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Monday, February 27, 2012


As we come to the end of Black History Month, and with the memory of the recent groundbreaking for the new National Museum of African American History and Culture still fresh, a sample of 19th century advertising provides a reference point for American social progress.  This soap advertisement from 1882 highlights African American domestic servants, employing racial stereotypes, although in a comparatively restrained manner.  This maid praises the virtues of David's Prize Soap while she dreams of winning a "house and lot" in New York in the company's contest.  If she had actually won a house, we can only imagine exactly where it might have been located.

Advertisement for David's Prize Soap, 1882.  From the Soap series,
Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, Archives Center
David Haberstich
Archives Center
National Museum of American History

Link Love: Music Around the World

Check out for NMAI archivist Michael Pahn's February 15 contribution to the "Around the Mall" blog.  The post explores music and music related collections throughout the Smithsonian and we are delighted that the highlighted collection is HSFA's John Marshall Ju/'hoan Bushman film and video collection.  

Here's a preview of one of the songs.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

In Their Own Words: Documenting the Leuman Waugh Photograph Collection

Wayengi (Josephine Ungott, daughter of Andrew Uziva)
and Napaaq (Florence Maligutkaq, daughter of
Peter Aghnilu) from Gambell, dressed in winter
clothing. (N42725)
We have previously written about the Leuman Waugh collection (photographs and papershere and here. However, this post serves to highlight an amazing new book recently published by the Arctic Studies Center (ARC), at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), entitled "Neqamikegkaput (Faces We Remember): Leuman M. Waugh's Photography from St. Lawrence Island, Alaska, 1929-1930," edited by I. Krupnik and V. Oovi Kaneshiro. This book is the culmination of over ten years of work to properly document, describe, and enhance a portion of the Waugh photographs from two Yuit (Siberian Yup'ik) communities on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska; Gambell (Sivuqaq) and Savoonga (Sivungaq). In an agreement between the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and the NMNH, two Arctic cultural anthropologists, Igor Krupnik and Stephen Loring, together with NMAI Archive Center staff, decided to focus on the St. Lawrence Island set of images since the photographs from this area were one of the largest and most significant among the individual communities in the Alaska region.

The anthropologists worked extensively with numerous St. Lawrence Island community elders and regional knowledge experts to properly identify individuals, places, and lifeways depicted in the images. More importantly, however, the community experts recreated hundres of personal narratives to accompany the images, essentially giving new life and context to the images. According to the authors, "the photographs offerred critical information on personalities, people's lifestyles, and local scenes depicted by a caring, though uninformed, medical doctor on his short visits to the community."

Kingungha (Thelma Apatiki, born 1903), wife of
Homer Apatiki, with her son Akinginaaq
(Holden Apatiki, born 1929). (N42747)

The image to the right is just one of hundres of photographs that have new data and narratives to bring it new life and context. Below is inforamtion shared by Kepelgu (Willis Walunga):

"The woman in the picture is Kingungha of Gambell. She is carrying baby boy, Holden Akinginaaq dressed in St. Lawrence Island qallevak, which is worn by children of the village in their young age. Children are always carried that way by their mothers even when she is working when baby-siiters are not around.

She was wife of Homer Apatiki, son of Suluk. They lived in a pre-cut tall lumber two-story house. Tha builing was the tallest in the village of Gambell. The family lived upstairs and I was very close with their elder son Ralph Anaggun, about my age, little younder. We grew up together, even sometimes I spent the night with him and other friends at his place. We have good memories growing up together up to this day."

Copies of images were also provided to the various communities that were then shared in people's houses, public offices, calendars, newspapers, books and an exhibit catalog.The project represents the larger goal of both NMAI and NMNH to conduct collaborative curation and "knowledge repatriation" with indigenous communities. We will be continuing this on-going project by inputting much of this gathered data into our collections management system. We hope to have the data and portions of the narratives included in our on-line database system in the near future to share with the general public. In the meantime, please check out this wonderful new book and see other images from the Waugh collection here.

--Jennifer R. O'Neal, NMAI Archive Center


Friday, February 24, 2012

The Great American Lawn

In his 1989 article “Why Mow?” Michael Pollan describes the American landscape as a carpet of green stretching in an unbroken line from the East Coast to the deserts of New Mexico to the most arid regions of Southern California. “Like the interstate highway system, like fast-food chains, like television,” he writes, “the lawn has served to unify the American landscape; it is what makes the suburbs of Cleveland and Tucson, the streets of Eugene and Tampa, look more alike than not.” Lawns are arguably the most prevalent garden feature in the United States.

