The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: 2011 Archives Month
Blogs across the Smithsonian will be giving an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blogathon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.
Over the past month, we’ve been highlighting the things that are in the Smithsonian Institution Archives for American Archives Month. But what about the things that aren’t in the archives of the Smithsonian?
In celebration of Archives Month, and to clear up any confusion once and for all, here are the top six Smithsonian archives related myths I (and our archivists) often hear:
- The Smithsonian does not have a freezer full of individual snowflakes in its archives (neither in our collections or any of the other archives across the Smithsonian). I see this one on Twitter all the time, and though it’s amazing sounding, it’s not true. However, we do have some incredible photographs of individual snowflakes in our collections, made by “Snowflake” Bentley in the early 1900s. (PS: You can see more of these photos on the Flickr Commons, and we even have some nifty craft templates made from Bentley’s snowflakes for you to use—perfect as the weather gets frostier!)
- The Smithsonian is not archiving all tweets on Twitter. As the keepers of the Institution's history, the Smithsonian Institution Archives does archive many of the tweets of the Smithsonian’s 82 Twitter accounts (most of which can be found here). But sorry guys, we are not archiving all of your tweets in the Archives. Never fear though—the Library of Congress is archiving your public tweets for posterity’s sake.
- The National Archives and the Library of Congress in Washington, DC are not a part of the Smithsonian. We love these wonderful organizations, but they’re not affiliated with the Smithsonian’s 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park, and nine research facilities (which also include many archives).
- There is not an underground storage facility or archive under the National Mall. As Around the Mall blog and others have reported, this myth may have been perpetuated by the movie Night at the Museum, but there are no storage facilities under the Mall. However, there are unused tunnels under the National Mall that connect the Smithsonian Castle and the National Museum of Natural History. These two buildings once shared utilities and so the tunnel was built in 1909 as a necessary entryway for maintenance.
- The Smithsonian Institution Archives is not responsible for all of the Smithsonian's collections.
Each museum, archives, or other collecting unit within the Smithsonian has its own specialty and is responsible for cataloging, storing, and preserving its own objects, artwork, and other collections. So, not all of those 137 million artifacts, works of art, and specimens in the Smithsonian's collections that you hear about are here in the Archives! But the Archives does hold the records that document the history of the Smithsonian—its people, its programs, its research, and its stories.
- The Smithsonian Institution Archives does not hold any Nostradamus manuscripts. This is a bizarre one. Since 2008, I’ve often seen blog posts that claim that a Professor Eugene Randell of the Smithsonian Institution Archives released new Nostradamus predictions found in a rare Nostradamus manuscript. In fact, there is no Eugene Randell on staff at the Smithsonian (and while many Smithsonian employees do have doctorate degrees, and some do teach, we don't really have professors on staff). Finally, neither the Archives nor the Smithsonian Institution Libraries (two separate units at the Smithsonian) have Nostradamus manuscripts.
All that said, there are many collections at the Archives that we hope you enjoy. Happy Archives Month!
- Check out some of our wonderful and wacky collections highlighted over at Around the Mall blog (for example, the world's longest beard, at right) in honor of American Archives Month.
- The wisdom of crowds: two George Mason University professors are assembling a team on the Internet of more than five hundred forecasters who will make educated guesses about a series of world events in order to study crowdsourcing [via Liza O’Leary, SIA].
- “I love mistakes in photos.” Emily Moazami of the Smithsonian American Art Museum waxes poetic about her favorite things about being a photo archivist.
- You think digitizing a book is as simple as slapping a book on a scanner? Not so fast—here’s a broad overview from the Library of Congress’ The Signal blog.
- It’s a big freebie: Smithsonian Folkways offers up ten free tracks for you to download from the new Mickey Hart Collection, which highlights musical traditions at risk.
- Powerhouse Museum talks about the changes in their digital strategy over the years, and highlights some very interesting digital projects taking place at museums, libraries, and archives.
- The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art highlights the Emmet family artists found in their collections in the newest installment of their “I Found it in the Archives” series:
As many of you may know, today is the 2011 Smithsonian Archives Fair on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The webcast of the 2011 Archives Fair lecture series is live right now. Topics range from emergency preparedness to Wonder Woman to Sir Isaac Newton! Come and listen from now till 5 pm on the Archives Month website.
