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Monday, October 15, 2018

A Day in the Life of Secretary Joseph Henry

During our blog-a-thon for American Archives Month, we are taking a look back at some of our favorite posts that give readers a peak into the many archives at the Smithsonian and a few of the things you can find inside them. This post was originally posted on July 11, 2013

Have you ever wondered what life was like in 1853? By looking through the letters of the Smithsonian’s first Secretary, Joseph Henry, you will soon find out that politics, business, and the stifling heat are not just headlines that fill today’s news.

Letter from Henry to Bache, page one, July 11, 1853
Smithsonian Institution Archives, SIA2012-2670
This letter, like much of Henry’s correspondence, sheds light on life in the early days of the Smithsonian and the nation’s capital. Written by Henry on July 11, 1853, to his close friend Alexander Bache, a leading American scientist of the time, the letter describes the events of his life and seeks advice from Bache. Across Smithsonian collections, letters like this not only give us factual information, but also aid us in painting a more detailed picture of the people who wrote them. As researchers, this detail allows us to understand why people make certain decisions and highlights the complexities of people’s personalities.

For example, Henry could be viewed as both gruff and amiable in just a few pages. On the one hand, he writes that the then Assistant Secretary, Spencer Baird, needed “a few hard knocks . . . [to] keep him in the proper course.” Yet, throughout the letter Henry gives others compliments and asks about Bache’s family. Personal nuances such as these, found in the documents give us a window to see beyond these individuals as a mere series of facts, but as true people whose personal make-up we can begin to understand.

Though sometimes the handwriting is difficult to read, these letters are worth the eye strain. The stories and commonalities with our lives today that are pulled out of these documents really do make the past come alive. Whether you agree or disagree with everything written in the letters is part of the fun in trying to understand the past...however, I think we can all agree that DC is a hot place to live in the summer.

Courtney Bellizzi
Smithsonian Institution Archives

Friday, October 12, 2018

Flashback Friday: Behind the Scenes at Smithsonian Libraries

Smithsonian Institution Archives, image number MAH-3666. 
The library in the United States National Museum Building, now known as the Arts & Industries Building, was located in the Northwest Pavilion. This space was later know as the Jewett Room after Charles Coffin Jewett, the Smithsonian's first librarian. Later, this room housed the rare book collection. John Murdoch, Librarian of the Smithsonian Institution, sits at a desk. Murdoch was formerly the Assistant Librarian of the National Museum Library and succeeded Miss Jane A. Turner as Librarian on April 1, 1887.

Lisa Fthenakis, Program Assistant

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Archival Collections around the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian Institution is made up of 19 museums, research centers, and the National Zoo. Within each of those museums are multiple departments and units, each overseeing research, collections management, visitor experience, and more. So, while most people see us as one large institution, the reality is that “The Smithsonian” is a rather complex system of different units, staff, and collections, all working together while also fulfilling their individual goals.

Smithsonian Castle, 1885-1910, 2010.0080.02, photographed by Walter J. Hussey, National Museum of American History
One example of this complex web of units, is the large system of archives that exist within the Smithsonian. Currently, our institution is home to 16 different archival repositories, with different missions, collecting policies, and holdings. Their collections document history, culture, science, music (and more!) from every continent on earth. In total, these impressively diverse and valuable collections measure over 156,000 cubic feet!

Capital Gallery Stacks, 2008, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Archival collections are kept because they provide documentary evidence of past events, created by those who lived it. These can also be referred to as primary sources; different from secondary sources—such as mass publications—in that archival materials are considered “rare”. They provide first-hand information or data from participants and witnesses in history. Because of the rarity of archival collections, these materials are non-circulating, meaning you can’t take them home with you.

Researchers interested in seeing archival materials must go to a research room and work with staff to request the item they’d like to see. This isn’t meant to dissuade visits, but simply serves to protect these fragile collections. Alternatively, many libraries’ holdings can be borrowed by patrons, since they often contain secondary sources that are mass-produced. (Libraries can also hold special collections of rare books or other historic, unique materials—but we’ll cover that at another time.)

Community researchers from the Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana work to match archival records with collections objects in the NMAI Archives Center in October 2017. Left to right: Boyo Billiot, Nathan Sowry, Chantel Comardelle.
Photo: Judith Andrews
Why are there so many Smithsonian archives, what are they, and what do they all hold? The different archival repositories around the Smithsonian were founded at various times throughout the Institution’s history in order to gain physical and intellectual control over different aspects of our work. Because of this, each archive preserves and facilitates access to historical records related to their unit’s mission and history. Together we hold the comprehensive picture of the Smithsonian’s continuing research and mission. These archival materials may be photographs, negatives, correspondence, artwork, diaries, manuscripts, field books, professional and personal papers, and audio-visual materials, but all are permanently valuable records of people, activities, government, or organizations.

