The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Flickr Commons
Just two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Society of American Archivists. Sporting the theme “Beyond Borders,” I was impressed by the recent transformation in how archives and archivists “do business”—how the technological and digital border has for the most part disappeared.
Five years ago, the handful of conference sessions talking about digital records focused on how to capture and preserve born-digital records. This year, most sessions touched on digitization and digital records not as a novelty topic, but as one of today’s facts of life. History and access to it is happening in the digital realm, and archivists around the globe have embraced the Internet’s potential to enhance and expand the ways their organizations deliver services on a daily basis.
Then and now on my phone. Today, people are searching archival collections with their smartphones, accessing primary sources through “wired” devices they carry with them almost everywhere. In many cases, visitors are using the web browsers on their phones to visit an archives website or review the RSS feed from its blog. Mobile apps are starting to roll out. Photos from the Smithsonian Institution Archives collections can be accessed through the Historypin app (you can also see our photos on the Historypin website). You can plot the images on a map, use an embedded Google Street View to superimpose the historic photograph on the location in real time, and contribute your own stories about that particular place.
Going where the people go. More and more, archives, museums and libraries are establishing a presence at popular online social media sites. In places like Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter, they proactively call attention to the rich body of primary source materials in their permanent collections. Some have begun to engage with Wikipedians enhance and expand content related to their collection. Several Wikipedia editing events have been held at the Smithsonian, including our own recent edit-a-thon “She Blinded Me With Science: Smithsonian Women in Science." We are planning another event with the Archives of American Art and other Smithsonian groups for mid-October in honor of the “Wikipedia Loves Libraries” initiative.
Relevant connections. Has someone ever told you about something they’ve just discovered? The connections other researchers have made with a particular set of historical records can stir up new ideas and point to new areas to focus on. Some of the best archival blogs do just that, sharing the stories of people making connections with rich research material relevant to their field of study. In our own case, Archives’ research associate Marcel LaFollette ran across previously unpublished photos from the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, and she and our staff blogged about these finds here on The Bigger Picture. The trial photo set we shared on Flickr have been viewed over a 107,000 times, and people who were actually at the trial have contacted us to share their personal experience of the event.
Conversations enrich collections. Something archives have known for a long time is changing the way we learn more about our special collections. That secret: we are not the only experts. “Crowdsourcing” is another way archives and libraries are inviting others to contribute their own expertise or even simply their interest to enrich parts of their collections. Maybe you took part in New York Public Library’s “What’s On the Menu?” transcription project? It’s still going on with over one million dishes on over 15,000 menus transcribed so far!
These are just some of the huge and valuable changes occurring in Archives worldwide. Are there any issues we’ve missed or innovative archives projects you’d like to share? Please let us know in the comments below.
You are probably familiar with the plethora of no-known-copyright photos that many museums and research units from across the Smithsonian post on the Smithsonian Flickr Commons. The Smithsonian has now been on the Commons for over four years, and we’ve enthusiastically taken in all of your comments, identifications of images, and favorites of our photos.
Here at the Archives, we both manage the Smithsonian Flickr Commons, and enjoy contributing our own collections to the Commons as well. Because of this, we eagerly drop in from time to time into our statistics to see what photos you’re enjoying on the Commons and what you have to say about these images.
Now that we’ve been on the Commons for over four years, it’s very interesting to see our most popular images of all time. So, without further ado, here are the ten most popular images on the Smithsonian Flickr Commons:
It’s a baby! In a mailbag! It’s no surprise that this toddler in a cute pose tops our list—everyone knows that babies are meme-makers. However, you might not know the story behind this photo. Though this particular image was simply a humorous posed image made for fun, indeed, after parcel post service was introduced in 1913 at least two children were sent by mail. Read more about the debacle in our blog post, How Many Stamps Does it Take to Mail a Baby?
Our second most popular photo continues the cute kid trend: a young boy does struggles to put his letters into a Doremus-style mailbox amidst a wintry background. All of our commenters agree that this is truly a Hallmark moment, and would make a great holiday card. Need some more holiday craft inspiration (even though it’s the summer)?: check out our Winter Wonderland set on the Flickr Commons.
It’s no surprise that Albert Einstein (pictured with other important scientists of his time) tops our list—Einstein is without a doubt one of the most photograped scientists in history. Read more about why he is so etched in our visual consciousness in our blog post, The Camera Loved Einstein.
And the mail theme continues . . . This photo of US soldiers lierally overwhelmed by a tower of mail during WWII has piqued a lot of interest, and has also amused many with its juxtaposition of items: a hockey stick; a spare tire; and crushed boxes clearly marked "Fragile," and "GLASS—With Care.” Read more in our blog post, Soldiers and the Mail.
Mary Blade is an impressive figure in science. In 1946, when this photograph was taken, Mary Blade was the only woman on the Cooper Union engineering faculty and one of few women on any engineering faculty in the United States. Add to that the visual aspects of this image—Blade’s charming smile and neatly-drawn curve graph—and it’s no wonder that this is a favorite. Check out more luminaries of science in our Women in Science set on the Flickr Commons.
