Deborah Bennett and Tim Coffer with Mollusks, 1979, by Jeffrey Ploskonka. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 371, Image no. 79-9800-18.

Happy 2019! The Archives Takes a Look Back at a Busy 2018

Before the Archives gears up for new projects in 2019, we’re looking back at our accomplishments and highlights in 2018.

The Smithsonian Institution Archives had a very busy year. And before we can celebrate the New Year, we’re taking a quick look back at what we’ve accomplished in 2018.

Our Archives Division was busy at work answering all of your research questions and requests. The team also made the Archives’ collections more accessible by editing and creating new finding aids and accessioning new acquisitions. The team:

  • Attended to researchers in 750 in-person visits
  • Created or revised 1,137 finding aids to the Archives’ collections
  • Accepted 344 new accessions, comprising of 98 cubic feet and 1,192.13 gigabytes 


Interested in learning what’s new? There’s a blog series for that. Acting Director and Chief Archivist Tammy Peters writes a quarterly post, titled “Collection Highlights.” Look out for the newest edition on January 8, 2019.

Adult Female Orangutan "Jennie" at National Zoological Park

Since 1973, our Institutional History Division has made great strides in recording Smithsonian’s past through oral history interviews. This year, with the help of Archives volunteers, students, and other Smithsonian staff, the team:

  • Added 21 oral history interviews, totaling 31.25 hours of recordings, to our collections


These interviews were with the founder of the National Air and Space Museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, a curator of engineering at the National Museum of American History, staff from the Office of Protection Services, and more.

The Digital Services Division tracked its accomplishments for the 2018 fiscal year, which ended September 30, 2018. In this past fiscal year, the team:

  • Assessed and analyzed 147 collections with born-digital materials
  • Absorbed one terabyte of original source digital material
  • Preserved 219,987 files in more than 60 formats
  • Digitized 80,689 surrogrates of documents, diaries, field notes, manuscripts, photographs, audio and visual collection materials as part of the Field Book Project


Our Preservation Division team members wrote about some of their major accomplishments and contributions to the field on The Bigger Picture this year. In 2018, Archives conservation staff traveled to Houston, Texas and Oxford, England to present their work on field book conservation. Senior conservator Nora Lockshin also detailed a fire recovery workshop she attended with other cultural heritage professionals on the blog.

Want to read a little bit about what the team does in the lab? Our conservation specialist wrote about making naturalist Constantine Rafinesque's journal camera-ready. And our preservation coordinator talked stabilizing lacquer transcription discs through improved physical housing. She also wrote a great piece with some career advice for all you future preservation coordinators out there!

An open book. Both pages have sketches of creatures on them, drawn between handwritten notes.

And how could we forget our Smithsonian Transcription Center #Volunpeers who, while not technically Smithsonian staff, are vital to the Archives' mission. This year, they completed 115 projects, transcribing a total of 11,129 pages, including a special collaborative campaign for Women's History Month

Below is a list of our top five blog posts of 2018, ranging from career advice from an archivist to an intern’s guide to digitizing field books. If you haven’t already, give them a read to learn about different roles we play in the Archives’ mission to collect, preserve, and make available the history of the Smithsonian. One of our favorite things about this list is that it also highlights work from our amazing interns and volunteers. 

Some Digital Archivist Career Advice, by Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig
This post is undoubtedly so popular because our digital archivist defines what she does day-to-day and offers advice about how to get there. And who doesn’t like free advice? She provides fourteen tips for those interested in a career working with digital archives. Some interesting tips include: be flexible since many solutions are not one size fits all, seek mentors within and outside of the profession, and take care of your own personal archives.

Is there a place for paleography in archives?, by Ricc Ferrante
This next blog post is so special, because our director of digital services invites readers to learn about paleography, the study of historical handwriting, with him. The author admits to being a bit of a novice, but provides links to tutorials that he found useful (again with the free advice!). He then pointed to his work on projects with the Smithsonian Transcription Center as a way to practice and make use of his paleography skills.

An open book with handwritten notes. "1922" is written on the top of the left page.

An Intern’s Guide on How to Digitize a Field Book, by Heidi Charles
Our interns take on so many important projects in the office, which is why we’re so happy our Archives Summer 2018 Field Book Project Digitization Intern is taking our number three slot. She learned all about field books and created a guide about digitizing them. Some considerations include the size of the item, image quality, compatibility with digitization equipment, and efficiency. The post is a great resource for those working to make sources like field books more accessible to researchers.

Dr. Donald Fleming Squires (1927–2017), by David Bridge
Volunteer David Bridge writes a reflection on the life and legacy of Dr. Donald Fleming Squires, who passed away on his ninetieth birthday in 2017. Bridge acknowledged that Squires was the founding father of data processing at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and was a pioneer in the application of computer technology in science museums.

How Many Objects does the Smithsonian Have?, by Lisa Fthenakis
This post not only has a great title, but it starts in a really catchy way. “It is a simple answer really: We counted.” Our program assistant with the Institution History Division recounts a Smithsonian-wide comprehensive inventory, done between 1978 and 1983. Read the post to learn just how different those numbers were in 1983 than they are today in 2018. 

Deborah Bennett and Tim Coffer with Mollusks, 1979

And finally, how could we forget that time when reference archivist Tad Bennicoff was one of the stars of Smithsonian’s Sidedoor podcast. Listen below to hear him fill listeners in on the real Smokey Bear, the celebrity bear cub burned in a forest fire who lived at the National Zoo for the remainder of his life. Tip: Skip to 15:07 if you only want to hear Tad’s scoop.

Phew. It’s been quite a busy year, and we can’t wait to hit more milestones and share more Smithsonian history with you in 2019.


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