Breath of Life Community Research Visit, National Anthropological Archives, 2017.
Most archives at the Smithsonian are part of a larger museum or department, and hold materials that document that unit’s work. These various archival repositories—along with their missions and a summary of their collections—are:

Air and Space Museum Archives
The National Air and Space Museum Archives collects materials documenting the history of air and space flight. Their archival collection contains approximately 12,000 cubic feet of material, including an estimated 2 million photographs, 700,000 feet of motion picture film, and 2 million technical drawings.

Anacostia Community Museum Archives 
The Anacostia Community Museum Archives collects, preserves, and makes available materials supporting the object-based collection and the research and educational activities of the museum, as well as the museum's mission. Collections include personal papers, exhibition records, over 50,000 photograph collections, and more than 200 volumes of books dating from the nineteenth century to the present.

Archives Center, National Museum of American History
The Archives Center supports the National Museum of American History by collecting, preserving, and providing access to archival documents that complement the museum's exhibition, research, and collecting programs. The Archives Center holds more than 1,400 collections documenting the history of technology, invention and innovation, business and consumer culture, American music, and popular culture as well as many other topics.

Archives of American Gardens
The Archives of American Gardens, part of Smithsonian Gardens, collects, preserves, and provides access to photographic images and records documenting the evolution of gardens and landscapes throughout the United States. As of 2017, its holdings include over 100,000 images and supplemental files across over forty collections.

Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives 
The Archives, within the National Museum of African Art, are devoted to the collection, preservation and dissemination of visual materials that encourage and support the study of the arts, cultures and history of Africa. The collections contain approximately 450,000 items, including rare collections of glass plate negatives, lantern slides, stereographs, postcards, maps and engravings.

Freer Sackler Archives
The Freer Sackler Archives is a manuscript and photograph repository dedicated to furthering the study of Asian and Middle Eastern art and culture, as well as turn-of-the-century American art. It collects, preserves, and makes available documentary materials supporting the holdings and research activities of the Freer and Sackler galleries. The archives holds more than 160 collections—amounting to over one thousand linear feet of materials—dating from the early nineteenth century to the present.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Collection Archive and Special Collections
Maintained by the Curatorial Department of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, this archive includes research files on the entire permanent collection, emphasizing provenance, exhibition histories, published references, and comparative works. Records of more than 11,500 objects include photographs, official documents, research notes, correspondence, and copies of reference materials assembled by the staff.

Human Studies Film Archives
Within the Department of Anthropology, the National Museum of Natural History (and a sister unit of the National Anthropological Archives), the HSFA is devoted to preserving, documenting, and providing access to anthropological moving image materials. Collections comprise more than eight million feet of film (3,000 hours) and one thousand hours of video recordings. These visual research resources, along with related documentary materials, encompass a broad range of genres that span most of the 20th century.

Nam June Paik Archive
The Nam June Paik Archive, within the Smithsonian American Art Museum, includes written and object materials created by artist Nam June Paik. Among the most influential and prolific video artists, Paik had a profound impact on late twentieth century art through his transformation of the electronic moving image into an artist’s medium. The collection includes early writings from Paik, along with postcards, telegrams, faxes, programs for exhibitions, performances, and festivals, and various objects related to the early history of television and radio.

National Anthropological Archives
Within the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History (and a sister unit of the Human Studies Film Archive), the NAA collects and preserves historical and contemporary anthropological materials that document the world’s cultures and the history of anthropology. The collections include a wide variety of manuscript materials, photographs, maps, artwork, and sound recordings created by Smithsonian and non-Smithsonian anthropologists, Native peoples, scholars, and researchers. The NAA holds one of the world’s largest and richest archival collections related to North American archeology and ethnography, indigenous artwork, and historical photographs.

National Museum of African American History and Culture Library and Archives 
The National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC) Library and Archives are devoted to collecting and providing access to resources that support scholarship in African American history, culture, and the African Diaspora. As the newest addition to the family of Smithsonian museums, NMAAHC is still currently building its archival and library collections.