Here is today's schedule:
10:00-10:30 AM Sarah Stauderman, Collections Care Manager, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Emergency Preparedness & Response for Personal Archives, Expert advice on how to protect personal collections from permanent loss from manmade and natural disasters.
- 10:30-10:55 AM Sonoe Nakasone, Cataloging Coordinator, Field Book Project, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Field Books: Primary Sources of Biodiversity, This lecture will provide an overview of the scope and purpose of the Field Book Project by highlighting what they are, research questions they address, examples, management and preservation. In addition, the talk will review how to care for field notebooks if you have them in your own family papers.
- 11:00-11:30 AM Rachael Cristine Woody, Archivist, Freer|Sackler Archives Excavations in the Archives, How to repurpose catalog record information and digitized item images into dynamic and accessible web resources that further promote the use of a collection. This presentation will outline the multi-step process it took to preserve, digitize, and catalog the internationally-known collection of archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld; leading to the creation and heavy use of a variety of web resources. An exploration of piecing together grants, budget technology, and labor force needed, will also be discussed.
- 11:30-11:55 AM Jennifer O’Neal, Head Archivist, and Rachel Menyuk, Archive Assistant, National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center Preserving the History of the Museum of the American Indian/Heye Foundation Collection, The MAI/Heye Foundation collection provides a glimpse into the evolving nature of a museum seeking to document and preserve the culture and history of Native Americans. This presentation will provide an overview of this collection and detail the on-going project to process and fully digitize portions of the collection.
- 12:00-1:00 Intermission
- 1:00-1:25 PM Christine Hennessey, Chief, Research and Scholars Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum Documenting America’s Outdoor Sculpture Across America, in nearly every town square or city park there are monuments to the past and to the people who shaped it. Our outdoor sculpture tells the stories of this nation’s history; yet as one of society’s most accessible art forms, outdoor sculpture is also one of its most endangered cultural resources, threatened by extremes of weather, pollution, vandalism and neglect. In this presentation, you’ll hear how the Smithsonian American Art Museum, through its Save Outdoor Sculpture (or SOS!) program, has taken a leading role in documenting and preserving our sculptural heritage for future generations to come.
- 1:30-1:55 PM Abby Clouse-Radigan, Contract Researcher, National Anthropological Archives Working Across Collections: Reconnecting the Photographs, Artifacts, and Papers of Matilda Coxe Stevenson, This talk will give an overview of a project to reconnect the disparate collections of ethnologist Matilda Coxe Stevenson, held in the Smithsonian's Department of Anthropology ethnology collections and the National Anthropological Archives. Through photographs and other materials, this talk will illustrate the rich readings that become possible when working across collections to read photographs against both papers and artifacts.
- 2:00-2:25 PM Gina Rappaport, photo Archivist, National Anthropological Archives, The Archival Legacy of Edward S. Curtis The National Anthropological Archives has recently acquired a rare collection of original negatives made by photographer Edward S. Curtis during his work on The North American Indian, as well as a body of Curtis’ papers. This talk will present highlights from the acquisition and discuss the research-in-progress into the archival “Diaspora” of Curtis’ photographs and manuscripts.
- 2:30-2:55 PM Jake Homiak, Director, Anthropology Collections and Archives Program, National Museum of Natural History Secrets of the Tribe: the Asch-Chagnon Collection, Archives speak to ethical and methodological issues in the disciplines related to their content. This presentation addresses one of the most heated ethical debates in anthropology in the last half century, and the role played by the archives in this debate.
- 3:00-3:25 PM Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig, Electronic Records Archivist, and Jennifer Wright, Assistant Archivist, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Preserving the Smithsonian’s Institution Web Presence, Although it first began capturing institutional websites in the late 1990s, the Smithsonian Institution Archives initiated a project in 2009 to capture the explosion of public websites and social media instances maintained by its many museums, research centers, and programs. Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig and Jennifer Wright will discuss appraisal, accessioning, and capture issues in documenting the Smithsonian’s web presence in the early 21st Century.
- 3:30-3:55 PM Diane Shaw, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, Manuscripts of the Dibner Library, Highlights from the Manuscripts Collection of the Dibner Library of the History of Science & Technology, An overview of the surprising number and variety of manuscripts in the Dibner Library, ranging from medieval astrological literature to the notes of Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, to materials from William Moulton Marston (creator of Wonder Woman), with details about related issues of cataloging, preservation, and access.
- 4:00-4:25 PM Jason Stieber, Archives of American Art Collecting Manuscript Collections, This presentation will relate experiences of collecting archival materials out in the field, including appraisal, selection, negotiations and donor relations.
- 4:30-4:55 PM Amy Staples, Senior Archivist, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art The Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives: Creating Access to a National Treasure, An illustrated overview of recent cataloguing and digitization projects funded by the Smithsonian Institution CIS/IRM Pool (FY2006 – 2011). Projects include the Eliot Elisofon negative collection and historic postcard collections from Africa. The black-and-white photographs of Eliot Elisofon, Life magazine photographer and a major donor to the National Museum of African Art, will be featured in this presentation. Elisofon traveled in Africa from 1947 – 1972 and focused on many aspects of African life and culture, including architecture, artists, masquerades, natural landscapes, political leaders and rituals. The Elisofon project involved the cataloguing and digitization of over 13,000 negatives that are now accessible to the general public on the Smithsonian Research and Information System (SIRIS). The historic postcard project involves the cataloguing and digitization of over 16,000 postcards from every region of Africa (c. 1890s – present). This project began in FY2010 and now involves the use of Google interactive mapping of African locations on SIRIS.
It doesn't happen frequently, but here at the Archives we acquire the personal papers of individuals and organizations closely associated with the Smithsonian's programs and activities. Such was the case when in May 2009, Lydia Puccinelli Robbins, widow of Warren M. Robbins, contacted the Archives to see if we would be interested in having his personal papers. Among many other things, Robbins was the founder and director of the Museum of African Art which became part of the Smithsonian in 1979 and was later renamed the National Museum of African Art.
In August 2010, myself and three colleagues, drove our two minivans over to the Capitol Hill townhouse where the Robbins papers were. The papers were in a variety places and in differing degrees of organization.
In my experience, these images are pretty indicative of how records are stored when we go and acquire them, both in the case of personal papers as well as when it comes to the institutional records we collect. The state of records really depends on how organized and how much time an individual or organization has to devote to the endeavor.
After taking files out of filing cabinets and putting lids on boxes that did not have them, we carefully loaded the papers into our vans. All told, 109 boxes plus some oversize materials made their way into our collections storage.
Fortunately for me, the Archives has enough free space for the materials while I process them, since doing so takes some time considering the quantity and variety of materials in the Robbins papers.
The first step in processing them was to stabilize those materials that were either housed in damaging boxes or inappropriate storage containers (such as Trader Joe's bags), until I could get to organizing them more fully. The reason being that acidic boxes could over time deteriorate the materials within them and that papers placed into a grocery bag would become damaged merely by their own weight on top of each other. By doing a little archival triage, the papers are not further damaged by what they were stored in. The next step was to do a preliminary inventory of what was in each box. The purpose of doing this was to get a sense of what the papers contain, and see how the materials could be arranged in way that made sense. For example, materials related to Robbins career as a Foreign Affairs Officer would be grouped together, while the materials regarding his publications would form another group. Once this was complete, I could arrange the boxes into their appropriate record series and begin the more labor intensive process of taking items out of hanging folders; putting materials in acid-free folders and writing titles on them; removing materials from binders and scrapbooks; putting photographs and negatives into polypropelene sheets; and arranging and describing materials that were not in folders.
So that is where I am at right now. Once I am finished, I will move on to writing the finding aid and collection record, both of which you will be able to find on the Archives' collections search in the future. As I read through the writings and correspondence of Warren M. Robbins, it is clear to me that his energy and passion for cultural understanding and African art made a lasting impression on those around him. The National Museum of African Art is a testament to his vision and continues to bring the wonders of African art that so enthralled Robbins to new audiences.
- 1 of 2
- next ›