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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Blogathon: October is American Archives Month!

October is American Archives Month across the nation and the Smithsonian is celebrating in style

The Smithsonian Collections Blog is hosting a 31-day Blogathon for October to mark the occasion.  We are teaming up with sister blogs: THE BIGGER PICTUREArchives of American Art, and The Affiliate repositories like Montana History Revealed to bring to you behind-the-scenes information and visuals of what an Archives is, what we do, and how we do it.  Each day, archives care-takers will blog about what happens in their archives, describe projects they are working on, and tell stories about particular holdings.

You can look forward to posts on: researcher perspectives, collections care, the day in the life of a cataloger, digitization, new media, oral history, 3d digitization, moving collections, and what every good conservator carries in her purse!

In conjunction with the Blogathon the Smithsonian Institution Archives and Special Collections council are also presenting a first-ever Archives Fair Friday October 22nd, from 10am-5pm in the  S. Dillon Ripley Center (on the National Mall - see Mall Map). The event is free and open to the public.

Please join us for the Archives Fair, which will feature a Lecture Series on projects and research based on Smithsonian collections, informational displays from more than a dozen archives at the Smithsonian; and an “Ask the Smithsonian” program that features hands-on consultations and preservation tips from archivists, librarians, historians, and conservators to teach local-area residents about how to care for items they have tucked away in attics, closets, and basements of their homes.  See the "Ask the Smithsonian" link for more details on how you can bring in your most beloved archival treasure.

If you can't make the Archives Fair in person, don't worry - we'll come to you!  Check in with the Archives Month website to see a live stream cast and archived version of our Lecture Series!  If it is Smithsonian expertise you're after, check out, "Ask the Smithsonian" on Facebook on Thursday, October 21 from 10am-5pm, for an online Q&A with a Smithsonian paper conservator and electronic records conservator. These experts will be available live on the main Smithsonian Facebook page to answer any questions that you might have about your own paper and electronic archival items.

See our Press Release and Archives Month website for more information. Tweet us: #archivesmonth

We look forward to meeting you online or in-person!

Rachael Cristine Woody
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives

Monday, September 27, 2010

Back to School for Archivists Too

Autumn Landscape with Home, (painting). Alten, Mathias Joseph, 1871-1938, painter.Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture, Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Autumn Landscape with Home, (painting).

Alten, Mathias Joseph, 1871-1938, painter.
Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture,
Smithsonian American Art Museum.
It's that time of year again when the leaves turn color, the air is crisp, and the the sun takes longer to meet the morning.  The Smithsonian National Mall has quieted down considerably as children have vacated the garden picnic spots, and tourists have ceased to clog the Metro escalators.  It's that time of year when we all go back to school in some sense.

Archivists, Librarians, and Museum Specialists had a busy week last week as we too hit the classrooms and lecture halls for further education.  It started off with a conference put on by OCLC, "Yours, Mine, Ours: Leadership Through Collaboration."  The conference held a myriad of lectures revolving around the theme of collaboration; collaboration within your unit, with your peers of your profession, with anyone who may share your common values or goal. 

The conference was a wonderful demonstration of projects that fellow libraries, archives and special collections have been able to achieve through varying levels of collaboration.  Although it wasn't stated at the conference, I am hoping that this novel concept of collaboration becomes less novel.  Collaboration for me is inherent to not only my profession, but within my museum; therefore making it merely a function of my job and the Archives.  If OCLC can endeavour to hold this conference again I hope to see them (and us) push beyond the rallying cries of "collaboration is good," and move into things brought up in the "Birds of a Feather" sessions: how we can further integrate collaboration into processes, procedures, methods, attitudes, museum hierarchies, strategic plans, job descriptions, and professional culture?  How can we make it so that the "need to collaborate" is not just a hot culture buzz word, but a pleasant reality of our day to day jobs?