Everyone knows the line, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” which was supposedly uttered by Henry Stanley upon finding fellow explorer David Livingstone, who was presumed lost or dead, in Africa. Stanley was a popular writer and explorer during his day. This photo, which pictures Stanley with his adopted servant, Kalulu, has provoked heated discussions and debate about colonialism during the 19th century. Read more about the complicated relationship between the two in our blog post, Photos, Guns, Africa, Stanley, & Kalulu.
Who can resist Jackie O—the First Lady beloved by many, and known as a fashion plate to the world even today. This photo pictures the gown and cape worn by Jacqueline Kennedy at the Inaugural Ball for her husband, President John F. Kennedy. The outfit is now featured in one of the Smithsonian’s most popular exhibits, “The First Ladies” at the National Museum of American History. You can visit The First Ladies online exhibit here.
The photo actually features Felix Nadar—one of the most famous photographers of the 19th century, but history of photography, steampunk, and balloon enthusiasts have all embraced this image. That needs little explanation—it’s simply fun to look at a top-hatted man seemingly floating above the earth in a hot air balloon. Nevertheless, read more about the career of this photographer in our blog post, Felix Nadar.
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope penetrates the dark columns of gas and dust to reveal how much star formation is happening there. The result is a gorgeous and almost-mystical looking image that also gives us a lot of scientific information: the Chandra data (red, green, and blue represent low, medium, and high-energy X-rays respectively) show very few X-ray sources in the so-called "Pillars of Creation" themselves. This indicates that star formation peaked in this region several million years ago. Check out more stunning images in the Chandra X-ray Observatory set on the Flickr Commons.
The Scopes “Monkey” Trial—known as the trial of the century—famously debated the teaching of evolution in school in the 1920s. In this trial, high school teacher John T. Scopes was accused of violating Tennessee's Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach evolution in any state-funded school. Here, scientists who asked to testify in support of Scopes gather together for a picture. Read a whole series of blog posts on the Scopes Trial and view the Archives’ snapshots from the trial.
Want to keep up with the Smithsonian's new additions of photos to Flickr? Subscribe to the Smithsonian Flickr Commons feed.
Reminiscing of summers past always conjures sensations of sticky, ice-creamed fingers; sweet lemonade; tangled hair from wild somersaults; and scents of backyard barbeques and freshly-cut grass.
More about these images can be read in the Field Book Project’s blog post, André Goeldi Flickr Set: The Journey from 1920 to 2012.
Although many of the featured specimens in this set are unidentified, several active members of the Flickr Commons’ community have already begun offering potential indentifications!
This summer, while tending to your gardens, before pulling those pesky grasses from the ground (like our Flickr friend Mark in NOVA), I encourage you to take a closer look. They’re really quite beautiful.
- Smithsonian Magazine writes about how newfound negatives provide what are believed to be the only pictures of a living nestling of an ivory-billed woodpecker—America’s rarest bird.
- A digital archivist’s horror story. How the movie Toy Story 2 was accidentally deleted (and then restored). Moral of the story? Back up those files! [via Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig, SIA]
- A little late for May Day, but getting me in the Spring spirit nevertheless: maypoles across the Flickr Commons [via Susannah Wells, SIA].
- John Gray, former president of the Autry National Center of the American West, has been named director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
- “The Hemingway Papers” Digital Archive is now available, and features newspaper articles written by the famous author during his tenure as a columnist at the Toronto Star newspaper from 1920–1924 on subjects like fishing, sports and war [via INFOdocket].
- The National Portrait Gallery on the tricky science of conserving some Civil War era prints in their collections.
- Why do old books smell? [via swissmiss]
"Why do old books smell?" Learn more about book care at the AbeBooks' Book Collecting Guide: http://bit.ly/ujYGTh
- A Springtime slideshow—a selection of gorgeous photographs of flowers from across the Flickr Commons.
- Movie studios are forcing Hollywood to abandon 35mm film, but what are the consequences of going digital? [via Jennifer Wright, SIA].
- The Library of Congress is celebrating Preservation Week with public events and many resources to help you learn to care for you personal collections at home.
- From our sister blog The Field Book Project blog—the remarkable travels and field books of naturalist Edmund Heller, and how the Field Book Project is bringing together his field notes, scattered across many institutions, into one place on the web.
- Milton Friedman on the future of capitalism, Ronald Reagan campaign speeches, and debates on morality—Pepperdine University’s Historic Sound Recordings collections contain some fascinating sound clips.
- The State Library and North Carolina State Archives has an Inform U. project—a group of tutorials online to help you with your digital preservation issues, as well as a series of video tutorials including the following on how to save your Facebook data [via InfoDocket]:
This video walks you through how and why you should save your Facebook profile, posts, photos and videos. This video, designed for a general audience, is part of the State Library of North Carolina's "Inform U" series.