A long line of American lawns stretching from east to west. Elm Avenue, Hershey, Pennsylvania, 1946. J. Horace McFarland Collection, Archives of American Gardens
The popularity of lawns in the United States is an influence from the English school of landscape design. Andrew Jackson Downing, one of the first landscape designers in America, expounded on the virtues of the lawn in his 1841 book A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening. According to Downing, “the close proximity of fences to the house gives the whole place a confined and mean character . . . A wide spread lawn, on the contrary, where no boundaries are conspicuous, conveys an impression of ample extent and space for enjoyment.” 

An unidentified English estate lawn, ca. 1930s. Garden Club of America Collection, Archives of American Gardens
Lawns were expensive to maintain in the nineteenth century. Before lawn mowers only the wealthiest landowners could afford to hire a full-time gardener to trim the lawns by scythe and pull weeds. A verdant lawn was a symbol of wealth and stature, but the development of the cylindrical lawn mower in the 1880’s put a tidy lawn within the reach of the middle class. The forty-hour work week and the increase in home ownership in the mid-twentieth century turned lawn care into the hobby (or curse, depending on who you ask) that it is today.

Companies advertised various lawn products that purported to be time savers for homeowners. Here, a man kicks up his feet and enjoys his yard. In actuality many homeowners bemoaned the amount of time--and money--they had to spend on their yard to keep it trim and green. Undated commercial illustration from the 1950s or 1960s, W. Atlee Burpee & Company Collection, Archives of American Gardens
We have (so far) been experiencing a mild winter in Washington, D.C. Lawns that were covered in snow this time last year are now in need of a good mowing. Many homeowners in the 1950s would have rejoiced to have a healthy lawn in the middle of winter. A plethora of products and chemicals to combat pests and keep lawns healthy year-round flooded the market after the second World War. Much of technology was a direct result of wartime scientific advancement. Advertisements such as those by W. Atlee Burpee & Company peddled every product under the sun to the postwar consumer, from grass seed to DDT to sprayers and lawn mowers.

Illustrations for Burpee grass seed advertisements, circa 1950-1960. W. Atlee Burpee & Company Collection, Archives of American Gardens
Garden magazines published a backlash of editorials in the 1950s and 1960s bemoaning the “keeping up with the Joneses” race to have the perfect suburban lawn. There are even reports of some homeowners being so fed up with lawn maintenance they ripped out their grass and replaced it with green cement. (Of course, the introduction of AstroTurf in the mid 1960s would give irate gardeners another option.)

The Archives of American Gardens includes a photographic examples of almost every type of American lawn imaginable--from bowling greens to sweeping estate lawns to small suburban lots--but please do let us know if you ever come across any cement lawns!

-Kate Fox

Kate Fox is a guest blogger who is currently working on an upcoming SITES exhibition for the Archives of American Gardens at Smithsonian Gardens

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The People of India - The Bhali Sultans

The People of India series was researched and written by School Without Walls student, Cal Berer.   Cal was an intern at the Freer|Sackler Archives from January 2011-June 20011 where he was then sponsored by the State Department to learn Hindi while spending the summer in India.

Bhali Sultans

Earlier I discussed the fall of the Bhurs, the tribe which, until the early 14th century, dominated Oude.  The Bhali Sultans were instrumental in their defeat.  The tribe’s history is a blend of fact and folklore, but the story has it that “several centuries” before the British arrived in India, a prominent Rajpoot by the name of Rae Buriar arrived in Oude, and married two women.  Their union produced an impressive offspring, so numerous that within several generations they were able to represent a meaningful opposition to the Bhur landowners who controlled their villages.  It was around this time that Allahudin Ghazi, the Sultan of Delhi, arrived to annex Oude, and expel the Bhurs.  He summoned the Bhali tribe leaders, and the first to approach him thrust his spear into the ground before the Sultan.  Ghazi was so impressed by this display that he is reported to have exclaimed “What king of the spear is this?”  Thus the tribe received their name, bhali meaning spear, and sultan king.  Their assistance in the war was crucial, and in honor of the sultan’s blessing they always carried spears into battle.  The tribe remained Hindu until the 17th century, when the majority of them converted to Islam. 