Archive Center, National Museum of American Indian 
The Archive Center at the National Museum of the American Indian actively acquires and serves as a repository for the records of contemporary Native American artists, writers, activists, and organizations. In addition, the Archive Center holds the records of the NMAI’s predecessor institution, the Museum of the American Indian (MAI), Heye Foundation. The Archive Center supports the mission of the museum by collecting, organizing, preserving, and making available papers, records, photographs, recordings, and ephemera that reflect the historical and contemporary lives of Native peoples throughout the Western Hemisphere. Collections include 1,500 linear feet of manuscripts and thousands of photographic objects.

Photograph Archives, American Art Museum
Maintained as part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Photograph Archives contain nearly a half million negatives, photographs, and slides, that document American art from the colonial period to the present.

Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections
Part of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the Folklife Archives- named for the founding director of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival – includes collections covering world ethnic performance traditions, spoken word recordings, sounds of science and nature, occupational folklore, and family folklore. The collections are strong in American, and more specifically Euro-American, African-American, Caribbean, and Native American musical and performance traditions.

Two of the Smithsonian’s archival repositories—the Smithsonian Institution Archives and the Archives of American Art—are independent collecting units, meaning they are not a part of a Smithsonian museum, or department.

Smithsonian Institution Archives
The Smithsonian Institution Archives captures, preserves, and shares with the public the history of this extraordinary Institution through collection and documentation of the Smithsonian’s official records. Its collections include administrative and exhibition records, personal and professional papers of Smithsonian staff and collaborators, scientific expedition field books, correspondence, diaries, and much more. Because of SIA’s mission to collect institutional records, many of their holdings overlap with, or relate to, other archival repositories listed above.

Archives of American Art
The Archives of American Art is the world’s preeminent and most widely used research center dedicated to collecting, preserving, and providing access to primary sources that document the history of the visual arts in America. Founded in Detroit in 1954 to serve as microfilm repository; this mission expanded quickly to collecting and preserving original material. In 1970, the AAA joined the Smithsonian. Their collections consist of more than 20 million letters, diaries, scrapbooks, manuscripts, financial records, photographs, films, and audiovisual recordings of artists, dealers, collectors, critics, scholars, museums, galleries, associations, and other art world figures.

Want to dive deeper and learn more about the collections within each archive at the Smithsonian? Click on any of the linked repository names above, or explore digitized and catalogued archival items online through the Smithsonian’s database for ALL of our collections -- Collections Search Center. You can browse by individual archival repository by choosing a unit name from the “catalog record source” tab.

You can also directly help us make many of these archival collections more accessible, by transcribing and reviewing digitized materials in the Smithsonian Transcription Center! There are currently ongoing projects from the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution Archives, National Air and Space Museum Archives, and more! Reach out anytime to with questions.

Caitlin Haynes, Coordinator
Smithsonian Transcription Center

Monday, October 8, 2018

Princess Atalie Unkalunt, Cherokee Prima Donna

Atalie Unkalunt [Iva J. Rider], Princess Atalie Unkalunt Collection, NMAI.AC.117, P23888

The National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center holds various collections of notable Native American individuals. One such individual is Princess Atalie Unkalunt, nee Iva J. Rider, (1895 – 1954), a Cherokee opera singer, actress, artist, author, and community activist. Also known as Sunshine Rider, Atalie was born in Stilwell, Oklahoma, to Thomas L. Rider [Domgeske Unkalunt], a state senator and chairman of Indian affairs, and Josephine Pace Rider. As a child attending Indian schools, Atalie saw the need for a cultural missionary to educate the world about Native people and their place in history. She developed a gift for song at a young age and after finishing her high school studies moved to California with her sister where she gained experience in film. After a year on the west coast, she moved to Boston to begin vocal studies. She quickly progressed as a musician but after the U.S. entered World War I, Atalie wanted to do her part for the war effort.

Atalie Unkalunt [Iva J. Rider], postcard photo in Y.M.C.A uniform, circa 1918.
Princess Atalie Unkalunt Collection, NMAI.AC.117, P23895

She joined the Business Women’s Unit of the Y.M.C.A. secretly advancing her age several years in order to meet the age requirements. She served 18 months overseas working as an entertainer and secretary all while battling a long illness with pneumonia. Upon her return to the United States, she settled in New York City to continue her vocal studies and quickly became an acclaimed opera singer. She sang at concert venues around the country and performed at the White House. Her drive to share her culture with others led her to attempt to compose a Native American opera with the help of her friend and famous composer Victor Herbert. Unfortunately, Herbert died in 1924 before the libretto was completed.

Princess Atalie Unkalunt, soprano, shaking hands with Charles Curtis (Kaw),
Vice President for Herbert Hoover.
Princess Atalie Unkalunt Collection, NMAI.AC.117, P23868.

Atalie’s desire to be a cultural missionary never wavered and she became a lecturer for the New York Board of Education where she spoke to audiences about Native American customs and song. During a three-year program she visited over 350 public schools. She used radio to broadcast her message to a European audience. Her radio program consisted of singing both classical arias as well as Cherokee songs. She later founded the Society of the First Sons and Daughters of America Foundation whose mission was to recognize and promote the contributions of Native people and give them opportunities to promote their talents in the arts.
Princess Atalie Unkalunt, soprano, wearing beaded headband and Pendleton jacket,
holding drumstick over drum surrounded by children.
 Princess Atalie Unkalunt Collection, NMAI.AC.117, P23867

In addition to her vocal talents, she was a skilled painter and designer and in 1942, she wrote and illustrated the book “The Earth Speaks”, a collection of tales adapted from Cherokee legends.
Atalie Unkalunt [Iva J. Rider], 1928. Princess Atalie Unkalunt Collection, NMAI.AC.117, P23874

In the late 1940s, Atalie moved to Washington D.C. where she spent the remainder of her life digging through government archival records in order to research claims due the Cherokee Indians from the United States government.

The NMAI Archive Center has a collection of photographs and postcards from Atalie Unkalunt related to her life and singing career.


Maria Galban is a research specialist on the Collections Research and Documentation staff at the National Museum of the American Indian.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Flashback Friday: Behind the Scenes at Smithsonian Institution Archives

Smithsonian Institution Archives, image number 2004-10338. 

Jim Wallace, Lorie Aceto, and Roberta Diemer among the negative files in Office of Printing and Photographic Service's (OPPS) cold storage vault in 1983, then located in the National Museum of American History. Today, the cold storage vault is run by the Smithsonian Institution Archives, and has moved to a Smithsonian collections storage facility in Maryland. 

To learn more about the Smithsonian Institution Archives's photo collections and it's cold storage facility, check out this blog post by photo archivist Marguerite Roby

Lisa Fthenakis, Program Assistant

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

A Record-Setting Game in Baseball’s Last “Pure” World Series

With baseball's post-season starting today, it's interesting to re-visit what some call the last “pure” World Series, a time before the American and National Leagues had divisions within them. It was simple: the two teams with the league's best records went straight to the World Series. There were no wild cards, no division or league series. The division system was introduced in 1969, and since then the layers of post season elimination rounds have continued to expand. Now, World Series games are still being played late into October.

October 2nd marks the 50th anniversary of the setting of a World Series record which still stands: Bob Gibson’s 17 strikeouts in Game 1 of the 1968 Series, in which the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals faced the Detroit Tigers. The record had been held by Dodger Sandy Koufax, with his previous mark of 15, set just five years earlier. Gibson struck out at least one batter in each inning of the game, the first to do so in a World Series since Ed Walsh did it in 1906.

The number of strikeouts was not the only remarkable thing about Gibson’s pitching performance during this series. Gibson, for the second consecutive World Series, pitched three complete games, the first one a shutout, allowing just one run in the second game and three in the finale, in which he faced the Tigers’ lefty Mickey Lolich. Lolich too, pitched three complete games in the series, getting the win in each, as the Tigers took the series 4 games to 3. Gibson’s World Series performance capped off an amazing season, as he had finished with 22 wins (a stunning 13 of which were shutouts) and an Earned Run Average of 1.12, another record which still stands after 50 years. He pitched 28 complete games of 34 starts. In today’s baseball, complete games by pitchers are rare.

Gibson and the Tigers’ Mickey Lolich both had three complete games in the 1968 World Series. Lolich was the winning pitcher in the 7th game. Image no.: AC0545-0000034-1, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

Gibson’s path to baseball greatness seems an unlikely one, considering his impoverished upbringing in Omaha, Nebraska, raised by a mother widowed before he was born and who suffered from rickets and respiratory problems as a child. He details his early life in his autobiography, From Ghetto to Glory. In it, Gibson allows that the word “glory” might be an exaggeration, but that he could “write volumes” on the ghetto experience. A basketball and baseball standout in high school, he received a full scholarship to Creighton University, which led to being offered a chance to sign with the Harlem Globetrotters. He played with the Globetrotters for a year before signing with the Cardinals. Maybe his background of hardship toughened him up. He had a reputation as a hard-nosed player, an intimidating pitcher who didn’t mind giving opposing batters a close shave with his fastball. He was also proud of his ability to tune out all the noise and distraction around him.

Gibson’s Topps Card for 1969, the season following his record-breaking performance in the World Series. Image no.: AC0545-0000033-1 and AC0545-0000033-2, Archives Center, National Museum of American History. 

Gibson was not the only pitcher doing amazing things that season. The 1968 season was nicknamed “The Year of the Pitcher”. Some reasons why:

• There were 339 shutouts, that's more than 20% of all games played;

• it was the last year baseball had a 30 game winning pitcher, Denny McLain of the Tigers, with 31;

• Dodger Don Drysdale set a consecutive scoreless innings record of 58.2, a record not bettered until 1988;

• only one hitter, Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox, ended the season with a batting average over .300, his was .301;

• the average season batting average for all hitters in the majors was a pitiful .231.
Gibson had the most strikeouts in the National League in 1968 with 268. Fergie Jenkins of the Cubs was second with 260. Bill Singer of the Dodgers was a distant third with 227. Image no.: AC0545-0000036-1, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

These numbers didn’t arise in a vacuum. 1968 was the culmination of a decade in which pitching was emphasized and changes were made after the home run heavy seasons of the early 1960s. The biggest change was that the height of the strike zone was expanded making strikeouts easier to get. By the end of the decade, new Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, fearing that too many slow-paced, tense pitching duels would make fans stay away, instituted some changes that were intended to increase the number of runs scored and reduce the dominance of pitchers. The mound height was lowered, from fifteen inches to ten. The strike zone was also reduced in size to what it had been before 1962. It is not surprising that these rule changes were informally called “The Gibson Rules.”

In 2015, Bob Gibson wrote a book about his record setting game, called Pitch by Pitch, wherein he takes the reader through the game inning by inning, batter by batter, pitch by pitch. The most dramatic inning was the bottom of the ninth. After a leadoff single to Tiger shortstop Mickey Stanley, Gibson faced the Tigers’ most feared hitter, future Hall of Famer Al Kaline. Gibson struck Kaline out swinging, with a slider. This strikeout tied Koufax’ 1963 record, but Gibson admitted not realizing it at the time. Next up was Norm Cash, who also struck out swinging. That left power hitting outfielder Willie Horton. On a 2-2 count, Horton was called out looking on a breaking ball, setting a new World Series record that has yet to be matched.

The Sporting News covered Gibson’s record-setting game, reproduced on a Topps card. Image no.: AC0545-0000035-1, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
To learn more about the sports and trading cards in this post, please check out the Guide to the Ronald S. Korda Collection of Sports and Trading Cards on the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives.

Cathy Keen, Archivist, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Monday, October 1, 2018

October is American Archives Month!

Welcome to American Archives Month! We are celebrating with our eighth annual blog‐a‐thon this October. We’ll have more stories for you about who we are, the work we do, and a peek behind the scenes in collections across the Smithsonian.

On the blog, we will explore a number of different archival collections around the Smithsonian. Whether at the Archives Center of the National Museum of the American Indian, the Transcription Center, the Smithsonian Institution Archives, or any of our other archives, posts will give you a peek into our collections. Posts this month with tell stories about the work we do to make our materials available, show you some of our favorite things in the collections, or give you a sense of what our archives have looked like in days past.

Locally, we will be celebrating at the 2018 Archives Fair at the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives on Thursday October 4, 2018. With a theme of Crossing Generations, Bridging Communities, the Fair will explore the ways diverse communities interact with archival collections, their creation, function, and use. Archivists and experts from a wide array of institutions will share their collections, answer questions, and highlight their holdings; so it is a great opportunity to get to know some of the cool collections that are out there in our community. If you are in the Washington, DC area come to the fair and meet the archivists and staff that make it all possible – the Archives Fair is free and open to the public.

Mary Ann Belardo working in the Archives of American Art area in the Fine Arts and Portrait Galleries, now the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture. The archives is located in the old Patent Office Building. Smithsonian Institution Archives, image number SIA2011-1134. 
We’ll be celebrating the work that Archivists, Museum Specialists, and Librarians do in all corners of the Smithsonian this month, telling stories about a few of the highlights in their collections, current work, and the curiosities of working with collections.

Remember to check back throughout October for new content from across the Smithsonian!

Lisa Fthenakis, Program Assistant
Smithsonian Institution Archives