Next up, at least for the Freer|Sackler Archives, Library, and Museum Administration we headed to Salem Massachusetts for the "Art Museums Library Symposium" hosted by Peabody Essex Museum (PEM).  Held for the first time through funding and minimal attendance fees, PEM held a two day symposium that has been one of the best I have attended thus far in my career.  The symposium held a series of panels focusing on the roles of libraries, archives and administration within art museums; data unity where the Smithsonian Collections Search Center was lauded several times, how to serve our various audiences, fundraising, and collaboration (surprise, surprise).  The panels lasted roughly an hour with 2-3 presenters and afterwards there was not the traditional Q&A but rather a moderated discussion amongst the panelists and the attendees.  Symposium goers could build upon the discussion and even provided example of troubles or success they've had within their own unit. 

I believe PEM is hoping to hold this conference somewhat regularly and I hope that they do. PEM was right on with their topic choices, and did a fairly good job of canvassing for speakers to represent the broad array of art museums.  One thing I hope they do a better job of next time is to try and ensure there is a stronger representation of art museum administration.  At some points in the symposium there were the usual grumblings from archivists and librarians, but without a equal attendance of administration officials it's hard to move beyond our kvetching to actual constructive conversation among all facets of an art museum.  I know I would have loved my administration, education, curatorial and development departments to be present at the symposium to see the amazing things other museums are doing, and to therefore not only be more aware of the quiet sphere of art museum libraries and archives, but to be inspired along with the rest of us. 

Things I took away last week are:

Collaboration is still a novel concept, not everyone's doing it yet. But those that are have amazing things to show for it.

Archives still have an image issue.  We're either non-existent or dusty and under-used.

Archivists (and librarians) need to stop waiting for a top down administration approach and start making moves now.  We need to be better at educating about what we do, how we do it and what we have.  Don't expect the mountain to come to you... you see where I'm going?

In addition to educating our peers about our function, we need to educate ourselves on our peers' functions.  Okay I've collaborated with conservation and curatorial, but why oh why have I not focused on collaborating/working with development?  Development and I could have a very mutually beneficial relationship...

With the advent of social media we have no idea who we're serving anymore or how.  Researchers are of course our important users, but who else would like to use us - in any facet - as we exist to be used.  Some focused thought and introspection needs to happen in the Archives (libraries and museums too!) about who are using us, who should use us, who wants to use us AND where they use us.  That last part is perhaps most important in social media context.

All use needs to be counted.  Please tell me why statistics are only being gathered by physical foot traffic through the physical portals (read: doors)?  If we are endeavouring to be more and more accessible by going digital, why are we not as eager in counting our users through Internet portals?

This leads me to my last and very important point.  We are doing even more amazing things than ever with new tools and technologies, and yes, by our burgeoning effort to collaborate with each other.  But the point that was brought home to me was this: we are doing all this great work, but if we can't show anyone outside our art museum building - then what's the point?  Okay, we're collaborating, we're collaborating - but if the finished product doesn't result in an exhibition or an online presence how can we consider our efforts successful or worthy?  Alas, this is where a strong web/IT department would come in handy, and I think that's our next big mountain here at the Freer|Sackler.

Rachael Cristine Woody | Archivist
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Friday, September 24, 2010

Smithsonian Gardens: Among Washington's Iconic Landscapes

Enid A. Haupt Garden behind the Castle
Smithsonian Gardens Image Library
The Archives of American Gardens, in addition to collecting documentation on America’s private and semi-public gardens and landscapes, also photo-documents the gardens and landscapes of the Smithsonian Institution. The history of these cultural landscapes is richly intertwined with the history of the National Mall and the history of the Smithsonian itself. 

Secretary S. Dillon Ripley overlooking the
Enid A. Haupt Garden
Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives
The Smithsonian Gardens were the unique vision of eighth Secretary S. Dillon Ripley (1913-2001) who sought to extend the museum experience beyond the halls of the museum's buildings. The largest of several gardens, the Enid A. Haupt Garden was constructed in 1987, replacing an existing Victorian Garden built in celebration of America’s Bicentennial in 1976.