To see all text and images of the Bhali Sultans as they are represented in the People of India, go to our catalog in the Collections Search Center

The People of India series will be published once a month highlighting the various tribes as they're covered in the People of India. 

Cal Berer, Intern

Friday, February 17, 2012

Show us your joie de vivre: Mardi Gras in the Rinzler Archives

 Photo by David Hobson
It's Carnival season! In celebration of Mardi Gras weekend, the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives  present an assortment of bons temps-themed resources available in our collections.

Amidst the indulgent fĂȘting the next few days demand, one thing is absolutely essential: party music. From field recordings of the street festival atmosphere to fiery and wailing brass band records fit for your Friday night, Mardi Gras is alive and well in the stacks.

Music of New Orleans, Volume 1: Music of the Streets/Music of Mardi Gras, recorded by Samuel B. Charters (Folkways Records FA 2461)
Music of Mardi Gras offers a glimpse of carnivals past. Side two of this record is a "musical portrait" of Mardi Gras day, March 5, 1957. "Every spring, the day before Lent, New Orleans noisily rises to shout its individuality," observes Samuel Charters in his liner notes. His recording begins at dawn with the Mardi Gras Indians and ends with the Krewe of Momus parade later that night. The juxtaposition of the two events is fascinating: this album represents one of the first commercially-available recordings of Mardi Gras Indians, and the Mistick Krewe of Momus has not held a parade since the New Orleans City Council passed an ordinance barring social clubs from excluding people based on "race, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, age, physical condition or disability" in 1991.

While this album technically refers to the Mardi Gras Lounge in New Orleans, the music is evocative of a ball during Carnival season. Recorded live on a Saturday night circa 1955, this high-energy, wonderfully wild dixieland jazz recording retains all the applause, hoots and hollers. It's a party in a record sleeve. In the liner notes, Emory Cook sets the scene: "It was like the night Beethoven died--thunder, lightning, and all a manner of cosmic disturbances on Bourbon Street. But the cash customers were there anyway...adding their part to a storm brewed indoors at the Mardi Gras Lounge."

Photo by Jeff Tinsley
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival Records have a few Mardi Gras-related materials as well. The 1985 Festival of American Folklife featured a program on Louisiana and a Mardi Gras-style parade, drawing huge crowds to the National Mall to witness the elaborate floats (pictured at right) and boogie with the brass bands . Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indian Tribe (pictured above) performed at the Been in the Storm So Long evening concert series at the 2006 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which featured musicians from a Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. Photographs, video and audio recordings of these events are available to use for research in the archives, but the 1985 and 2006 program books are accessible in their entirety through the SIRIS catalog.

Now go forth and eat your weight in king cake! May your Mardi Gras be loud and covered in beads!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Painting the World by Hand

Daniel Putnam Brinley (standing below) and assistant Hugh Troy at work on globe for the "Daily News" Building

What type of medium do you use to paint the world? American artist Daniel Putnam Brinley (1879-1963) used oil.  This 1930 Peter A. Juley & Son photo depicts Brinley (standing below) and his assistant Hugh Troy painting the globe for the Daily News Building in New York City. Located in the building’s lobby, the 12 foot in diameter globe is made from aluminum and rotates on its axis. It took the artists six months to complete the map, however in the 1960s the map was repainted to reflect changes to names and territories. Check out other images of Brinley and Troy at work here.  

Emily Moazami, Photo Archivist, Research & Scholars Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Monday, February 13, 2012

Discovering Treasures in the National Anthropological Archives

Ms 2560a – (front cover) Field Notes on Arapahoan
languages and culture (1899 – 1901)
I keep making amazing discoveries in the NAA collection! Hidden treasures! Well, admittedly my main discovery tool is SIRIS (and now the Collections Search Center), so one could argue that I’m only discovering things that someone else created, collected, cataloged, and entered into the database - available online to the world and accessed by hundreds of thousands of people annually. Maybe it’s not on a par with discovering a new moon of Jupiter, but for me such discoveries remain incredibly exciting, a potent reaffirmation of the importance of preserving these materials and making them accessible in ways that allow other people to make their own exciting discoveries.
Working on our Save America’s Treasures project to preserve early manuscripts, especially those relating to endangered languages, and to digitize as much material as possible for web access has led me into new areas of the collection. I’m not a linguist and don’t usually get excited by manuscripts about "vowel length" – but as an anthropologist I know how much people treasure their native languages and how precious documentation of past speech and speakers can be. Check out these "discoveries."
Ms 338c - Chukchee Vocabularies 1852-1855,
in process of conservation 
Chukchee Vocabularies 1852-1855 Extract from SIRIS entry: Chuckchi ("Yerigen") and Asiatic Eskimo ("Chak-lock") Vocabularies. Rodgers North Pacific Expedition, 1852-55; includes 366 Chukchi and 150 Eskimo words, with phonetic notes on vowel length and pitch. Languages include Chuckchi (Tchuktchi) and Yerigen (Chukchi) vocabulary, Korak (Koriaks), Siberian stock; Glasenap Harbor, Straits of Seniavine, west side of Behring Straits. Chaklock vocabulary (Asiatic Eskimo, Eskimauan stock).

Here’s what Dr. Igor Krupnik, Curator of Arctic Ethnology, had to say about it: "The dictionaries you have asked about are very famous linguistic records from 1852. These are truly precious documents and the ones we referred to back in 1979 while working on the historical distribution of indigenous languages and dialects at the Bering Strait. They actually recorded two languages, one Chukchi and another Siberian Yupik (Eskimo) being spoken just two miles apart, but exactly as we reconstructed it for the mid-1800s based on other historical and oral records. I did my field work in that same area and I have passed the site where they collected these dictionaries on several occasions during the late 1970s and early 1980s." At that time, Igor and his Russian colleagues were glad to have access to photocopies of photocopies from the NAA collections. The material is now scheduled for conservation and digitization, after which it will be placed online.

Ms 2560b – Field Notes on Arapahoan
languages and culture (1899 – 1901)

Field Notes on Arapahoan languages and culture (1899 – 1901) 
Extract from SIRIS entry: 29 notebooks.
Well, there is really nothing more in this record, except noting the creator as A.L. Kroeber – but we’re working on that now that I’ve discovered this gem.

Kroeber field notes – that’s huge! Alfred L. Kroeber , a student of Franz Boas, was one of the first PhDs in the field of anthropology, and went on to shape the discipline in enduring ways. These notebooks from his earliest fieldwork include a wealth of rich detail, enlivening his generalized publications on culture and language with the names of individuals, prices paid for objects purchased, and shadowy suggestions of the enormous linguistic diversity already slipping away. When Kroeber was doing his fieldwork among the Southern Arapaho in 1899 he not only collected extensive linguistic data on Arapaho proper and its close relative Gros Ventre (or Atsina), he also located speakers of the languages of two groups that had “long since coalesced with the Arapaho,”  Besawunena and the Nawathinehena.  Working with Tall Bear and Kaniib, he recorded unique information on the vocabularies of these two languages, including many words and much phonetic detail that never made it into his 1916 publication “Arapaho Dialects.”

Kroeber used cheap paper (typical grad student!) and these notebooks are now in serious need of conservation attention before they can be digitized.

Ms 7235 - Vocabularies and notes based
on material from Brazilian slaves
Vocabularies and notes based on material from Brazilian slaves
Extract from SIRIS entry: This manuscript probably represents what Horatio Hale originally intended to publish on southern Africa in his Philology and Ethnology that is one of the volumes of the report of the United States Exploring Expedition (Wilkes Expedition). It includes several vocabularies, comparative vocabularies, and notes on the location and appearance (especially the cicatrization and other body decoration) of African tribes.

The U.S. Ex Ex (led by Lt. Charles Wilkes) was a scientific expedition that circumnavigated the globe 1838-42 making observations and collecting specimens that formed the historical nucleus of Smithsonian collections. Expedition members collected many things that suggest the level of global exchange already taking place, but nothing that speaks so poignantly to the darkest side of that exchange – the trade in human lives that brought Africans to Brazil. While in Rio de Janeiro, Hale interviewed "natives of Africa" and obtained notes on more than a dozen languages. He also made drawings of facial scarification marks (cicatrixes) and indicated the particular places associated with each type of mark. Real people, real places. The manuscript is now digitized – look for it online soon.

--Candace Greene, Special Projects, National Anthropological Archives

Friday, February 10, 2012

Crossing a Barrier of Footlights

Crossing a Barrier of Footlights is a presentation you don’t want to miss!  It is sponsored by the District of Columbia Public Library and conducted by Tom Minter, Teaching Artist, Washington National Opera and the Kennedy Center, and features archival materials from the Evans-Tibbs collection at the Anacostia Community Museum Archives.

The program will highlight the artistic contributions of the National Negro Opera Company and one of its first reigning divas: Madame Lillian Evanti, who was born and raised in DC, taught in the public school system, and enjoyed a pre-eminent international operatic career, establishing a national platform and prominence that predated Marian Anderson. The accomplishments of this leading African American woman are linked to DC community history; the program will also offer an opportunity to discover the other “hat” Madame wore, that of composer.   You can view a previous post about Mme. Evanti here.

Evans-Tibbs Collection, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution
Gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr.

The hour–long program will first be held at the Dorothy Height/Benning Road library on Monday February, 13th, at 1p.m., and then repeated on Friday, February 17th, at 1 p.m., at the Georgetown Library. I will be onsite at both locations to answer any questions pertaining to the collection so look for me, Jennifer Morris!

Space is limited; please call to inquire about availability.

Benning Road Library: 202 -281 -2583
Georgetown Library: 202 -727 -0232

Jennifer Morris

Monday, February 6, 2012

Alternative Medicine as Portrayed in Valentini's Polychresta Exotica (1700)

The Latin publication Polychresta Exotica by German physician Michael Bernhard Valentini (1657-1729) was an early attempt to document non-Western medical techniques and medications for a European audience. Remedies from Asia and South America were highlighted by Valentini, including Ipecacuanha (syrup of Ipecac), Pedra del porco (porcupine gallstones), and Clyster Tabacinus (a tabacco-smoke enema).

Shown here is plate VI, which depicts a man being treated with moxibustion, an ancient Chinese herbal therapy. Burning clumps of the dried plant mugwort are placed on or near the skin, at various acupuncture points (shown in the image with letters A-E), as a treatment for circulatory disorders, gout, and other ailments.


Michael Bernhard Valentini's Polychresta Exotica in Curandis Affectibus Contumacissimis Probatissima, published in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Sumptibus Johannis Davidis Zunneri, 1700.

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

Friday, February 3, 2012


Fabian Bachrach.  Duke Ellington, 1969.  Silver gelatin photographic print.
For many years the Archives Center has focused much of its attention on its Scurlock Studio Records collection, especially rehousing, cataloguing, and exhibiting the photographs.  The business, begun by Addison N. Scurlock in 1904, was a family enterprise which ended only after Addison’s son Robert died in 1994.  As a prominent minority-owned photographic portrait and commercial business in the nation’s capital, the Scurlock Studio is distinctive in many ways.  However, its longevity was not unique.  There have been many dynasties in the history of photographic portrait studios, and one of the most famous is the Bachrach business founded in Baltimore, Maryland by David Bachrach, Jr. (1845-1921).    After more than 140 years of operation (with a network of forty-eight studios at one point), the firm is now based in Boston.   Robert Bachrach is the fourth-generation scion and current president of the company, which may be the longest continuously operating photographic studio in the world.
The most famous Bachrach photographer was Louis Fabian Bachrach, Jr. (1917-2010), grandson of the founder of the firm and father of its current president.  Known as Fabian Bachrach, he was renowned for photographing celebrities, including an iconic portrait of President John F. Kennedy, as well as portraits of other presidents and world leaders.  Among celebrities in the creative arts whom Fabian Bachrach photographed was the legendary composer Duke Ellington—as I discovered only recently.  The Archives Center’s vast Duke Ellington Collection contains a variety of resources on Ellington, from original music manuscripts to business and personal papers, memorabilia, etc.  There is a large series of photographs, including publicity prints as well as informal snapshots.  Many images depict the Ellington orchestra and other musicians, but naturally a large segment portrays the Duke himself, in action at the piano or conducting, or in studio poses.
A few days ago I edited a SIRIS catalogue record for a fine, well-lighted portrait of Ellington, posing with a sheet of music, which had been scanned and catalogued by a volunteer.  The volunteer had not recorded the name of a photographer, and I decided to make explicit the fact that the photographer was unidentified.  As I typed that assumption into the Horizon record, I wondered if I was jumping to an unwarranted conclusion.  As a photographic historian, I am always keenly interested in identifying photographers, an obsession which is not necessarily the primary concern of many archivists.  Perhaps there was a signature or imprint on the verso of the print which she had not noticed when she scanned it.  I felt that I had to be certain.  As we include in our item-level catalogue entries specific box and folder locations for individual items which we scan and catalogue, I quickly located the original photograph.  Actually, I couldn’t determine exactly which print had been scanned because there turned out to be five nearly identical warm-toned prints of the image shown here, in which Ellington poses with a sheet of music in a fine, well-lighted portrait.  They bore no photographer identification.  However, also in the folder were two cold-toned prints from the same negative, each with the imprint of Fabian Bachrach in the bottom right margin and a stamped Fabian Bachrach copyright notice on the verso.  Eureka!  It was clear that the identified prints on glossy paper were intended for publicity reproduction in newspapers, magazines, and on posters, as this is the standard presentation form.   The other five prints, with their delicate warm tonality and more “artsy” matte surfaces, were probably ordered by Ellington for non-publicity purposes, including personal display and gift presentations.  I appreciate the fact that these prints were not rubber-stamped on the back, as the inks can sometimes leach through the print and damage it, becoming visible from the front.
I’m pleased to cite another Bachrach portrait among the Archives Center’s photographic holdings.  I’m also glad to be able to use this incident as a pointer to the value of traditional archival theory and practice.  Individual items in an archival collection, including photographs, usually are not self-sufficient, complete bundles of information by themselves.  Additional information of both a specific nature, as in this case, or of a contextual nature, may be found elsewhere in the collection.  Some archivists have warned of the risks which may accompany the item-oriented mindset implicit in the digital revolution, that it may potentially undermine the well-established, valued traditions of archival, group-level orientation and methodology, and this is a nice little (if painfully obvious) example.  When one of the warm-toned prints was removed from its folder by a staff member for scanning, the Bachrach identification, if it was even noticed, was not passed along to the volunteer doing the scanning, for use in the scan metadata and MARC catalogue record for the object.  It wasn’t the volunteer’s job, within her scanning workflow, to check the folder or box for additional information.  Nor was it my job, as our unit’s SIRIS editor and coordinator, to second-guess those who had supplied the information.  I’m particularly interested in photographer identifications and attributions, so the extra effort was natural for me.  But I often wonder, as more and more items from our image collections become available in digitized form to facilitate “research” from remote locations, how much knowledge may be ignored or lost in the absence of direct contact with the real thing—the original object within a historical or archival collections.  
David Haberstich, Curator of Photography

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Crowdsourcing in the Commons

Mr. Buchanan, c. 1935
Courtesy of SIA
Identifying an image is one of my favorite things to do. Although often challenging, I enjoy trying to decipher going on, when the picture was taken and who was involved. It allows me to use my research skills.  You often have to think creatively to come up with some clue that may lead to a proper identification. The problem is, there are many images and only a small amount of time to devote to it.

Last month, the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA) placed a series of  images on Flickr with the hope that the general public might be able to assist in identifying them. These photographs came from the Ruel P. Tolman Collection (Record Unit 7433). Tolman, director of the Smithsonian National Collection of Fine Arts (now the Smithsonian American Art Museum), collected a series of images of Smithsonian employees, artists, and other government workers. As an artist and amateur photographer, the images capture moments from the 1930s. Some contained useful captions, others had vague information, such as “Cpt. Locke” or  “Mr. F. Jackson.” We scanned and loaded the images to Flickr in hopes that viewers would be able to help us identify more about the people in the pictures. 

The results were wonderful. Members of the Flickr Commons successfully identify several of the images and provided excellent information to integrate in the Smithsonian’s catalogue entries.  What would have taken several days of research, took one day of cross-checking, saving time and finding answers. There are currently several crowdsourcing initiatives across the Smithsonian and other cultural institutions, which create opportunities for the public to become engaged with collection materials and become “citizen“ scientists, cataloguers, and researchers. I was pleasantly surprised by the results of this SIA project. I have often heard the criticism against using “non-experts,” but what I realized is that the kind individuals who volunteer their time to do the research deliver substantial information in return. More importantly, they have an impact on a collection by taking an active role in the Institution’s endeavors.

Not all of the images have been identified, so feel free to join in on the fun!

Courtney Esposito, Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives