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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New Freer|Sackler Archives Image Galleries

The Freer|Sackler Archives is pleased to announce the unveiling of two revamped Image Galleries!  Over the years, the archives and special collection units across the Smithsonian have developed their own Image Galleries based on the collections they have begun to digitize.  The Image Galleries provide a quick and easy portal into the SIRIS and Collections Search Center where the records and digital images of the collections live.  Although the Image Galleries are geared more towards the general-browsing visitor, they can be used as excellent tools in communicating the intellectual and physical organizations of a specific collection.

For example, the Freer|Sackler created and updated Main Image Gallery version of all of our current collections (image above).  There are four main ways to browse the images, by: Individuals, Topics, Types, and Places.  For each division there are then subdivisions as appropriate to the collections within the F|S Archives.  This image gallery is an excellent place for browsing F|S Archives' collections and becoming acquainted with the various holdings we have in our possession.  If you find you are interested in Topics>Description and Travel, you will find yourself directed to the Collections Search Center to all records cataloged as "description and travel" (image to right).

F|S Archives is also using the Image Gallery tool to promote use and scholarship regarding the Ernst Herzfeld papers.  Through generous funding from the Leon Levy Foundation, the Archives has been able to digitize and catalog vast portions of the Herzfeld papers.  Now that there are several series (intellectual subdivision) of the collection and thousands of images to work with, the archives has created a separate Ernst Herzfeld Image Gallery (image below).

Although the cataloging and digitization is not yet finished, we have been able to provide several exploratory categories: Collection/Series, Subject Terms, Forms and Genres, Geographical Locations, and Archaeological Sites.  A similar breakdown to the Main Image Gallery, but also features a new tool via the Geographical Locations; whose function is to provide thumbnails on a map to mark the place of origination/creation for each object as represented by a digital image of that object (image to left).  By clicking on each progressive thumbnail level, visitors can zoom into specific geographical locations and view the records/images from each site.

 All Image Galleries are supported and created in partnership with the SIRIS Office of the Smithsonian Institution.  The F|S Archives' Image Gallery pages have then been updated by an extremely talented intern from the University of Michigan, School of Information Program.  The F|S Archives submitted a project to their Alternative Spring Break program that pairs students with archives across the DC, NYC, Chicago, or Detroit area.  We worked intensely with the intern for the one week spring break period to create this beautiful redesign.  Since then we've polished it up and published it officially as of June 14th, 2011.  The F|S Archives owes the SIRIS office, the School of Information ASB program, and our talented intern a huge debt of gratitude for delivering us a product that the Archives otherwise would not have been able to create. 

I hope you enjoy these resources powered by the collections of the F|S Archives.

Rachael Cristine Woody
Freer|Sackler Archives

Monday, June 27, 2011

Gardens of Industry and Post-Industry

Dewitt Clinton Park in October, 1909. Images from the Thomas Warren Sears Collection
Archives of American Gardens, Smithsonian Institution.
The buildings of America’s early 20th century industrial era, seen in the background of the photographs above (taken by landscape architect Thomas Sears in 1909) unexpectedly contrast with the open space of numerous vegetable gardens in DeWitt Clinton Park, located just a few blocks from New York City’s more famous Central Park. Fannie Griscom Parsons (1850-1923), a pioneer of school gardens in the United States, envisioned this once vacant lot and dumping ground as a place where children (many of them the progeny of European immigrants to the U.S.) could become “proper” urban citizens through the process of gardening, environmental beautification, and contact with the natural world.  As Parsons describes in her article of 1903, “The First Children’s Farm,” published by Outlook magazine, “In a neighborhood where before only vandalism reigned, this miniature farm, lying in one of New York’s most congested districts, awakened an almost forgotten feeling in the hearts of the people of the neighborhood, at the same time satisfying the active restlessness of the children.” Parsons understood gardening as a way of transforming not only the landscape, but the people who lived in this urban-industrial environment. 

A century later, residents in many cities across the United States are again turning to gardening as one form of urban revitalization, community building and place-making, this time in landscapes fractured by the displacement of industry.  The challenges of rapid industrialization and urbanization have given way to those of urban disinvestment and “post-industrial” landscapes of vacant lots and abandoned buildings, where the continuing effects of the industrial era (soil contamination, pollution, etc.) and social problems remain.  Indeed, Parsons might not have found these landscapes so dissimilar to the environment of her own era.  The Archives of American Gardens contains several collections that provide invaluable documentation of these “post-industrial” gardens that began changing urban landscapes as early as the 1970s.  

One example is Glenwood Green Acres Community Garden, located in the Susquehanna neighborhood, a low-income section of north central Philadelphia.  With a former industrial warehouse in the background, the photograph below bears a striking resemblance to those above. Established in 1984 on the site of a burned down warehouse, the garden is a collaboration between local residents, who saw “this big eyesore across the street” as “the perfect place to start a garden,” and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Philadelphia Green program.  Many of the gardeners are older residents from a variety of backgrounds, who use this place to pass on horticultural and agricultural traditions to younger generations. As journalist Monica Rhor describes in her Philadelphia Inquirer article, “some of the gardeners – African Americans from the South, Puerto Ricans from the island, second- and third-generation Italian Americans – have long called Philadelphia home. Others are relative newcomers from Cambodia, China, Italy, Laos, West Africa. Yet each, in his or her individual way, has infused the city’s greenspaces with fresh tastes and age-old techniques.”
Glenwood Green Acres Community Garden, Philadelphia, PA, 1996. Ira Beckhoff, photographer.
Garden Club of America Collection, Archives of American Gardens, Smithsonian Institution.
Urban gardens are far from the only solution to revitalizing America’s urban neighborhoods, just as school gardens alone did not ameliorate the negative effects industrial life.  But as these two examples demonstrate, various types of community-centered gardens have been essential to creating cultural meaning and shaping experiences of urban spaces for people in both the industrial and “post-industrial” eras.  These images also underscore how critical it is to document and preserve garden history today so that current and future generations can better understand the changes, similarities, and differences between the urban gardens of Parsons’ time and their own.

-Joe Cialdella, Intern
Archives of American Gardens
Smithsonian Gardens

Friday, June 24, 2011

Archiving the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Photo by Diana Davies, Walt Koken of the Highwoods String Band winning the fiddler's contest at the 1972 festival.

Those of you who have managed to get down to the Mall in the past two weeks will have noticed the elephant’s graveyard of tent parts slowly coming together under the watchful stewardship of many harried Folklife Center administrators, curators, and their respective legions of interns. It’s the time of year typically reserved for pitching tents and making noise, and the 45th annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival is gearing up to do just that under the triple auspices of Colombia, the Peace Corps, and Rhythm & Blues.

Photo by Diana Davies, Ralph Rinzler with a folk group, 1969.
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival began in 1967 as the Smithsonian Institution Festival of American Folklife, the brainchild of James Morris, the then-director of Museum services, and of Ralph Rinzler, who would become its first director. The early festivals are a where's Waldo game of well-loved artists and household names from the folk community, shot by some legendary photographers not the least of whom is Diana Davies, who also documented the Newport Folk Festival and the Civil Rights movement. Davies' festival photography is stylistically distinctive and very beautiful, there's something unbelievably powerful about the strong compositions in the black and white shots that perfectly captures the energy of the late 1960s. To see some striking examples of her work, check out the Diana Davies Photographs.

Photo by Diana Davies, Maybelle Carter performing at the festival in 1969.
Photo by Diana Davies, the Highwoods String Band at the 1972 festival.
The Ralph Rinzler Archives house 45 years worth of festival documentation, much of it performance photography, process shots of folk crafts, and of course food from everywhere. Most of it is available in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival records.

To the archivists, the Folklife Festival represents an exercise in logistics. Its documentation and the subsequent data processing is one of the main duties of the CFCH’s Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives, one that spans many months, many interns, and many long drawn-out brawls with xml. To this end the archive deploys a small army of photographers on the Mall every year, some professional and others dedicated amateur volunteers, to shoot and conserve the pulse of this unique cultural exhibition. These are some of their stories, in their own words:

While the photographers shoot on the ground, from out of trees, perched on bamboo stilts or behind bonfires and disgruntled buffaloes, the Rinzler Archives photo-documentation team engages in a sort of guerrilla archiving exercise from a trailer in the administrative compound. People think of archiving as something that occurs inside reasonably well-lit, temperature controlled environments after the fact, but that's only part of the job. As the images come in they are processed and saved in the Smithsonian's digital asset management system and are available for researchers to view on site.
Tapestry by Ethel Mohamed, depicting the Festival activities during the Bicentennial celebrations.

Come join us on the National Mall from June 30th through July 4th and then again from July 7th through the 11th for food, music, discussion, crafts, and some ninja archiving.

-Aurélie Beatley, Intern, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Black Music Month

Evanti publicity photograph for the Barber of Seville.
On February 12, 1932, opera singer and composer Madame Lillian Evanti (1890–1967) wrote a letter to her mother  expressing confidence in her audition for the New York Metropolitan Opera. However, it wasn’t until twenty-three years later in 1955 when Marian Anderson debuted as Ulrica in Giuseppe Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera that a black person performed with the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

June is Black Music Month, a time to celebrate and acknowledge the contributions of singers, composers, and musicians of African descent such as Madame Evanti.  Born Annie Lillian Evans in a highly educated, prominent middle-class family, the lyric soprano thrived as a member of Washington, D.C.’s black elite.  Her father, Dr. Bruce Evans, was a founder of Armstrong Technical High School and served as its first principal. Her mother, Annie Brooks Evans, was a music teacher in the public school system of Washington.  Poet Langston Hughes was a relative and Joseph Brooks, her maternal grandfather, served in the D.C. Territorial legislature in the 1870s.  Hiram Revels, the first African American senator in the United States Congress, was her great-uncle, and two relatives took part in John Brown’s raid on the armory at Harpers Ferry in West Virginia. Perhaps Lillian Evanti’s pride in her rich American heritage contributed to her determination to rise above racism and adversity to purse a musical career.

Madame Evanti—a name suggested by the author Jessie Fauset—was the first African American to sing in an organized European opera company.  In 1925 Madame Evanti made her operatic debut in Nice, France, in the principal role of Léo Delibes’ Lakmé.  Before her retirement in the 1950s, Evanti received acclaim in Europe, South America, Africa, and the Caribbean for her operatic talents.  Celebrated internationally, she was denied the opportunity to perform at many venues in her native country despite performing at the White House during the Roosevelt administration in 1934.  This continued until 1943 and her performance in Verdi’s La Traviata with the National Negro Opera Company at Washington’s Watergate Theater, a moored barge that floated on the Potomac River, while the audience sat along the riverbank to watch the performance.  Madame Evanti’s career spanned some thirty years.  She was decorated by several countries, served as a good will ambassador, and composed ten songs that were published by W. C. Handy.

Evanti helped to dispel the myth that people of African origins could only perform and succeed in selected musical genres.  In a letter sent to Madame Evanti, Marian Anderson asserts, “we feel you were indeed a pioneer in making a place for our race in the operatic field.”  

To explore contributions of blacks to various musical forms check out the resources here.

View the Amistad Research Center blog to learn about opera singer Mattiwilda Dobbs, born in Atlanta, Georgia.

Jennifer Morris
Anacostia Community Museum Archives

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Greatest Show on Earth

This post was written by Kathleen Adrian, reference librarian of Ask Joan of Art, before she left the Smithsonian at the beginning of June.

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey
“It was a real bully circus. It was the splendidest sight that ever was when they all come riding in, two by two, and gentleman and lady, the men just in their drawers and undershirts, and no shoes and stirrups… and every lady with a lovely complexion and perfectly beautified, and looking just like a gang of real sure-enough queens…”   (Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, ch.22)

Huck Finn’s description was shared by many people who regarded the circus as an unmatched social spectacle. Well before the advent of film, radio and television, the circus was the largest entertainment industry in the world, bringing exotic animals, sideshow oddities, thunderous music and death-defying acrobatic tricks to thousands of people across the country.

One of the first circuses in America is believed to have taken place in 1793 in Philadelphia, with George Washington in attendance. Staged by an Englishman named John Bill Ricketts, this circus was mainly an equestrian show featuring bareback riding and horse acrobatics, though it also included a juggler, clown, musicians and even a rope-walker.

By 1825, circuses began using tents, so wagons were needed to haul the equipment. They also needed cages and dens to carry the wild animals. As the shows grew in size, more wagons and horses were added, along with the acquisition of elephants and camels. The desire for bigger and better circuses brought in Phineas T. Barnum, who had already made a name in the world as a concert promoter and operator of museums with both human curiosities and hoaxes. Barnum’s first circus opened on April 10, 1871 in Brooklyn, New York, under three acres of canvas, and grossed more than $400,000 its first season, traveling from one town to another in an endless train. Following the success of Barnum’s circus, other showmen started converting their wagon shows to rail caravans.

P.T. Barnum & General Tom Thumb
The “golden age” of the circus occurred between 1880 and 1920, as the biggest circuses moved from town to town by railroad. Competition was fierce between the rival circuses, ensuring the public extraordinary productions that were constantly being enhanced. A traveling circus, with all of its equipment, animals and performers, represented an enormous financial investment. Show owners couldn’t afford a small crowd turnout, so they did whatever they could to lure the townsfolk to the big top. Posters were a prime promotional tool. Bills were tacked to every available outdoor space by crews that traveled by special railroad car, usually dispatched to a town about two weeks before the show was scheduled to arrive. These full color posters, printed by means of the stone lithograph, made visually flamboyant, hyperbolic claims to the spectacular events soon to unfold under the big top.

The great lengths to which these circuses went to outdo each other were most visible in their dazzling procession through each town, which eventually became as much of an attraction as the circus itself. From the caged animals, elephants, horses, performers and clowns, to the beautiful wagons, floats and instruments, the circus street parades brought people to the show grounds.

Circus Ring, Coney Island
The American circus was consciously defined as a wholesome family event, in large measure the result of P.T. Barnum's savvy marketing strategy. Barnum knew well that success depended on a broad audience, so the circus had to please “children of all ages.” You’d be hard pressed to find someone that didn’t have the desire at some point to run away to the circus. Circus performers personified the romance of the open road, the fierce individualism in living a transient life, and the ability to exhibit their bodies and physical strength as entertainment. Many women found the freedom of circus life appealing, especially when compared to life as a farmer’s wife or office worker. A number of female circus performers were stars in their own right, with hard-earned status as equestriennes, wirewalkers, acrobats.

Circus Performer
Time was not always kind to the circus. With the advent of WWI, thousands of able-bodied men signed up for military service, leaving fewer men to fill jobs on circus lots. After the war, the Spanish flu pandemic resulted in dwindling numbers of people attending the circus. By the time the Stock Market Crash of 1929 hit, the golden age of the circus had come to an end, as circus companies reduced the length of the season, laid off employees, and some circuses closed for good.

Despite history, a changing demand for entertainment and the competition for new audiences, the American circus has not disappeared. Rather it remains a vital aspect of American popular culture. The setting may change, but the show goes on. All the more reason for valuing how the history and legacy of the circus has been preserved by archivists, librarians, curators, historians, fans and private collectors in photographs, ephemera and artifacts.

Images, top to bottom:

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows: The Greatest Wild Animal Display in History, 1924, color lithograph, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1998.62

P.T. Barnum and General Tom Thumb, ca. 1850, daguerreotype by Samuel Root and Marcus Aurelius Root, National Portrait Gallery, NPG.93.154

[Circus ring, Coney Island. Active no. 13518 : stereo photonegative, ca. 1904-1905.], Underwood and Underwood Glass Stereograph Collection, 1895-1921, National Museum of American History, Archives Center, RSN 137

Gifford Beal, Circus Performer, ca. 1930, lithograph on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2008.31

--Kathleen Adrian, Research and Scholars Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Purpose of Super 8: Documenting the past, capturing the present, and preserving for the future

Preston (played by Zach Mills) presenting the filmed "evidence"
to Deputy Lamb (Kyle Chandler) in Super 8.
Photo credit: Francois Duhamel/Paramount Pictures
J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 is in many ways an autobiographical film.  This is not to suggest that Abrams’ childhood town was the site of an alien encounter, but rather that the film’s central narrative about kids making a movie mirrors Abrams’ own experience with amateur filmmaking. In an interview with Time Magazine, Abrams reveals that in the early 80s, he and friend Matt Reeves submitted a Super 8 film to a teen amateur film festival where they received high praise and recognition from critics.  Citing Steven Spielberg as one of his cinematic heroes, the then 15-year-old Abrams caught the eye of the famous director, who asked Abrams and Reeves to repair his own early 8mm films made in the 1960s.  Little did Abrams or Spielberg know that thirty years later the two would again join forces, this time with Abrams directing and Spielberg producing, on a project paying homage to a particular time and style of movie making.  (For more on the Spielberg/Abrams relationship in the creation of Super 8, see the L.A. Times’ piece in “Hero Complex.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Super 8 is its emphasis on careful documentation.  (For those who have not seen the film, what I am about to write may be a bit of a spoiler, so read ahead at your own risk.)  In Super 8, film documentation plays a key role in providing the evidence and understanding of the creature wreaking havoc on the town. Not only do the kids inadvertently capture its image during their midnight movie shoot, they also stumble across an extensive B&W 8mm film record of its history, left by the ex-government scientist turned high school biology teacher. It is in that record that the identity and motive of the creature is finally revealed – not in full cinematic widescreen, but rather in a small square of light projected onto a wall, accompanied by a separately recorded audiocassette tape. 

Like the biologist in the movie, scientists have often applied film to their research, using it as a crucial tool for collecting visual data.  This is especially true for anthropologists, who recognized the potential of film technology for their pursuits in documenting evidence to facilitate the understanding of different cultures.  Any footage obtained could then be applied to a variety of scientific uses, including the creation of documentaries, as a teaching tool for building observational skills, or as a filmic record preserved for later research and study. 

This footage from Gertrude Kurath’s 1960 study of the music and dance of Rio Grande Pueblos provides a good example.  Kurath’s project was part of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, whose founding mission statement was the promotion and funding of “research, educational, technical and scientific work.” Although filmed for her studies in ethnomusicology, Kurath’s clear and well-documented raw footage has become a valuable source for study by scientists representing a wide range of interests.

Roll of Super 8 Kodak Kodachrome film from the 1969 Morden-Smithsonian Dominica Expedition.
Note the careful description on the back of the box. This Smithsonian-sponsored expedition was intended for the collection of botanicals, but as can be seen, the gathering of film samples seems to have been a priority as well.
Photograph by Patricia Henkel for Human Studies Film Archives.

While cultural and ethnographic film had been shot using other gauges, Super 8 quickly became the preferred stock.  In a manuscript on “using Super 8 in the social sciences,” filmmakers Robert and Eileen Zalisk specify how the gauge could best be used for research purposes.  They suggest that because of the cheap cost and light weight, Super 8 was the ideal format for accumulating visual footage in the field.  The Zalisks liken the camera to a field “notebook” with the ability of being able to take 3,600 individual pictures on a single cartridge of film – the equivalent of 100 roles of standard 35mm ‘still’ film (Zalisk 4).   Multiple cameras allowed for a single event to be captured from many angles, allowing for the differing views and perspectives of the filmer.  Slow-motion camera settings could be used to capture variations in behaviors for close observation; similarly an individual’s behavior could be filmed and monitored over a long period of time, or compared with footage of similar reactions in widely disparate regions.  Super 8 cameras were fast and easy to reload, providing scientists and filmmakers with a quick reaction time allowing them to capture even the most spontaneous events.   

“Amateur motion picture films provide a record of life that is unique. Unlike commercially produced movies, they are usually shot by people intimately connected to the experience who choose moments and subjects important to them.” (Toni Treadway and Bob Brodsky, “Little Film.”) 

The simplicity of Super 8 film also provided a way for cultures to engage with themselves.  In the late 1960s, anthropologists John Adair and Sol Worth headed a cross-cultural communication study where Navajo Indians were trained to use cameras to film their own community.  As the Zalisks suggest, a more complicated or complex system would not lend itself as well to this sort of “experimental” and ultimately fruitful filmmaking. 

The Future of Super 8
But there were problems with Super 8 as well.  Professional filmmakers were discouraged by the relatively few choices of available film stocks.  And while the light weight and small size of Super 8 camera made them ideal scientific tools for documenting data, many felt that these features also encouraged casual or sloppy filming.  As a result, many universities tended to discourage the use of Super 8, opting to use the 16mm format instead, and therefore did not have the equipment necessary for showing Super 8 film.  Finally, a serious lack of proper editing facilities made it extremely difficult for individual researchers to create their own documentaries.  The creation of video cameras in the 1980s, with nearly unlimited footage and sync-sound, led to a 400,000 unit drop in sales from 1977 to 1981.

Yet all is not lost for Super 8 mavens.  Specialized 8mm enthusiasts Toni Treadway and Bob Brodsky founded their center for 8mm film in the 1980s, and continue to work with and promote small-gauge film.  Their website, “Little Film,” remains one of the best places to find information on the history, preservation, and use of Super 8 film. On the future of Super 8, Treadway offers the following words:

“The affordability, portability, convenience, beauty and image permanence of real movies continues to attract discerning artists to small gauge film, despite the ease of digital video camcorders.  The roster of working filmmakers today whose careers include movies in 8mm or Super 8 is stunning: not just the generation of Stephen Spielberg, Spike Lee, Gus Van Sant, Rick Linklater, but the emerging directors like Jem Cohen, Matthew Harrison, Kelly Reichardt, and a host of experimental film artists not yet widely known.  So here we are…still shooting 8mm film.  How much longer?  As long as film makers buy it.  Film is a compelling medium that sings a beautiful song on any screen.”  (As quoted in Alan Kattelle, Home Movies: A History of the American Industry, 1897-1979, p.214)

It seems likely that Abrams’ film is further helping the cause.  In conjunction with the release of the film, several marketing strategies made virtual Super 8 filming available to the masses.  In May 2011, Apple released a Super 8 iPhone application allowing subscribers to use their ordinary cell phone camera to take film in the “style” of the medium Abrams’ also uses actual Super 8 footage in his film, having his young stars further mirror his childhood experience by writing, directing, and filming the zombie movie “The Case,” (which appears in full during the credits) with their own Super 8 camera.

So what is the future of Super 8?  One can hope that small gauge film, though an “older” technology, continues to be an important medium for the documentation, preservation, and the creation of a collective world culture.

Adrianna Link, Intern, Human Studies Film Archives

Monday, June 13, 2011

Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages

The Smithsonian Institution's National Anthropological Archives is will be one of the primary research sites for the Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages, which will take place in Washington, DC from June 13 to 24, 2011. Participants include 32 Native American language learners representing more than 20 tribes from across the United States, and 22 linguists with expertise in linguistic analysis and language documentation. They will have access to the extensive collections of language documentation in the NAA as well as other repositories in Washington. Lead by Leanne Hinton (Berkeley) and Lisa Conathan (Yale), Breath of Life is a hands-on workshop that will train Native American community members in the use of archival materials for language revitalization purposes. The participants form teams that work together during classroom lectures, grammar workshops, visits to archives and material culture collections, and hands-on research using archival material. The Breath of Life training model was developed by the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival, which has run the Breath of Life Language Workshop for California Indians since 1992. Breath of Life is supported by the Documenting Endangered Languages Program with additional support from: The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, Consortium for World Cultures, Endangered Language Fund, National Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of Natural History, Native Voices Endowment, and Recovering Voices.

National Anthropological Archives

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Summer of Super 8

Roll of 8mm film with its original box.
Photograph by Karma Foley for Human Studies Film Archives.
This weekend, J.J. Abrams will be releasing his much anticipated summer monster flick, the carefully marketed Super 8. From what can be decoded from the elusive pieces of information divulged in the trailer, Super 8 is a coming of age story about a group of kids making a Romero-esque zombie movie in small-town Ohio. While shooting a scene late one night near some railroad tracks, the kids – and the camera – witness the derailing of a train car which is hinted to contain a destructive life-form from another world. Everything about their humdrum mid-Western existence changes, as people vanish and dogs flee for the next county. As chaos escalates, the National Guard is brought in to assess the situation, creating palpable anxiety over what could possibly be the cause of such mass destruction. It is here that we are reminded that the answer has inadvertently been captured on an ordinary reel of Super 8mm film.

But for most who plan on attending the midnight showing of “Super 8: The IMAX Experience,” the historical and technological importance of Super 8 as a revolutionary film innovation will mean next to nothing. Similarly, it is unlikely anyone will give a thought to how Super 8 is different from any other film stock, other than maybe considering it an archaic design no longer relevant or useful in the digital age. So, without further ado, I present to you a two-part analysis on the history and use of Super 8. The first part will discuss its technological origins, looking at the development of amateur film with the invention of 16mm film and the 1923 Cine-Kodak through the release of Super 8 in 1965. The second installment will focus on the use of Super 8 not only as a simple method for recording home movies, but also as an important scientific tool used by visual anthropologists as well as unique medium for the production of video art and commercial film.

16mm: the beginnings of amateur film
The invention and development of motion pictures in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was rapidly followed by considerations of its potential as a consumer product in home entertainment. However, problems with size, price, and safety meant that in order for movies to be a marketable commodity, certain adjustments needed to be made. At the time, standard film was 35mm wide and nitrate-based, requiring large equipment and expensive processing costs. It was also highly flammable. Because of this, efforts were focused on reducing the size of both film and film equipment, as well as on developing a non-nitrate “safety” film which would eliminate the possible risk of fire in the home.

While several safe, affordable, and user-friendly cameras were made in both Europe and in the United States, Eastman Kodak’s 1923 invention of the Cine-Kodak trumped the competition. The Cine-Koda used new, 16mm acetate safety film, which underwent a process of direct film reversal. During this process exposed film is developed to a negative image, after which the image is bleached out, leaving unconverted silver grains. The film is then exposed and developed again, so that the unconverted silver grains reveal a positive image. This method shortens the developing process by one step, ultimately saving the user time and money. It was also discovered that through this process the grain size of a finished positive was finer than that produced from a “conventionally developed” negative, allowing for the overall size of an image to be clearly and accurately reduced. Eastman Kodak’s final product was a 16mm wide film strip perforated on both sides with a 10mm x 7.5mm image moving at 40 frames per foot. The film was thus not only less than half the width of conventional 35mm film, but also 1/6th the cost.

The Cine-Kodak itself was a die-cast aluminum box measuring 8 ½ x 8 x 4 5/8 inches and weighing about seven pounds. At the time of its original release, the camera was only available in a set which also included a Kodascope Projector, tripod, screen, and a splicer for $325. As Kodak points out on their website, this was at the time when a “new Ford automobile could be purchased for $550” (Kodak’s “Super 8mm Film History”). Although expensive, it was thought that the all-inclusive package would facilitate success for amateur filmmakers. By 1929, 13 different cameras were available which used 16mm film.

Geologist and amateur filmmaker William Wrather used 16mm film to record this footage of the Gallup Ceremonial in New Mexico circa 1926-1932.

Double 8 vs Single 8 vs Super 8: What’s the difference?
From left to right: 35mm, 16mm, 8mm, Super 8mm.
Photograph from Human Studies Film Archives.
For more information on amateur film gauges and
preservation and handling of motion picture film, see the
National Film Preservation Foundations Guide to Film Preservation.
Although safe, easy to use cameras became more available, they had not become more affordable. In 1932, Kodak’s most basic model, the M 475, cost $75 – an amount equal to two weeks wages for hourly laborers. Similarly, the cheapest projector cost $60 and a 100 foot roll of film, $6. To address the rising concerns with cost as the Great Depression loomed, Eastman Kodak introduced 8mm film in 1932. This film came on 25’ spools of 16mm, with two sides of 8mm film, or “double 8.” After being threaded through the camera and exposed on one half, the film was then turned over and re-threaded to expose the other. During processing, this double width would be split down the middle and spliced together to make a 50 foot reel of 8mm film perforated only on one side. Since the 8mm was a quarter of the size of 16mm, it reduced the amount of film necessary to achieve the same running time as 16mm and the cost of processing by a factor of four. The Cine-Kodak Eight Model 20 cost $29.50, the projector, $22.50, and a spool of film, $2.50.

Kodak’s prime competitor, Bell & Howell, released their own 8mm camera in 1935, the Filmo Straight Eight, which sold for $69. Unlike Kodak’s model, Bell & Howell used pre-split 8mm film to produce an even more compact, lightweight camera. In 1938, the Universal Camera Corporation put out an incredibly inexpensive single 8mm camera for only $9.95, with a companion projector for $14.95. The overall reduction of size and cost, and increased accessibility made 8mm the favorite format for hobby amateur filmmaking, a format that would remain essentially untouched for nearly 30 years.

Below is an example of amateur film made using 8mm. This footage from "Adena Burial Mound Excavation" shows an archaeological excavation in eastern Kentucky circa 1939. Note the lack of sound – sound could not be recorded on 8mm stock, although it could be recorded separately and added during the editing process.

Declining sales in the late 1950s meant it was time for Eastman Kodak’s research team to go back to work. Maintaining the successful gauge of 8mm, the next improvement would be in finding a way to increase the size of the film image itself. One of the most important considerations for researchers was how a new format could be kept compatible with reduction printing from 16mm originals, which were thought to be the best stock for premium quality color and sound. In 1962, it became obvious to Kodak researchers C.J. Staud and W.T. Hanson, Jr. that the best way to increase image size would be by reducing the size of the side perforations. This would yield a 50% increase in image size while still allowing for the making of 16mm reduction prints.

In 1965, Eastman Kodak released its new line of Super 8 film and Kodak Instamatic Movie Cameras. The cameras featured 50-feet of drop-load Kodachrome II Super 8 Film housed in a black plastic cartridge known as a “Kodapack.” This cartridge was extremely easy to load, as the film no longer had to be threaded in the camera or flipped. Each Super 8 camera also had a built in filter allowing “Type-A” (tungsten) film to be used in different kinds of light, eliminating the need for both “Daylight” and “Type-A” film forms. Notches on the front edge of the film cartridge would automatically indicate whether the filter was needed. These notches also indicated the speed of the film. The cameras themselves had a die-cast metal body and were operated by a battery-powered motor, which replaced the need for a hand-crank. Kodak’s different models, the M2, M4, and M6 had different lenses, with the top of the line model including a 12 to 36mm zoom lens and reflex through-the-lens viewing. The models were priced at $46.50, $69.50, and $174.50, respectively. While Bell & Howell offered competing Super 8 models, Kodaks were unquestionably the most popular.

Click here for more detailed descriptions about the different cameras and gauges, courtesy of Alan Kattelle and Northeast Historic Film.

The use of Super 8: Not just for amateurs
Although initially cited for education, commercial, and industrial use, Kodak’s first marketing campaign clearly indicated its intention for Super 8 use in making amateur films. As Alan Kattelle writes:
The targeted market for the new product seem unquestionably to have been the amateur filmer, beginning with the Instamatic name itself, thus tying the product in the public’s mind with the hugely successful Instamatic still cameras, which sold over ten million units in the first two years on the market. And with Walt Disney as salesman for the vast TV audience, Kodak chose a handsome little blond four-year old called ‘Speedy Loadum’ to demonstrate the product to retailers… The message was: Super 8 cameras are ‘FUN’ and ‘EASY TO USE!’ (Alan Kattelle, Home Movies: A History of the American Industry, 1897-1979, p.207)
The ease, accessibility, and affordability of Super 8 made it an ideal technology for home movie makers. But Super 8 would also become indispensable for scientists and anthropologists. The addition of magnetic sound stripping to Super 8 film stock in 1973 would help solidify its role as an easily transportable and complete tool for use in capturing a “permanent” film record of the world’s many different cultures.

This particular clip has had sound added during production, but it gives an idea of the great advantage for filmmakers in being able to capture sound. This clip is from Bering Sea Eskimos, filmed by VISTA Volunteer Joli Morgan in the Yup'ik village of Kasigluk, Alaska in 1968.

Tune in next week, when I will continue my discussion on the various ways Super 8 has been used and its potential as a film gauge for the future.

[All analysis based on information presented in Chapter 3, “Amateur Equipment Prior to 1923,” of Alan Katelle’s book Home Movies: A History of the American Industry, 1897-1979 (Nashua: Transition Publishing, 2000), 52-69, and Kattelle’s article, “The Evolution of Amateur Motion Picture Equipment, 1895-1965,” Journal of Film and Video 38, no. 3/4 (Summer-Fall 1986): 47-57.]

Adrianna Link, Intern, Human Studies Film Archives


The National Museum of American History’s Archives Center’s collections document diverse
aspects of the history and culture of the United States.  The oral histories, ephemera, and
popular culture materials housed here provide researchers an opportunity to learn how
individuals and society are affected by—and cope with—the epidemic. 

Trading cards are a popular form of entertainment, but are also used to educate a segment of
the population that may not be reached through more traditional methods. AIDS Awareness
Cards, a set of 110 trading cards designed for young adults, depict persons who died from AIDS or were involved in the fight against AIDS, as well as a variety of HIV- and AIDS-related topics and organizations. The reverse side of the card carries biographical information or information on the topic or organization depicted.

One of those personalities depicted is Ryan White, a young man with hemophilia. Born in
Kokomo, Indiana in 1971, White caught HIV through contaminated blood products. He was
diagnosed with AIDS in 1985.  He became a vocal and visible symbol of AIDS.  Through his
illness he became friends with Elton John and Michael Jackson, among others.  He died of
AIDS in 1990.  The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act of 1990 was named for him.
The reverse of his card reads, “He was taunted and ostracized at school and was finally expelled. Neighbors pelted the Whites’ car, and a bullet was fired into their home. Fleeing Kokomo, the family moved to nearby Cicero, where they were welcomed, and Ryan attended school for the rest of his short life.”

He was quoted as saying, “I’ve learned that God doesn’t punish people. I’ve learned that God doesn’t dislike homosexuals, like a lot of Christians think. AIDS isn’t their fault, just like it isn’t my fault God loves homosexuals as much as He loves everyone else.”

This card is part of the current exhibit, "Archiving the History of an Epidemic: HIV and AIDS, 1985-2009," near our entrance on the first floor, west wing, of the National Museum of American History  The Archives Center houses more than 1,300 study collections and is open to researchers daily, by appointment, except Friday.  Please check our website at for more information.

Franklin A. Robinson, Jr., Archives Specialist, Archives Center, National Museum of American

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ask An Archivist: Advice Column

In honor of Ask Archivists Day coming up on Thursday June 9th, I give you this blog post. For more information on how to ask Smithsonian Archivists your burning archival questions via the Smithsonian Twitter account, see here from sister blog THE BIGGER PICTURE

Welcome to my foray into advice column writing: from one history lover to another...

Recently I received the following:

So I have a question for you. I've come to the conclusion that I'm unhappy where I am and I need a change. One thing I've been always interested in is antiquities, and I would love to be able to do well... something with them. Whether it's dealing in them or archiving them or something, to hold something so ancient in your hands has to be amazing.

What drove you into your field? How did you figure out this is what you wanted to do? What's a normal day like? What schools did you look at? What should I look for or really think about before deciding this might be the right course of action?

- Searching for Happiness in Antiquities


Although he didn't expect a rush reply, I had so much advice and information I wanted to impart that it came pouring out of me.  When I reread my finished reply I found it so thorough (and hopefully extremely helpful) that I wanted to share it.  Here is the answer in advice column style, and by no means exhaustive or authoritative. If you have any questions please post them in the comments below or write to me individually and we can continue our knowledge building conversation.


Dear Searching for Happiness in Antiquities,

I am sorry to hear you are unhappy and I applaud your effort to search for a better long-term solution.  Inner-reflection and the recognition of of unhappiness takes courage and strength of character, I hope you know that.

If your one true wish is to hold history in your hands, then I think we can go several places with this and I will outline their pros and cons as best as I can.  But first, you asked about me, so I'll start there...

I wanted to be "in" history.  Not as in a famous way, but as in surrounded by it, working with it, touching it daily.  During my junior year at Pacific University I was already getting asked by family and friends, "so a History degree, huh?  Are you going to teach with that?" It drove me nuts that teaching seemed to be the only option and I didn't like that option because it had me too far removed from working with history itself. So I interned over the summer at Oregon Historical Society.  While there, they rotated me around the collections so that I could get a feel for every facet.  I was hooked.  (Read here for my religious-like experience in the National Archives). Once I was convinced I wanted to be in the archives I found the national Society of American Archivists and started taking my ques from them as far as typical career requirements and even their top suggested schoolsSimmons College made it to #1 on my list because the degree set you up with three internships to help gain much needed resume experience. 

A normal day at work is that there is no normal.  There are weeks at a time that I'm sitting in my cube answering email, fielding reference requests and performing obligatory cataloging and scanning.  Other times I'm working with other archivists for educational programs and outreach, or I'm attending/presenting lectures and professional development.  Then there is the ever exciting acquiring of new collections, processing, making new discoveries and developing projects around them.  It really is a diverse job with diverse requirements.

Video from MyCareerRx, as posted on SAA's website.

So back to you and antiquities.  Your options as I see them are: Librarian, Archivist, Museum Specialist, Research Historian, Appraiser, Dealer, Collections Handler/Manager, Curator, Conservator, Archaeologist, and Anthropologist... 

Librarian/Archivist: Will require a Masters in Library Science/Library and Information Science and an Archives Concentration (for the archivists).  There is not an archives masters program so you can go the library route, or you can get a Masters of History with an emphasis on Public History.  In fact I would suggest that route if you want to be outside the libraries and archives; especially if you didn't major in history, as it will strength your research/history expertise for the resume.  From here you can go straight into the libraries/archives/special collections but be warned that the market is not robust with the economic crisis and many are forced to turn towards hiring contractors to fill staffing holes. (Read my previous post on "How Can I Get a Job?).  Some fear this may be a permanent shift as it is seemingly cheaper to higher administration (an arguable fallacy, but that is for another day).  Also keep in mind that typical libraries and archives are paper-based and therefore not a lot of antiquities, should there be a great distinction in your desire to work with history.

Museum Specialist: Can be like an archivist as far as daily duties, however they tend to be more specialized individuals.  For example the Smithsonian Folklife Archives is staffed by museum specialists who received a masters/PhD in Folklife (or similar).  As a museum specialist you can find yourself in libraries/archives or in collections where you manage the collections (handling/cataloging/exhibition installing) and in here I think there are more antiquities possibility.  This leads into the Collections Handler/Manager profession, which is beginning to more frequently require a specialized subject masters degrees (in a particular art history field for example) or a masters in Museum Studies.

Curator: You will need a PhD and have credentials up the wazoo as it is such a tough and exclusive field to break into and the more specialized you are the less job openings there will actually be once you finish the tremendous amount of school work.  However, if you have the stamina then more power to you as it is a coveted job for a reason!  They get to play with/assess art all day and write books and put together exhibitions.

Conservator: This profession means you take care of the objects physically and it requires equal parts art history and science.  This is a rigorous field of study with high standards, but also completely satisfying as you get to put art/antiquities back together again.

Public Historian/Research Historian: Will typically require a masters or PhD in history depending on how much of an expert, and how marketable, you want to be.  Historians can typically be employed by government entities for contract projects, by corporate entities to gather information before building projects, or by private research entities to benefit a larger research project.  You will be contracted to go to various archives and historical sites to research the desired topic and report back.  You can also research your own topic of choice and make a living in the form of publications and teaching.

Appraiser/Antiquities Dealings: this is the private sector so I am less sure about credential requirements, but I would imagine that it would require a specialized degree in an area of your choice.  After that, it is a smart move to make as the private sector is a bit more stable than the public sector, and you will have antiquities passing through there all the time. Furthermore you get to study them all day, make assessments and try and find them good homes/buyers.

And finally, Archaeologist and Anthropologist...  Archaeologist will require a PhD with equal parts science and history.  It also will require a tremendous amount of field experience to pay your dues and break into the field.  Anthropologist is a bit easier as it only requires a masters or graduate certificate equivalent that goes by many names.  But essentially these people assess what is on the ground, the objects and ancient sites and perform analysis,conduct research and write policies for people like UNESCO.  Both jobs require a lot of travel and living in remote places.

What do you want the rest of your life picture to look like?

A few general questions as you consider these options: what do you want the rest of your life picture to look like?  Do you want to live in a specific location, or are you itching to travel the world?  A lot of these jobs will require that you live in California, NY, DC, or abroad.  There are local options, but be realistic in that there will be less of them or not as seemingly glorious.  Think hard on what you want the job to be like.  Do you enjoy networking, big cities and lots of research?  (Appraiser/Dealer/Research Historian) Or do you want to travel the world, love digging in dirt, and wont miss home (Archaeologist/Anthropologist)?  Is the amount of income or job security important to you (private sector) or do you want to serve a non-profit, money isn't as much of an issue, and you can handle the security struggles with the ebbs and flows of economy?  Are you looking to do A LOT of schooling to become a premier expert (Curator/Conservator) or do you want a little bit of training and then jump in (Museum Specialist/Librarian/Archivist/Collections Handler/Manager)?

Do some real soul searching on the whole picture and I think that will help you to find a good fit.  I then recommend you find the societies' websites to explore the state of the profession.  What will make you competitive?  Where are the jobs currently coming from?  Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics for each profession and see where it currently stands and where it is projected to go.  Get networked in by joining a society, getting the magazines/newsletters, or by joining the conversation groups in Linkedin.  All of these will hopefully help you fill out the blank spaces for your bigger picture.

To see previous posts that may be of use:
The Thing About Interns Is...
How Can I Get a Job? (Libraries, Archives and Special Collections)
What It's Like to Be a Cataloger
Need an Archives Gig?
I Need a Library Job - on Facebook

Best of luck in finding, and following, your happiness,

Rachael Cristine Woody
Freer|Sackler Archives

1. Aderente, Vincent, 1880-1941. "Liberty," (painting), ca. 1935. Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture, Smithsonian American Art Museum.
2. Peto, John Frederick. "Office Board," (painting), 1885. Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Hip Hip Hooray It’s National Chocolate Ice Cream Day

President Eisenhower, Courtesy of the NMAH
Did you know that today was National Chocolate Ice Cream Day?  Well when I found out, I knew what my blog post would be this week. Determined to pay homage to the delicious treat, I first went and bought some ice cream and secondly did a little research to figure out a way to work it into Smithsonian history. What I found is that the Smithsonian had its very own Ice Cream Parlor. So to celebrate this wonderful day, grab a cone and read this short little history about that lovely little place.

Kim Dempsey Serves Up a Treat
Courtesy SIA

In April 1981, Marriott Corp. contributed $600,000 to help the National Museum of American History remove an escalator and build a fully functioning, turn-of-the-century Ice Cream Parlor and a corresponding exhibit. The exhibit explored the history of ice cream making in the United States. The parlor opened in the summer of 1981 and inside visitors and staff were immersed in an ice cream lover’s dream complete with mosaic floor, marble table-tops, and a cool marble counter.

Soda Jerk Dean Robinson
Courtesy SIA

Behind the counter soda jerks served up sundaes, sodas, floats, phosphates and drapes to the delight of the customers.  The delectable deserts were made with Haagen-Dazs ice cream.  The parlor stuck to sundaes, so no plain scoops, but also provided a lunch menu for people looking for something a little more savory. After more than twenty years of business, the parlor was closed in 2006 when the museum underwent renovations and was not a part of the redesign plans.

However, that does not mean that you can’t go out and grab a delicious bowl of chocolate ice cream to enjoy on this hot day. If you are not a fan of chocolate, go out and enjoy whatever flavor you like, it is just a good excuse to eat some ice cream!

Click here for more SIA Ice Cream related collections.