comes to a close, we thought this would be a good time to take a look at some of the year’s most popular Smithsonian History images. You can search the History of the Smithsonian catalog at siris.si.edu to find your own favorites. Though we have images from the 1840s to the 21st century, from zoology to technology to history, there’s a clear theme to this year’s favorites.
- The Star Spangled Banner: This photo of the Star Spangled Banner is consistently our most popular photo. Not surprising, given that this is one of the most popular artifacts in the National Museum of American History. It was the Garrison flag of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, MD, when Francis Scott Key watched the bombardment of the fort during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814. Though we don’t know when this was taken, our best guess is sometime around the 1940s.
- Foucault Pendulum and the Star-Spangled Banner: Despite being black and white, this photo of the Center Hall of the National Museum of American History was taken in 1993. If you look carefully, the clothes are often the giveaway. It shows the Center Hall as it was prior to its 2008 renovation. Right next to each other, you can see that the Foucault Pendulum was just as popular as the Star-Spangled Banner.
- Star-Spangled Banner, NMAH: Can you sense a theme? This 1964 photo of the Star Spangled Banner is a bright and colorful close up of the flag itself. You can see the detail that makes the flag unique – the added “A” and the holes where people cut away souvenirs, for example.
- Nixon Inaugural Ball, NMHT: This photo of President Nixon’s 1969 Inaugural Ball at the National Museum of History and Technology (now NMAH) shows just one of the many Inaugural Balls that have taken place at the Smithsonian over the years. The main podium was set up right in front of the Star Spangled Banner. Where better to celebrate a President? You can see First Lady Pat Nixon and President Richard Nixon standing to the left of the speaker.
- Star-Spangled Banner in West Wing of Smithsonian Institution Building: Taken in the “Castle” Building, this photo shows the 1914 restoration of the Star Spangled Banner. Laid out on tables, seamstresses added an Irish linen backing to the flag for added stability. The exhibit cases that normally would have filled this room have been removed for the restoration work; however, you can see the model of giant squid still hanging from the ceiling.
- Star-Spangled Banner in A&I: After it’s restoration in 1914 The Star Spangled Banner moved from the Smithsonian Institution Building to the Arts and Industries Building where it was put on exhibit. We know this photo was taken after 1927 because the Spirit of St. Louis, a part of which is just visible in the upper right hand corner, arrived at the museum in that year.
- Nixon Inaugural Ball, NMHT: Taken the same night as #4, this photo’s striking view of the Star Spangled Banner through the Foucault Pendulum highlights the beauty of National Museum of American History’s architecture. In 1969, the Museum was named the National Museum of History and Technology. The museum only became the National Museum of American History in 1980.
- Conserving Star-Spangled Banner: In 1982, more work was done on the Star Spangled Banner. After a long life on display, Conservator Paul Jetta and intern Rosemary Connolly give the flag a thorough, yet gentle, vacuuming.
- Wright Flyer in A&I Building: Though its flight was a major milestone in both American and Aviation History, the Wright Flyer did not arrive at the Smithsonian until December 1948, when this photo was taken. From 1925 to 1948 the plane was on display at the London Science Museum, on loan from Orville Wright after a feud between Secretary Langley and the Wright Brothers. But you can’t entirely get away from the Star Spangled Banner; it’s visible in the background along with the Spirit of St. Louis.
- Star-Spangled Banner, NMHT: The final photo on our top ten list is of, yet again, the Star Spangled Banner. In this 1964 photo you can see some of the structures that kept it safe on exhibit: tapes attached to a supporting backing that secure the topmost portions and a gently sloping rest that bears the weight of the flag.
And my favorite of our most popular photos? You’d probably have to venture a bit further down the list to number fourteen, where you’ll find Secretary Ripley and Uncle Beazley. They are at the opening of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum on September 15, 1967. The energy and sense of fun that comes through is just what a trip to the Smithsonian should be!
When asked what the Smithsonian Institution Archives collects, we say we hold records about the history of the Smithsonian and its people, programs, research, and activities. While accurate, this doesn't really give anyone a clue about what is actually in those records.
The Smithsonian Institution Archives Reference Team handles an average of around 6,000 queries per year, and if you us what people have been researching at the Archives recently, you'll get some pretty interesting responses. Although not comprehensive, here's a snapshot of the diverse range of information encompassed by the history of the world's largest museum complex!
Over the past three months, researcher queries have included:
- Video footage from the Smithsonian-Firestsone Expedition to Liberia found in the William M. Mann and Lucile Quarry Mann Papers
- The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service exhibit, “Visions of Flight: A Retrospective form the NASA Art Collection”
- How to frame old football programs
- Great Duck Island (from Record Unit 7120, the Arthur Cleveland Bent Papers)
- Nineteenth century fisheries
- A Robert Edwards Carter Stearns donation of mussel specimens, genus Anodonta (from his papers, Record Unit 7077)
- The Warren M. Robbins Papers
- Olga Hirshhorn Oral Histories (Record Unit 9566)
Permissions to publications and exhibitions using our photos or documents include:
- The Boyce Thompson Institute exhibit featuring Wanda Margarite Kirkbride Farr
- Michel Anctil using images for a book on the history of bioluminescence
- Anna Lena Seiser using an image of Martha (the last of an extinct species of passenger pigeon), in an article in the anthology Objectivity and Imagination. Natural history in the arts of the 20th and 21st Century
- Stuart McLean using images for a book on the Knud Rasmussen Expedition
- The National Maritime Museum using images for a book on the Franklin Expedition at Starvation Cove
- Amy Kohout using digitized materials from ornithologist Edgar Alexander Mearns's field books for an article in the Museum History Journal
- Jed Egan using images for an article on Cecilia Helena Payne Gaposchkin, an astronomer and astrophysicist, for nymag.com
- Taj Forer using an Insect Zoo image for an article in Orion Magazine
- Megan Raby using images for a publication about Barro Colorado and the tropics
- Carol Prince using National Museum of American History Curator Emeritus Bernice Johnson Reagon oral history transcripts for her thesis
- Kara Arundel using zoologist Theodore Reed oral history interview transcripts for a book about the modernization of the National Zoo
- The IMD Business School using conservationist Rachel Carson's image for an online educational course
- Sarah Kaplan of the Washington Post using images of scientists Remington Kellogg and Leonhard Stejneger
Researcher of the Year
While this is not an official award given by the Smithsonian Institution Archives, we are giving a special shout-out to John Churchman, research associate, who has visited our Reading Room 214 times during 2016, studiously pouring over records documenting the history of computing at the Smithsonian. Read on, John!
Reference services at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
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