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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My Summer Vacation is Over When the Interns Leave

The summer is almost over. I know that because I am completely alone in the Archives and after the exodus of 3 interns my productivity rate has dramatically decreased. There are some who refuse to take on interns because the time and effort required to set up projects and supervise them can be significant. Especially in a large federal institution where massive quantities of paperwork are required before access can be granted. And it's true. It probably takes me several weeks get an intern badged, introduced to the Archives, and started on their project. It then takes a further periodic investment of time to supervise the work they are producing and to mentor them. But, I feel the initial cost of set up is greatly off-set when projects have been completed and products created that otherwise would have taken me years to get to.

This summer I somewhat unexpectedly, (and in retrospect, ambitiously) took on 3 interns. It took about a month to get their various schedules down and the kinks in their projects worked out, but in the end what they accomplished is truly impressive.

Megan Quint came to us from the Pacific NW, where she attends Lewis and Clark.  Megan is interested in pursuing archives or libraries and did a split summer internship between the Freer|Sackler Archives and the Library.  For the Archives she spent the majority of her time researching the Archives' smaller collections and wrote reflective pieces highlighting them on the blog.  To see the first sample of her work, check out "Russell Hamilton's Postcard Collection: Pragmatic or Romantic?"

Kelsey Jansen van Galen just finished her MLIS at Wayne State University and applied for an internship at the Walters Art Museum of Baltimore.  As the F|S Archives and the emerging Walters' Archives have a friendly relationship, Kelsey was able to do a two week intensive internship here where she used her EAD skills to encode two massive finding aids with box and folder lists that totaled over 300.  You can read more details of her work here: "Two Weeks in the Freer|Sackler Archives: an EAD Adventure."

Lastly, Beatrice Kelly is a return intern who has just graduated High School and is on her way to an art history program through the University College, London.  Beatrice spent seven weeks researching thousands of items in the Ernst Herzfeld papers to determine and catalog geographical plot-points for each item so that they can show up in our map interface.  By using original maps in the collection, articles and books written on the region, and working with Archives and Curatorial staff she established the most accurate site and buildings possible for each item.  She then worked with the Google Maps application to determine the exact latitude and longitude for each ancient building at each archaeological site.  In the end, Beatrice researched and entered plot-points for 85 different ancient cities into over 2500 records.  You can read more about this project here: "New Freer|Sackler Archives Image Galleries."

As you can see, even though having multiple interns took a large investment of my time, as a result I have several blog posts highlighting our collections, two finding aids to major collections, and several ancient cities cataloged down to a building level for 2500 items.  There is no way I would have been able to get to all of these projects, let alone focus on them long enough to complete them in three months.  What's more is that I was able to mentor them, share my knowledge and experience, help them make connections, and share in their joy and sense of accomplishment.  That alone, I find, is worth the investment.

To read more on my thoughts on how to utilize interns, see this post: The Thing About Interns Is...

Rachael Cristine Woody
Freer|Sackler Archives

"School Children in Front of NMNH," Negative Number: SIA2009-2125 and SIA-1269
Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Russell Hamilton's Postcard Collection: Pragmatic or Romantic?

I went into the collection of postcards that British petty officer Russell Hamilton assembled for his wife during his travels, somewhat expecting to find news and interesting tidbits of his experience overseas, or perhaps even sweet words to his love at home. I was, it turns out, mistaken on both counts. These postcards (intermingled with some photographs of Hamilton's own) do not represent correspondence but rather a set of souvenirs, most likely presented en masse to Mrs. Hamilton upon her husband's homecoming. Yet, I could not be disappointed, nor should I be so quick to dismiss Hamilton as a romantic, as this group of images, with its apparently careful aggregation, does in fact fulfill what I was secretly hoping to find in the beginning. 

My wish for news of his travels is met by the collection's many photographs, most of which with descriptive information scrawled on the reverse side. Hamilton visits a rock in Oman painted with the names of visiting English war ships, encounters a group of women road-builders in Somalia, and meets the Sheik of Kuwait and his followers, some of whom cover their faces, "fearing the evil eye of the camera."   

I also find romance in this collection, though it is achieved quite subtly (as one really could only expect of a man of Hamilton's time and position). Included in Hamilton's assemblage of postcards is a set of twelve hand-tinted Japanese postcards, each depicting a scene in the daily life of a geisha named O-Koto-San. With their English captions these postcards were clearly intended for purchase by visiting English-speakers (in particular the British, as this was during the Anglo-Japanese Alliance). From researching these postcards I discovered that the set consisted of only twelve that Hamilton brought home, and seemed to be a popular souvenir, as one can easily find these same postcards for sale on collectors' websites (though, due to the nature of hand-tinting, there may be differences from set to set).

One could argue that geisha at this time represented a mysterious sort of erotica to visitors, thus explaining the popularity of these postcards to male visitors. Yet, these particular images are not evocative in the slightest (with one possible exception, captioned "While her maid makes ready her bed, O Koto-San indulges in a smoke, and thinks of her soldier lover"). In the most straightforward of terms, these postcards, with their vibrant colors and chaste, posed scenes, appeal a more feminine sensibility, as if their manufacturer knew they would be bought by husbands and taken home to wives. Thus by carefully acquiring each postcard in the set, I think that Hamilton was demonstrating his sensitivity of his wife's tastes, as telling her she was on his mind while he was gone.

Megan Quint
Intern, Freer-Sackler Archives

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Middlegate Japanese Gardens: A Garden Gone, but not Forgotten

Second Street (St. Louis Street) entrance gate.
Harold Haliday, Costain, photographer, 1935
If you were to visit the gulf coast town of Pass Christian, Mississippi sometime before 1969, you might have had the pleasure of touring MIddlegate Japanese Gardens.  At its main entrance, it was guarded by two Komainu dogs flanked by a blue-tiled gate inscribed with Japanese characters cut on either side meaning "Middle" and "Gate."

Upon entering the garden, you would have found yourself walking along an azalea-lined pathway leading to a grand Torri gate, revealing a Shinto temple. Along your journey over bridges and through winding tunnels of overarching bamboo, you would have passed a babbling fountain, two monumental Japanese stone lanterns, and a statue of Kannon, the Japanese “Goddess of Mercy.”
Bamboo walk, photographer unknown.

A small red, lacquered “wishing” bridge with gold and white koi glistening in the sun underneath the water would have led you to a blue-tiled tea house in the distance. Before leaving the bridge, your eyes would have been drawn to an enormous bronze Buddha sitting on a lotus blossom twenty feet in the air. You might have ended your visit by entering a gazebo covered in Confederate jasmine flowers for a few minutes of serenity in Middlegate Japanese Gardens.
Buddha statue, Frank Evens Farwell, photographer.

The vision for Middlegate Japanese Gardens was born after a 1924 trip to Japan by Rudolph and Lynne Watkins Hecht. Enchanted by Japanese art and gardens, the couple began creating plans for a three-acre Japanese-style garden at their summer home in Pass Christian, Mississippi.  Over the next decade, the Hechts transformed their property into an oasis with the assistance of architect Rathbone DeBuys who translated Mrs. Hecht’s design ideas into formal plans.  

With the help of Dr. Gyoju Odate, their interpreter from their Japanese excursion, the Hechts acquired numerous Japanese artifacts for their garden, including an 18th century bronze Buddha and a stone lantern once owned by a Japanese emperor.  

Mr. and Mrs. Rudolph Hecht and Lynne Hecht with Mr. Odate in Miyama, Japan, May 1924, photographer unknown.
In response to an overwhelming amount of public inquiries, Middlegate was opened to the public in the mid-1930s.  The Hechts frequently held family events and even hosted dignitaries from abroad in their capacious sunken garden.  After the Hechts passed away, the garden continued to flourish under its new owners who carried on the tradition of public visiting hours.  Visiting hours came to a halt in 1969, due to Hurricane Camille, and were not resumed. The final blow to the garden came in August 23rd, 2005, when Middlegate was decimated even further by the destructive path of Hurricane Katrina.
Left: Fountain, Sunken Garden, and guest house in background. Frank Evans Farwell, photographer, date unknown. Right: Sunken garden with steps leading to guest house after Hurricane Katrina.Lynne White, photographer.
Fortunately, design plans, images, and documentation of the Hecht’s paradise reside in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens.  Perhaps Kannon, the “Goddess of Mercy,” had a hand in this small silver-lining of a very dark cloud.  By preserving both historic and contemporary records that document the storied life of this garden, the potential to rehabilitate it to its once former self is perhaps a worthy possibility.  Without documentation, the Middlegate Japanese Gardens would only live on in memory.
Left: Tea house, photographer unknown. Right: Tea House after Hurricane Katrina. Martha Levert, photographer.
All images above from Middlegate Japanese Gardens, Archives of American Gardens.

Savannah Gignac, Intern
Archives of American Gardens
Smithsonian Gardens

Friday, August 19, 2011

Music to Awaken the Ballroom Beast

Emory Cook walking down the a street in Trinidad, from the Emory and Martha Cook Collection
Emory Cook was excited about calypso. That urge one gets when listening to it--you might know it---the feeling of not being able to stay in your chair much longer because it just wants you to get up and move? Cook poured it into his records. Besides calling it "music to awaken the ballroom beast," Cook described Calypso in his liner notes to Dance Calypso! (Cook 1180) as:
  • taking the opportunity of saying something to somebody in song that you couldn't say in polite society...
  • satire that makes you laugh because in it is unveiled all that is ludicrous and irrational in a lot of other fellows; sometimes you may even recognize yourself if you listen hard...
  • free association plus improvisation...
  • also a dance which turns loose each vertebra in the body to fend for itself, thus exposing the tender inner compulsions...
  • of Trinidad, and Carnival...
  • not 8 bars but 9 or 7 or whatever it feels like... 
  • * not susceptible of precise definition.

The founder of the Cook Laboratories record company, Cook may be known for his innovations in audio engineering, but his recordings of Caribbean popular music remain some of the most exuberant and fresh-sounding of his catalog. Thanks to his dedication to "faithful sound reproduction," his calypso records are not only amazing in quality. They are filled with the contextual richness of mid-to-late fifties Trinidad and Antigua, a time ripe with political transition and musical innovation.

Emory Cook recorded these albums "on-the-scene" in the former British West Indies.  His studios were calypso tents and carnival processions, dance clubs, beach bars and vegetable gardens ("The vegetables grew noticeably during our two-hour performance. The Indians knew it all along. Now everybody knows music is good for vegetables." (Cook 1140)). Describing one such field excursion wherein a waiter dropped a tray of soup into the lap of one of Cook's fellow diners during a recording of a performance, Cook writes,
These true life vignettes of stereo location recording are typical collecting experiences. This is always what happens when you abandon home and fireside to search the wide wild world for music. To hell with it. It's their best number. We'll use "Little Darling," tray and all. If you don't hear it hit the terrazzo, then you can assume it struck something soft. Turn up the volume! It must be in there somewhere! (Cook 1140)
In many of the the calypso tent recordings, the crowd goes wild between verses, laughing and cheering, but listens with rapt attention while the singer delivers the next "humor-coated pellet of uncamouflaged truth." (another Cook-ism)

 The Young Brigade band in a calypso tent, from the Emory and Martha Cook Collection
Cook's liner notes are as innovative and passionate as his recording methods. They are packed with turns of phrase that make you forget that you're reading the back of a record jacket. He shies away from too much scholarly talk about the music in favor of describing the experience and feel  of the music and its setting. When the music dies at the end of one of his calypso records, you feel like Cook at the close of Carnival: "Under a bright moon, Port of Spain was quiet again, owls and dogs resumed their conversations." (Cook 1072)

These recordings, part of the Cook Labs Records, have been a part of the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Special Collections since they were donated by Emory and Martha Cook in 1990.

Some notable calypso recordings in the Cook catalog:

Brute Force Steel Band of Antigua
Jump-Up Carnival
Calypso Kings and Pink Gin
Calypso Exposed

And, as always, listen to samples and download original liner notes at

-Cecilia Peterson, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

Sally James Farnham

Sally James Farnham’s art career began accidentally when her husband gave her clay for a distraction while she was recovering in the hospital from an unknown illness. Not even three years later her design was selected from 16 submissions to create her first public monument, the Soldiers Monument in Ogdensburg, New York.  Just as Anna Hyatt Huntington became renowned for her public monument of Joan of Arc, Sally James Farnham’s most noted sculpture is a monument to Simon Bolivar located in Central Park, New York City (commissioned by Venezuela in 1919; dedicated in 1921).

When I started writing this article I knew very little about Farnham. I wanted to feature her in this series on American women sculptors because of this phenomenal photograph of her standing next to the heroic-size clay model of the Bolivar monument (from the Juley Collection).  The scale of the sculpture stuns me—the horse’s hoof bigger than the artist’s head. Seeing this reminds why sculpture is such an amazing medium and why those who make it are to be admired as incredibly skilled artists.

Farnham was born in 1869 in Ogdensburg, New York and was a doting daughter and society wife for thirty two years before she began sculpting.  Frederic Remington was a close family friend and he provided feedback and support during those first critical years of her career (he died in 1909). Farnham never had formal art training and was adamant that this didn’t make her any less of an artist. She was also very defensive of her status as “sculptor” not “sculptress” which often implied lesser.

The Frederic Remington Art Museum published the first monograph on Farnham in 2005: The Art of Being an Artist by Peter H. Hassrick. In this book I learned that Farnham, in addition to being defensive of her lack of training and her gender, had a great sense of humor.  Hassrick tells the following story:

A member of the Rochester committee called [Farnham] to ask if the artist might come up to review the site [for Defenders of the Flag, Mount Hope Cemetery]. Sally demurred, saying that she was busy on other work and would not be free for about six weeks. The committee phoned again a couple of months later, inquiring if she had completed the other project. She replied that the job was indeed “satisfactorily accomplished...and it weighs about ten pounds. I am nursing him at present and have my oldest boy to install in school and am moving into town for the Winter, and I also have a few guests to entertain, but I think I can tackle your monument next week.”
And she wasn’t shy. In fact, upon seeing her figure of Victory that stands atop a tall column on the Ogdensburg Soldiers Monument with her knee bent and drapery parted, Remington commented to Farnham: “I’m no judge of women’s faces but you’ve got a leg and a knee there that will make you famous.”  There is a clear element of fun in many of her sculptures, but contrary to Remington’s joke, it was her skill that made her famous, and her incredible monument of Simon Bolivar and her exquisite portrayal of the equestrian.  Hassrick writes:

Artists like Farnham, Longman, and Hyatt gained recognition for their presentation of plastic form and emotional context. Because of the powerful sculptural form of Hyatt’s Joan of Art, for example, she was compared with Proctor as a producer of major American monuments. Hyatt and Farnham were singled out as the first women in the nation to take on  the complex task of sculpting equestrian monuments.

Farnham was a fascinating woman and a talented sculptor who should be remembered today as much as her counterparts, Anna Hyatt Huntingon, Bessie Potter Vonnoh, and Evelyn Beatrice Longman.

Pictured, top to bottom:

Soldiers Monument, detail of Victory (American Sculpture Photograph Study Collection)

Nicole Semenchuk, Research and Scholars Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Monday, August 8, 2011

Drawing of a ruined temple in Yucatan

A trip to the ancient Mayan cities of Mexico, Belize and Guatamala in the 21st century generally involves bus rides along mostly paved road and swarms of foreign tourists on manicured lawns climbing smooth cleaned stones. The experience of visitors to these cities today would be unimaginable to the Western explorers who re-"discovered" and documented them nearly two centuries ago.

Artist, draftsman and architect Frederick Catherwood accompanied diplomat turned explorer John Lloyd Stephens on a trip to Chiapas and the Yucatan in 1839. As the two explored the dense rainforests, they came across ancient ruins in Copán, Palenque, Uxmal and several other Mayan cities. Catherwood produced detailed drawings and maps of the sites, including this drawing of the "House of the Magician" or "House of the Dwarf" in Uxmal, Yucatan held at the National Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian.

Some of Catherwood's drawings and maps were first published in Stephens’ Incidents of travel in Yucatan in 1842. Catherwood later published the drawings, often recreated as lithographs, in a larger format work - Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan in 1844. The slightly modified and cropped color lithograph corresponding with this drawing is held at the Casa Frederick Catherwood in Merida, Mexico - Plate 11.

Although largely unknown by the modern tourists wandering the grounds of the cities, Catherwood and Stephens contribution to Mayan archaeology was unquestioned a century ago. In 1889, the Narrative and Critical History of America edited by Justin Winsor stated of the pair “It is to John L. Stephens and his accompanying draughtsman, Frederic Catherwood, that we owe by far the most essential part of our knowledge of the Yucatan remains” (p. 186). Without the early contribution of romantic drawings such as Catherwood's held here at the NAA, ancient Mayan cities might not hold the allure for researchers and global tourists that they do today.

- Eliot Scott, Reference Intern
National Anthropological Archives

Friday, August 5, 2011


Dutch photographer Emile Waagenaar, an enthusiastic aficionado of Cajun music, is so passionate about the subject that he has traveled frequently from Breda in the Netherlands to Louisiana over nearly thirty years to photograph Cajun musicians.  About two years ago I became aware of his fascinating pictures, and he offered to donate a number to the National Museum of American History’s Archives Center.  He visited the Archives Center, and later I met him and his wife in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.  He donated 64 digital prints of his fascinating photographs to us.

Mr. Waagenaar, a commercial photographer in the Netherlands, loves Cajun music so much that
he began a self-assigned project to document Cajun musicians in 1982, photographing artists who play this regional style in New Orleans and elsewhere in Louisiana, Texas, and
elsewhere.  Over the years he has made many trips to the United States in order to seek out,
befriend, and photograph Cajun musicians in their homes, businesses, and concert ennvironments.  Since he fears that this music is at risk of disappearing as older musicians
die and other popular music styles attract audiences away from traditional forms and styles,
he has a missionary spirit with this project.  He hopes not only to preserve visual records
of some of the most important musicians and their environments, but to engender interest in
Cajun music on the part of those who view his photographs.  Through his dedicated, sensitive
efforts, he is performing an important cultural and historical service.  Many of his images
can be viewed on his Web site at

Waagenaar writes: 
“The Cajuns, descendents of French farmers and fishermen from Brittany and Normandy, France,
immigrated in the 16th and 17th century to what they thought would be their "Promised Land" of Acadiana in "La Merrique" (Nova Scotia, Canada), but their long journey ended in the
bayous of southern Louisiana.

“By keeping themselves separated from American society until the second half of the 19th

century, the Cajuns held onto their own culture. Their music has a unique folkloric quality,
which is enhanced by the musical accompaniment of a small type of Cajun accordion.”

Cajun music is often linked to zydeco music, which was influenced by Cajun music, but is

associated with people of Creole rather than Cajun heritage.  These musical styles have long
influenced American popular music, especially country music.  According to ethnomusicologist
Alan Lomax, “the Cajun and Creole traditions of Southwest Louisiana are unique in the
blending of European, African, and Amerindian qualities.” Originally Cajun music depended
primarily upon the use of the fiddle, but after World War II German-imported accordions
became available, and were introduced into Cajun bands, especially by performers like Iry
Lejeune.  The accordion is now at the center of both Cajun music and zydeco, while the
fiddle is the other primary instrument.  During and after the 1950s, Cajun music was
influenced by rock ‘n’ roll, forming a hybrid style known as swamp pop.  Cajun bands have
also been influenced by country music and the Nashville sound.  Later in the 1960s, however,
interest in more traditional Cajun music was revived by preservationists, and in 1968,
Louisiana finally officially recognized the value of its French heritage by establishing the
Council for the Development of French in Louisiana. In 1974, CODOFIL organized the First
Tribute to Cajun Music Festival in Lafayette.

Emile Waagenaar is not the first photographer to document Cajun musicians.  In 1938, Farm

Security Administration photographer Russell Lee documented Creole and Cajun culture in
Louisiana.  Others, such as Elemore Morgan, Jr., have photographed Cajun performers and
published books of their work.  Waagenaar’s photographs, both in black-and-white and color,
are sharp, well-lighted, well-composed portraits of sometimes idiosyncratic subjects.  They differ from the work of other photographers of Cajun musicians, who emphasize concert photography, documenting musicians in action within their entertainment context.  Waagenaar instead photographs musicians in their personal environments in order to convey more context about them as people, not merely as entertainers.  His photographs include visual information which will interest social and cultural historians, as well as historians of music, now and in the future.

Waagenaar has had a number of exhibitions of his work on Cajun musicians in Europe and the
United States. His aims are both aesthetic and historical.  He has tried to document the most important and innovative musicians, first among the generation of musicians who were the founders of Cajun music in the beginning of the 20th  century.  He writes, “After that I think it is important to have the second, third and fourth generation of these musicians.  Every generation gives…Cajun music another drive, but the people I want to photograph must…respect the old traditional style and stay close to that.  These days I use the Internet to find new musicians, but the best [way to] locate these people is talking with the musicians I already know…when I am in Louisiana.  Mostly I give them a phone call and explain my intentions.”

The collection consists of 64 inkjet photographic prints, both black-and-white and 
color.  They are beautifully crafted and include a wealth of detail—straightforward environmental portraits of people whom Mr. Waagenaar respects.   Although his subjects are rendered with dignity, sometimes unusual or quirky aspects of certain personalities and seemingly incongruous details also are displayed in whimsical pictures imbued with gentle humor.

Images, from top to bottom:
1.  Al Berard, Cecilia, 2008
2.  Ann Savoy, Eunice, 2008
3.  Matthew Courville, Carencro, 1997
4.  Paul Daigle, Branch, 2008

David Haberstich, Curator of Photography

Shark Week

Smithsonian staff with  fiberglass jaws of an extinct 40-foot long shark.
Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives
All fans of the Discovery Channel surely know that this week is Shark Week.   I myself, not a terrible fan of 5 shark themed shows in one night, have had to watch my fair share. So if anyone out there is in the same boat as me (ha...ha) I thought I would give you a nice little factoid to share with your shark enthusiast friends.

Though we here at the Smithsonian Institution Archives can not give you a post of the Top Ten Shark Jumps or the Top Thirty-Five Great White Attacks,  we do have a lot of shark knowledge. Over the years, the Smithsonian has featured sharks in programs and exhibits, so we can share with you that the Carcharodon megalodon is the colossal ancestor of the modern great white shark and fossils from this big guy are here at the Smithsonian. The Carcharodon megalodon was about the size of a railroad car and occupied the Earth’s waters about 30 million years ago. For more information about this incredible animal check out the National Museum of Natural History’s Ocean’s Portal and visit the Ocean’s Hall to check out other interesting shark stories. If you are really into all things shark take a bite out of this Smithsonian's Collection Search Center search for images of specimens.

Courtney Esposito
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Institutional History Division

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Recovering Voices

Man with a movie camera. Vanuatu, 1974.
Photograph by Kalmun Muller. HSFA, SI.
Here at the National Museum of Natural History, the Department of Anthropology has launched a major new initiative focusing on endangered languages and indigenous knowledge, called Recovering Voices. The Smithsonian is well-situated to engage with the world-wide issue of language loss, in large part because of the rich collections housed here in the Department of Anthropology. Objects in the Ethnology Collections, manuscripts and audio recordings at the National Anthropological Archives, and the audiovisual holdings of the Human Studies Film Archives (HSFA) can all be useful tools in this endeavor, whether they directly document language, demonstrate knowledge that is closely linked to language, or encourage native speakers to recall fading vocabulary.

Cameraman Ragpa Dorjee recording sync
sound film for the National Anthropological
Film Center, c. 1980. HSFA, SI.
The HSFA has many collections of linguistic interest, including recordings of endangered and threatened languages. Thanks to a grant from the Smithsonian Women's Committee, we have been able to put samples of some of this material online.  HSFA has thousands of hours of film, video, and audio, so digitizing all of our collections may not ever be possible, but we are trying to increase the discoverability of our materials by digitizing short samples and attaching these to SIRIS catalog records.  We hope these digital video and audio clips will be useful to researchers, giving them a sense of the quality and style of the material and informing their research plans.  

A large amount of our language-related material was recorded in the 1960's and '70's, a prolific period for ethnographic and research film.  Many of the cultures and lifeways documented during that time have seen dramatic changes since then, including language loss. Research film created by the National Anthropological Film Center (NAFC), precursor to the HSFA, in Micronesia, Vanuatu, India, Nepal, Brazil, and the Cook Islands is an invaluable record of language, ritual, knowledge of the land and its resources, and daily life. Other lengthy film records (of the Ju/'hoansi of Namibia, Yanomamo of Brazil, Jie of Uganda, and Kodi of Indonesia, to name just a few) provide materials of enduring value to both scholars and the communities that have been documented.

Even silent film can be a tool for studying or reviving language.  HSFA has numerous annotations for film footage.  Some annotations were recorded by the filmmaker(s), offering rich contextual information for what is seen on screen.  Other annotations have been done by the very people who were filmed, their descendants, or other members of their communities.  In these annotations, information the filmmakers could never have known surfaces, as people and places are identified, local names for wildlife and environmental features are given, and new layers of knowledge are added to the documentary record.

Here are a few of my favorites from our language-related collections:

A clip from the John Marshall Ju/'hoan Bushman Film and Video Collection documenting storytelling, from 1955. Can you tell who is telling the story, and who is listening?

Annotated clip of ice fishing from Bering Sea Eskimos (1968).  Even in this short segment, the annotation provides a wealth of information about the environment and wildlife of this area of Alaska, even identifying the month in which the footage was probably shot.

Audio recording, "Letawai tells a story", from Scott Williams' Micronesian Film Project, 1975.  This recording was made on Ifalik or Woleai atoll in the Western Caroline Islands. It is likely an example of the Woleai language, listed in UNESCO's Atlas of Languages in Danger as "severely endangered".  We don't have a translation available, so I don't know what Letawai's story is about.  But I love to listen to it all the same.

Follow this link to see more online examples of materials relating to endangered languages and indigenous knowledge held at the HSFA. Also, our online catalog records are now open to public tagging! If there are things or places you can identify in our online clips that are not noted in the catalog record, you, too, can add to the recorded knowledge about these materials.

Karma Foley, Human Studies Film Archives

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Two Weeks in the Freer|Sackler Archives: an EAD Adventure

To complete my Master’s in Library and Information Science and my Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration, I needed to complete an archives practicum.  During this practicum I was to process and arrange a collection from the institution that I would be working with.  I wanted a unique practicum experience, so I chose to seek out my own assignment.  I chose to complete my practicum at The Walters Art Museum, in Baltimore, Maryland, processing the papers of Dorothy Kent Hill.  This was an eight week assignment, and my supervisor there set me up with the last two weeks being spent at the Freer|Sackler Archives, in Washington D.C.  As you can imagine, I was extremely excited for the opportunity to work at one of the revered Smithsonian Institution museums!

After much discussion about what my project would actually be, Rachael Woody, Archivist at the Freer|Sackler Archives, assigned me to mark up two finding aids using EAD, or Encoded Archival Description, a short history of which can be found here.  What this means is I took the existing finding aids, Word documents, and placed them into XML, or Extensible Markup Language.  This allows for the finding aids to be uploaded to the Freer|Sackler Archives website, making them readily available to researchers.  Having learned about accessibility in my courses at Wayne State University, I knew how helpful my project was going to be for the Archives.  The finding aids themselves provide researchers the information they need about the collection as a whole, as well as a box and folder listing to gain some sense of what is really available in the Freer|Sackler Archives’ stacks for their usage.

John Calvn Ferguson, portrait

The two finding aids I was assigned could not have been more different from each other!  The first finding aid conversion to be completed was that of the John Calvin Ferguson Family Papers.  The collection is relatively small, and contains correspondence, photographs, and newspaper clippings, among other things.  The box list contained 5 boxes, which I then loaded into NoteTab Pro to complete the marking up of the various elements.  Each box and folder has its own element tag, and within the folder, names, dates and places receive their own element tags, taken from the EAD tag library.  Each of the tags themselves allows the internet browser to interpret them and it thus results in the webpage you see.  Overall, marking up the John Calvin Ferguson Family Papers finding aid went smoothly.  Once I got a handle on using EAD, I was done before I knew it and ready to take on the second finding aid.

The second finding aid was that of the Myron Bement Smith Collection.  This finding aid was considerably longer, 245 boxes longer to be exact!  This collection is very large, and one of the F|S Archives’ most important.  The collection’s contents include correspondence, architectural drawings, photographic prints, and even slides of photographs.  The collection covers a wide range of topics and places, as both Myron Bement Smith and his wife Katharine Davis Smith traveled the world and had an extensive social network.  As you can imagine, the marking up of this finding aid took some time, as well as patience.  As with any project, there are going to be some bumps in the road towards the finish line, and I did encounter some minor mistakes, mostly on my part.  That’s what editing and proofreading are for!  After completing the mark up, Rachael and I opened the converted file in an internet browser to see what it looked like.  To my surprise, the dates that I had so diligently typed in were not appearing where I expected!  While I was surprised, it was an easy fix.  I simply went back through the XML file and corrected the mistakes.  This process was extremely faster than I expected, and I can now point to these finding aids as proof of my abilities as an archivist.

Myron Bement Smith and his wife, Katharine in Persia.

Though the internship was short, the experiences that I have will stay with me for a long time.  It is one thing to learn about archiving, it is another to actually do it, and as a result of these past two weeks, I feel more prepared to enter the field. 

These two finding aids are complete and ready to be viewed on the F|S Archives’ Finding Aid site here!  So go explore the collections, and if something catches your eye, make an appointment to come visit the archives!

Kelsey Jansen van Galen
Archives Intern
Freer|Sackler Archives