The Moongate Garden in the Enid A. Haupt Garden
Smithsonian Gardens Image Library
The Enid A. Haupt Garden was designed to complement the buildings of the underground Quadrangle complex and is comprised of a Victorian parterre, the Moongate Garden and the Fountain Garden.

This Saturday and Sunday (September 25-26, 2010) The Cultural Landscape Foundation is hosting a What's Out There Weekend, providing residents and visitors an opportunity to discover and explore 25 of Washington’s iconic cultural landscapes, including the Smithsonian’s own Enid A Haupt Garden, Mary Livingston Ripley Garden and Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden.

What’s Out There Weekend tours of the Smithsonian Gardens are scheduled for 10am and 1pm on September 25 and 26. Further information can be found on The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s website.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The 3-D World of Old

In the craze of 3-D that seems to be capturing the world at the moment, I think that we are a bit prone to forget that this phenomenon is not one that we, the technology-leaping generation of the future, created.  Not by far.  My apologies to Pixar and James Cameron’s Avatar, but I feel that credit should be given when credit is due--and credit is definitely due to the innovators of centuries past.

With the advent of photography in the mid-nineteenth century came the advent of the stereoscope.  With this gadget, similar to a pair of eyeglasses, a viewer could see two identical images printed on a card combine into one 3-D scene.  Magic!

Actually, it was less magic than a feat that could be accomplished if one simply crossed one’s eyes, but for those of us in the world who seem to be physically unable to cross our eyes, the aid of devices such as these is invaluable.  Well, invaluable if we want to see 3-D images, that is. . .

From a pair of glasses that essentially forces viewers’ eyes to cross, even I will admit that the innovators of today have brought the industry quite far.  But as one in love with history, I remain in awe of the innovations of our predecessors.

In the Anacostia Community Museum there resides an example of this particular novelty--a stereograph, one of the cards printed to be viewed with early 3-D glasses--in the Booker T. Washington Sound Recording, Correspondence, and Other Material Collection.  In this image, pictured above, Washington hosts Alabama Governor Joseph Johnston and United States President William McKinley at Tuskegee University, formerly the Tuskegee Institute.

As I perused this collection, I wondered in passing about the images that have been deemed “3-D worthy” in the past.  Who decided which pictures would be offered to the public in this new and unique form?  What is important enough?  What is interesting enough?  What is unique enough?

I never really came up with an answer to my queries.  However, as I read through a speech by Washington commemorating the 90th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth that is included in the Booker T. Washington Collection, I got a taste of the powerful personality that prompted this man into history as well as the world of 3-D images. 

Jill Berrett, Intern
Anacostia Community Museum

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Highlights of Smithsonian Library History: Former Librarian John Murdoch

Pictured here is John Murdoch, a former head librarian of the Smithsonian, in the United States National Museum library, located in the old Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall, circa 1890. Murdoch was also an accomplished anthropologist who traveled with the United States Army Signal Corps expedition to Point Barrow, Alaska from 1881 to 1883. He collected ethnological specimens of the Inupiat people and compiled a catalog of these artifacts (now part of the Smithsonian's collections) for the official Report of the expedition. 

It isn't hard to imagine that Murdoch might have greatly appreciated having the Smithsonian's online Collections Search Center available to facilitate his work, since it so easily integrates catalog records for both books and museum specimens! (Image from the Smithsonian Institution Archives Institutional History Division, negative no. 3666).

--Diane Shaw, Special Collections Cataloger, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Picture Postcards

The National Anthropological Archives holds a plethora of picture postcards in its collection. These postcards depict scenes from the Americas as well as around the world. One region well-represented in early postcards at the National Anthropological Archives is Hawaii.
Did you know that it was not until May 19, 1898, following public outcry, that the US Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act finally allowing privately published and printed picture postcards to be mailed at the same rate as the one-cent, pre-stamped government printed postal cards? Picture postcards were first popularized in the United States as souvenirs sold at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, however at that time to actually send a picture postcard still cost the full-letter postage rate of two cents.

Since 1872 the United States Postal Service held a monopoly on the printing of postal cards. One side of the pre-stamped governmental postal card was only to be used for the address, while the reverse side was for writing or drawing. The Private Mailing Card Act, however, prompted the beginning of the mass production of picture postcards. Initially, these privately created postcards were asked to adhere to the same standards as government postcards. Over time, however, restrictions eased allowing postcards to become a highly successful means of sending short messages. Particularly important for the development of picture postcards, in 1907, for the first time, senders were permitted to write messages on the address side of postcards, which allowed for the entire front of the post cards to be used for design. The postcards were divided so that the address could be written on the right side and a message written on the left side. The left side typically included a description of the image on the front of the postcard.

Click here for a Chronology of the Picture Postcard from the Smithsonian Archives.

After the turn of the century and until World War I postcards were ubiquitous in towns and cities across America – sold, mailed and collected in albums. Sometimes stereotyped in the images they presented, postcards portrayed people and places in America, as well as life in other countries and cultures. In 1908 it is estimated that nearly 700 million postcards were mailed, when the entire U.S. population was only 89 million. More and more postcard companies entered the market – anticipating economic benefit. With the development of new printing technologies, the widespread use of photography, and improvements in U.S. postal delivery, postcards became an inexpensive and easy way for Americans to send short messages to one another. They also became a primary means to distribute photographic images to the masses.

Click here or more on the Golden Age of Picture Postcards.

NAA INV 04920400

Click here for additional Smithsonian postcards of Hawaii.
Posted by Whitney Hopkins, Volunteer

Happy Birthday, George Gustav Heye!

George Gustav Heye, the founder and first director of the Museum of the American Indian, was born on September 16, 1874. The collection he built - over 225,000 objects made by indigenous people from every major cultural area of the Western Hemisphere - forms the heart of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI).

Heye began collecting Native American material culture in 1897 when he bought a hide shirt from a Navajo woman in Arizona, near a railroad construction site where he was working. By 1906 his collection numbered over 10,000 objects. Heye was not satisfied with passively buying objects from galleries and dealers. He sponsored field researchers, including Mark Raymond Harrington and George Hubbard Pepper, and frequently traveled and collected objects himself. He developed a sense of connoisseurship and sought out the highest quality examples he could find. In 1916, Heye founded the Museum of the American Indian where, as this video clip shows, he worked daily, hand-numbering and cataloging each new accession himself.

It is fascinating to reflect on how much has changed since George Gustav Heye founded the Museum of the American Indian. In his time, many viewed it as imperative to collect evidence of Native Americans’ traditions because they were “a dying people.” As we well know, Native Americans and their traditions are very much alive today, and the daily programming at NMAI is evidence of how they have thrived and grown in the past hundred years. Heye envisioned the audience for his collection to be white, scholarly researchers. Today, the museum’s collection is heavily used by Native communities, tradition bearers, scholarly researchers, and the public at large.

And to say the least, the care and handling of museum collections has changed a lot! For instance, we don't smoke cigars in the object processing room any more. (For more information about how we take care of our collections, please check out our Conservation Department.)

For more information about the George Gustav Heye and the Museum of the American Indian, please take a look at the history page on the NMAI website.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Danger: Nitrate in the Archives

 Courtesy of Marguerite Roby.
Check out sister blog THE BIGGER PICTURE's new blog entry: Learn. Educate. Imagine.and learn more on the danger of nitrate negatives in the Archives.

Rachael Cristine Woody
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Sometimes the smallest collections can be the biggest cataloging challenges.  In 2008 the Archives Center acquired a small collection of just 38 pastel drawings, but deciding what topics should be covered in the SIRIS catalog entry and researching all of the added entries took hours.  The Marilyn Church Courtroom Drawings, 1975-2004, provide glimpses of some of the most dramatic moments in trials, hearings and lawsuits of some of New York City’s most infamous crimes and cases in the late 20th century. The notoriety of the cases represented by this collection meant that they were very heavily covered in the media, but because of the prohibition against cameras in courtrooms in most courts in America, the only visual coverage of a court case was provided by courtroom artists whose drawings were later reproduced in the news media.
 The Scope and Content note in the SIRIS entry for this collection contains probably the longest run-on sentence in any SIRIS record in the system: 366 words!  Though this collection is divided into several topical series, such as “Medical Ethics” and “Political Violence,” listing every case and a few words describing what they were about seemed the best way to write it because all of the items in this collection are the same type of document, and all are of equal importance.

The cases represented in this collection strike at the heart of topics that arouse passionate debate everywhere, but nowhere more so than in New York City, where most of the incidents or alleged crimes occurred. The 1990 rape trial in what came to be known as the “Central Park Jogger” case is a good example, in which racial tensions in the city were heightened and the evidence, or lack of evidence, debated endlessly.  Others relate to terrorism and organized crime, issues that provoke fear in most people, but especially those living in populous urban areas.  The trial of John Hinckley, Jr. for attempted assassination of President Reagan in 1981, aroused debate about the definition of insanity and how to balance protection of the public from the mentally ill with maintaining mentally ill people’s civil liberties.  Some cases relate to extremely contentious ethical matters, such as surrogate motherhood, euthanasia, and in-vitro fertilization, subjects that will probably always be controversial.  The 1980 case of Senator Harrison A. Williams, who, among numerous others, was caught accepting bribes from FBI agents posing as sheikhs, spurred debate about the rightness of such sting operations. Because of the controversial nature of these topics, it seemed important to add subject headings for each. In all, 24 new subject headings were added, along with 22 new entries for names.

For some court cases, index terms used were names of plaintiffs, such as Brooke Shields (who in 1981 sued a photographer over nude photographs taken of her as a child) or Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (who sued photographer Ron Galella for harassing her).  Others have entries for defendants, such as Sid Vicious, or David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz (in both cases, tried for murder). Others, such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing trial, and the “ABSCAM” case, were so infamous that they already had Library of Congress subject headings.  Other cases had multiple defendants, such as the “Landmarks Terror Trial”, and the added entry “Terrorism – United States” was used.  The subject term “Trial” had been used in SIRIS only a couple of times before. This entry uses the term 12 times, with subheadings including “Malpractice,” “Assassination,” and “Bribery.”

When the Archives Center acquired this collection, it represented a new direction in collecting. Previously we had little on American judicial history.  This collection, which has excellent potential for exhibit use, is a first step in that direction.  But more than a collection about our justice system, it is also illustrative of many aspects of life in twentieth century America: race relations, the perils of celebrity, the dangers of urban living, politics, the military, the right to bear arms, freedom of speech, the media, terrorism, and many other topics which occupied Americans during those years and still do.  So don’t be surprised if you come across some unexpected names in SIRIS, like Martha Stewart, Tupac Shakur, Michael Milken and General William Westmoreland. They, and others, are all illustrated in this collection.

Cathy Keen, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

A Hop, Skip and a Jump

Although Labor Day no longer signals the beginning of the academic school year for everyone (as many parents and reluctant students know all too well!), those of us at the at the Human Studies Film Archives who are nostalgic for longer summers would like to share this light-hearted clip from the diverse collection of films at the Human Studies Film Archives.

96.6.52 ROPE SKIPPING (1965) from the Martin Moyer Film Collection

Martin Moyer was an independent documentary filmmaker from Seattle, WA who produced more than 60 films for the educational market on subjects as diverse as geology and environmental science, Native American culture, mathematics and, like this film, physical education.

Moyer was one of the many makers of educational, travelogue and industrial training films in the 1950’s that helped to transform 16mm motion picture film from the primarily amateur format that it was before WWII into a fully professional “non-theatrical” format for use in schools, workplaces, libraries and civic auditoriums. Along with its uses in television production (most notably for news filming) the dedication and persistence of filmmakers such as Moyer to make a livelihood from 16mm film production pushed the film and equipment manufacturers to introduce more technically sophisticated 16mm film stocks, cameras and projectors. The more scholarly research filming that took place in the field of Visual Anthropology in the 1970s-80s directly benefited from the many innovations in 16mm film production due to these popular uses of the medium developed in the 1950s-60s. In a certain sense, the films of Martin Moyer can be viewed as part of the film pre-history of the large body of 16mm motion picture film documentation created by the Smithsonian Institution under the program established in 1974 as the National Anthropological Film Center.

The Human Studies Film Archives would like to wish a great fall semester to students of all ages returning to the classroom this month.

Mark White, Human Studies Film Archives

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back to School

United States National Museum Entomological Staff, 1925
United States National Museum Entomological Workers, 1925
Students heading back to school this month do not just have to worry about lunches, homework, teachers and friends.  In a few weeks, they will be rounded up for class pictures.  Kids will think about what to wear and how to style their hair for the image that will adorn their living rooms for the next year.  Some are good, some are bad, but there are always the memorable ones.

International Exchange Service Staff
International Exchange Services Staff, Class of 1891
Anthropology Staff, 1931
Anthropology Staff, Class of 1931

Like proud parents, the SI Archives has collected departmental pictures over the years to remember Smithsonian staff.  And though we may not place them in a frame, we try to upload them to the Collections Search Center for all to enjoy.  Here are some of my favorite "class pictures" found in the Archives.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Silly Summer at the Freer|Sackler Archives

Today, I thought I’d draw your attention to some of the silly things that you can find in the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Some people may think of archives as dry and boring, full of boring, old, irrelevant papers, and not much else. But this is quite far from the truth! If you spend enough time in the archives, not only do you slowly grow pale and wan, but you also find a number of amusing items. Read on for some laughs. 

Myron S. Falk Jr, ca. 1932

The above photographs are from the Pauline B. and Myron S. Falk Jr. papers.  Myron S. Falk Jr. graduated from Massachusetts Tech and began work in 1932 with the New Photomaton Corporation of Eastman Kodak Company as a sales manager of photo booth machines.  This particular folder of his life contains sketched advertisements, correspondence relaying his marketing and management ideas, and my favorite – his test pictures from the Photomaton machine.  I have attached just one of several contact sheets that have his image in various poses ranging from stoic to absurd.  Take a look and have a giggle as you remember your first job. Below I’ve included some pop-culture references that immediately came to my mind; please feel free to send your own observations to me as I would be happy to receive them.
“It’s the photo booth man from the movie Amelie!”

“Check out Myron’s fierce Tyra Banks look.”

“Now you hate the camera!”

“Was Myron considering one of these for his Facebook profile pic?”
C.L. Freer at his villa on Capri, ca. 1900 - 1903
While we remember Charles Lang Freer as our museum’s austere founder, he managed to balance his work with some play. This photo shows Freer at his villa on Capri. Joining a cult? Doing yoga? Performance art? Simply hamming it up for the camera? We may never know. 

Try not to envy Freer too much for the fact that not only did he own a villa on Capri, but he also had enough leisure time to dress up, create and put on a laurel wreath, and then photograph himself while doing so.

Who do you think Freer sent this to?

This photograph is part of the Charles Lang Freer papers, Series 12 Photographs, currently being digitized to be made available online soon!

And last but not least, art was not Freer’s only hobby -- he was also quite the skilled animal trainer! Oh, the things you learn in an archives. Please note the drawing caption: "I found myself in the unique position of caddy." For some odd reason, I have a feeling that that wasn't the least of Freer's worries!

Have a fantastic rest of your summer!

--Rachael Cristine Woody and Beatrice Kelly,
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives