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Showing posts with label Smithsonian Staff. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Smithsonian Staff. Show all posts

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dumpsters are Fun!

Archivists are all about preserving the cultural past for the present and future. Sometimes that makes us de facto ambulance chasers. We’re the people who always ask, “What is that? Why are you getting rid of it? What’s the story behind it?” Too often important and fun pieces of history get destroyed or thrown away.

So archivists are sometimes figuratively dumpster divers and sometimes literally. A few years ago Design Specialist Richard Skinner of the Freer|Sackler rescued the bronze plaque below from disposal following a cleaning of the Freer attic.

At that time, Archivist David Hogge requested any information that staff could provide. Many staff shared stories and memories, but it was former deputy director Pat Sears who made the authoritative identification. The sign was on double posts on the North entrance when there was a driveway that allowed important visitors to be dropped off at the base of the stairs. The below is a slide from the mid-1970s showing the sign on the far right.

This sign is an example of how history can be both lost and found. The Freer|Sackler has regained a piece of its history while adding to the stories of the institution. The sign currently resides in the Freer|Sackler Archive Research Room.

Lara Amrod, Archivist
Freer|Sackler Archives

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Spooked in the Stacks

Child with Jack-o-lantern [photoprint]. From J. Horace McFarland Collection, Archives of American Gardens.
True story: archives aren't as creepy in real life as they are in movies. There aren't cobwebs hanging from the shelves, and no dust clouds blown off crumbling books stacked haphazardly atop one another. They aren't lit by archaic lanterns or candles and there usually isn't anyone in a tattered and hooded black robe behind the desk.

But that doesn't mean we can't find some spooky materials in our (un-cobwebbed) boxes. Today, we celebrate the creepy (and cute!) items in our collections with a Halloween scrapbook, put together by the archivists and librarians from around the Smithsonian. Take a looooooooooooook!

[Funerary floral arrangement] [stereograph]: "Skeleton Leaves." Historic Gardens Stereograph Collection, Archives of American Gardens
WWI soldier facial reconstruction casts and masks, ca. 1918, Anna Coleman Ladd Papers, ca. 1881-1950, Archives of American Art

Sandy Low and Happy Horrigan with the "ghost" of Charles Mahoney, 1925. Charles Mahoney collection of photographs of students at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, ca. 1925, Archives of American Art

Scene from a Theatrical or Film Performance [graphic]. Myron Bement Smith Collection: Antoin Sevruguin Photographs. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

Miss Duckett[Her classroom and students; from envelope] [acetate film photonegative,] 1947 November. Scurlock Studio Records, 1905-1994, National Museum of American History. 
“Cobweb House” by Charles Burchfield (1954).
Walter Rosenblum Collection, Photograph Archives, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Informal portrait of Charles Nungesser, French WWI ace, standing beside his Nieuport XXIII.  NASM A-48746-A. National Air and Space Museum Archives.


The "coeur noire" ("black heart") was the personal insignia of French WWI ace Charles Nungesser.  NASM A-32949-A. National Air and Space Museum Archives.

Happy Halloween!
Cecilia Peterson, Project Archivist

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Restoration of the Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver: From Airplane to Archives Back to Airplane

True story: when you are restoring an airplane, you may need to make a trip to the archives. The National Air and Space Museum is working to restore our Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver, currently located in the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. This process involves many of the Collections units, including Preservation and Restoration, and Conservation. These units have had to work closely with the Archives Department. Why? We hold many of the documents—drawings, technical manuals, photographs—that guide the process! A good example of the relationship between the archives and aircraft restoration is the recent creation of a new clip for the Helldiver.

Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver in the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar.  NASM 2013-03237

Earlier this year, NASM Restoration Specialist Will Lee removed the outboard trailing edge of the Helldiver’s elevator. Some of the component parts, including clips connecting the ribs to the trailing edge and the trailing edge itself, were damaged beyond repair. Given their current state, he determined that he would need to reconstruct this section of the aircraft completely. He decided to return to the original source—Curtiss manufacturer’s drawings for the U.S. Navy.

NASM Restoration Specialist Will Lee works on the Helldiver's elevator.  NASM 2013-03238
The National Air and Space Museum Archives holds over 16,000 rolls of 35mm microfilm covering over 600 different types of aviation equipment. This collection includes a set of eighteen reels of drawings for the Curtiss SB2C-3, SB2C-4, and SB2C-5. Each roll could contain up to 1000 individual drawings, though the average is about 400 to 500 drawings per roll. To complicate matters, the set was donated without an index!

The quality of the Navy microfilming process was mixed. Some drawings are completely legible; others are quite impossible to read. An intrepid group of seven museum volunteers worked six hours a day, four days a week, for four months to provide an index to the Helldiver microfilm. 

Using the index and a parts catalog from the Archives, Will determined which assembly drawing he needed for the individual clip. He then requested a paper reproduction from the Archives. Although many of the original drawings may initially be difficult to read, the Archives can work with the microfilm print to enhance its legibility.

The original assembly drawings, however, only give the actual size of the components, not the direct dimensions actually needed to manufacture the parts. Using the assembly drawing and several math formulas, Will calculated the proper dimensions to make his own construction drawing for the parts.

Clockwise from top: original assembly drawing, Will Lee's construction drawing, drawing attached to metal, and folded metal piece.  NASM 2013-03244
Will then photocopied his new drawing and attached it to a sheet of metal, folding the piece to fabricate the clip. After compressing a standard cylindrical tube to make an airfoil-shaped tube, he formed the rest of the elevator section. Then, using tubular rivets, he attached the newly fabricated clip to the newly fabricated tube to form part of the new elevator section.

New clip for the Curtiss Helldiver SB2C-5 (left) compared to the parts originally found on the aircraft.  NASM 2013-03240
This same scenario has played out for numerous members of the restoration staff as they request drawings for other parts and sections of the Helldiver. The Archives has been excited to assist with the restoration of the Helldiver and we look forward to its display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

Elizabeth C. Borja, Archivist
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Monday, October 28, 2013

Archivists & Librarians: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fonds

The author. Image digitally altered to include glasses.
True story: I work at the Archives of American Art, but I am not an archivist. I'm a librarian in archivist's clothing (which doesn't actually look that different from librarian's clothing). When someone asks you what you do at a cocktail party and you reply "I'm a librarian," people nod knowingly, picturing shelves of books and women wearing cat-eye glasses shushing patrons (side note: I don't actually wear glasses, but I do love shushing people).  Archivists share a similar fashion sense, but the general populace has less of an understanding of what they do, so much so that one of my archivist colleagues sometimes tells people at parties that she is a librarian, just to avoid the blank stares. But what's the big difference anyway?

Professional archivists and librarians generally hold the same degree - the Masters of Library Science (or Information Science, as the trend is these days). We both organize, care for, describe, and provide access to intellectual materials. One divergence is how those materials take form. Whereas libraries deal primarily in books, which exist in many copies, archives deal in collections of unique documents which can come in widely differing formats. As a library art cataloger in my last job, I dealt with three formats of material: prints, photographs, and drawings. At the Archives of American Art I have cataloged all of the above plus a myriad of other materials ranging from audio recordings to diaries to one pair of rubber underpants.

Rubber underpants, between 1949 and 1966?
Emily Genauer papers, Archives of American Art,
Smithsonian Institution.
Another difference comes in how those materials are described. In a library, materials are generally described on a one-to-one basis (one book = one catalog record), whereas materials in archives are usually described at the collection level (one collection comprised of many letters, photographs, etc. = one finding aid). It takes a significant mental shift for someone accustomed to the one-to-one to look at the big picture. Fortunately for me, the main purpose of my job is contrary to the normal archival pattern of description. I describe items that have been digitized on an individual basis, so I still get to provide the one-to-one ratio that I am accustomed to, but I have also learned to take into account the context of the collection these items come from. For example, the rubber underpants on their own don't tell much of a story until you know the context that the entire collection can give you - namely, that Emily Genauer (the recipient) was a newspaper art critic and Clyfford Still (the sender) was an acerbic-tongued painter who didn't appreciate her review of his work (the attached note reads "Hoping this will aid in concealing your Sunday afflictions").

Three years into my time in the archival world, I feel like much less of a librarian interloper, even if I do still think that "fonds" sounds more like a character from Happy Days than a body of records. Perhaps I might even suggest a title change to Archibrarian. Librarchivist? Oh, maybe I'll hold on to Librarian just so I don't have to confuse people at parties. But in the meantime, I'll be celebrating Archives Month with the best of them.

Bettina Smith, Digital Projects Librarian
Archives of American Art

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Picture Day Take Two

Entomological Staff, c. 1905, SIA, SIA2011-0103
It’s that time of year again when teachers and kids head back to school.  Backpacks and lunchboxes are filled and picture day is just around the corner. Picture day is always filled with a mix of excitement and anxiety. You need to make sure you have the greatest outfit, a sweet hairdo, and never forget to double-check the form before handing it to the photographer to make sure that your chosen background, whether neon pink laser or forest scene (popular when I was in school), is absolutely perfect. After you nailed that part of the day, the next challenge is the class picture. It is very important to make sure you get a good spot with your friends and not be too close to the teacher.  Though that is not as much of a concern for Smithsonian staff, we have certainly taken our fair share of class pictures over the years.

Anthropology Staff, 1904, SIA, NAA-42012
A few years ago we shared some of our favorite Smithsonian staff class pictures with you.  And though we may not get a pop up bulletin board to act as our backdrop (at least not all the time), we still have to figure out who gets to stand where and who gets the coveted seat option, and we have some really neat backgrounds!  So, for your viewing pleasure check out the fun photos of Smithsonian staff throughout the years and see if you get some outfit inspiration for you own memorable look.
Zoo Employees, c. 1920,
SIA, 2003-19492
SI Photographers at Vietnam Veterans Memorial,
1986, SIA, 86-12516-3

National Collection of Fine Arts
Staff, c. 1965, SIA, 

National Museum of the American Indian Staff,
New York City, 1990, by Karen Furth,
SIA, SIA2011-1103

Smithsonian Staff, 2010, by Eric Long,
Smithsonian Institution

Monday, March 11, 2013

Doris Mable Cochran: Smithsonian Herpetologist

Doris Cochran examining a snake, 1954
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Neg. 96-952
Who says diamonds are a girl’s best friend? What about reptiles?

Doris Mable Cochran (1898-1968) was a herpetologist at the United States National Museum (now known as the National Museum of Natural History). This was only natural since she grew up around the Museum watching her mother work as a scientific illustrator. Cochran began her Smithsonian career as an aid in the Division of Reptiles and Amphibians in 1918 and eventually became the Curator in Charge. Though her dissertation for her doctorate from the University of Maryland looked at blue crab myology, Cochran’s research mostly focused on South American frogs. Not only did she examine these specimens, but being quite the artist herself, she created beautiful drawings of her subjects. In her fifty years at the Smithsonian, Cochran traveled to South America, Central America, and the West Indies and published numerous articles and books on herpetology. In her spare time, she was a talented weaver, brushing her Persian cats and spinning their fur into beautiful earth-toned yarn! Cochran was the second person elected as a Distinguished Fellow of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists and retired from the Smithsonian in 1968.

To learn more about Doris Cochran and other Smithsonian women during women’s history month, check out the Collections Search Center.

Courtney Bellizzi, Smithsonian Institution Archives

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Behind-the Scenes Volunteers: Hidden Treasures

What are HIDDEN TREASURES?  Well, let’s break that down.  Something that is HIDDEN can be out of sight, masked, cloaked, or behind something or someone else.  A TREASURE can be something or someone that is a gem, or rare, precious, inspiring, sparkling, or really beautiful.  Take your pick of any combination of words in these two categories and you have defined the SI NMAH Archives Center’s staff of volunteers who work behind the scenes.

The Archives Center has had “Behind- the-Scenes Volunteers” for about two decades, perhaps since its inception.  The group has ebbed and flowed and changed over the years – at one point there were more than 20.  At present, there are the intrepid dozen or so.  These tireless souls come to the Archives Center year in and year out for one, two, or three days per week (sometimes five!), helping the program with the myriads of projects that must be managed by Center staff.  AC volunteers help process collections large (such as the Orange Bowl Collection – 90 ft.) and small (such as the Ramsey Lewis Collection – 3 ft.). They also help field reference requests and sometimes connect the Center with prospective donors of collections.

Archives Center volunteers processing the Pullman Collection with archivist Franklin Robinson, Jr.
Processing collections entails re-housing materials in environmentally safe holders, such as specially made folders, boxes, and enclosures that the volunteers may custom make under the supervision of AC staff. Processing also encompasses the task of describing the collection content.  Questions such as “Can you find the certification for my violin?” or “Can you find more information on my Chickering  piano?” or “Do you have any information on my grandfather who worked for Western Union in 19??” are often fielded by knowledgeable AC volunteers who have been working with the Archives Center collections for a number of years.  We have had the good fortune to find those who have had previous careers as reference professionals to assist in our program.  AC volunteers also have a love of history, and occasionally bring to the attention of the Archives Center staff other lovers of history who have potential collections.

New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad Company pass for C.H. Summers, 1898.
Western Union Telegraph Co. Records, Archives Center
On Friday, September 14, the Archives Center hosted a “Please Come Back” party for volunteers who have worked with the program for the last five years.  As a result of the Museum’s West Wing Renovation, The Archives Center’s reading room, offices, and collections are being moved to temporary spaces to make way for the work that needs to be accomplished.  As these quarters will accommodate little or no processing space, the Center has regretfully put its volunteer program on hiatus for the renovation project’s duration.  The party was attended by a number of volunteers and alumni, Archives Center staff, SI NMAH management, and SI Volunteer Services staff.  Volunteers socialized, were feted, and were roundly thanked by all in attendance.  And they had an opportunity to let us know how much they enjoyed working with the AC staff.
Archives Center volunteers, September 14, 2012.
Front row, left to right: Marian Tatum-Webb, Ramona Williamson, Ronald Fett.
Back row: Nancy Beardsley, Theresa Worden, Cooby Greenway, David Weisz, Doug Stephany, Erin Molloy,
Marcia Rodwin, Anne Jones, Dr. Theodore Hudson, David Peterson.
Not present: Christine Windheuser, Dr. Jeffrey Fearing, Richard Green.

So “What are hidden treasures,” you ask?   I would answer: SI NMAH AC “Behind- the- Scenes” volunteers.  We would do a lot less work without their help and they will be sorely missed during the coming months.

Deborra Richardson, Chair
Archives Center
Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month-long blogathon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.


Monday, October 1, 2012

October is American Archives Month!

The stacks in the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections. Photograph by Stephanie Smith.
Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blogathon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

Happy American Archives Month, dear readers, and welcome to the Smithsonian Collections Blog third annual blogathon! You can look forward to posts every day in October by archivists, librarians, interns, and researchers from all across the Smithsonian.

This year's theme is Revealing Hidden Treasures, so you can look forward to posts about weird and wonderful finds from our collections, how we as archivists, librarians, interns and volunteers make these finds accessible to our researchers, and how our researchers make these treasures come alive.

Want to celebrate American Archives Month with us? Start a conversation in the comments, ask a question during the online Q & A on the Smithsonian's Facebook page on Wednesday, October 17th from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, or come see us in person! The 2012 Archives Fair will take place on Friday, October 19th, at the S. Dillon Ripley Center right off the National Mall. Check out a lecture or film, or make an appointment to participate in our Ask-the-Smithsonian event, where you can consult with experts including archivists, conservators and librarians on how to better care for your own archives-worthy items.

See you tomorrow!

Monday, February 27, 2012

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.

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

Monday, October 17, 2011

Five Years as a Photograph Archivist

Yesterday marked my 5th year anniversary working as a Smithsonian photo archivist. My love affair with photographs started at a much younger age, though. As a kid, my family’s photo albums were like treasure chests for me. I spent hours digging through photos and discovered many priceless images of my relatives, summer vacations, and birthday parties. I studied each print to such an extent that if I closed my eyes I could still describe every detail of it. I was also a big fan of slideshows. My father regularly attached a white sheet to the living room wall and projected our family photos so that they appeared larger than life. I loved running up to the wall and letting the beautiful and vibrant colors engulf me until I became part of the image, too.

At this early age, I was quite vocal about photo preservation and research too. I was known to yell at anyone who got fingerprints on the images. And I would always pepper my parents with questions like: Who’s that? When and where was this photo taken? Why does that person have such a funny hairdo?

As a professional photo archivist, I ask many of the same questions when working with images at the Smithsonian Institution. I always try to figure out and document the ‘who, what, where, when, and why’ of a photo. I’m still a great proponent of preserving and properly handling images (no fingerprints please!), but also take the time to examine and enjoy the beauty of each image itself. So, in short, my passion for photographs has not diminished. 

In honor of my 5 years at the Smithsonian and my lifelong affair with photographs, I share with you images I recently discovered in the Peter A. Juley & Son Collection that I manage at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. These photos give me the same thrill I felt as a child looking through family photos.

I love mistakes in photos. A finger in the frame or the blur caused by someone turning their head always makes a photo more interesting. Something about imperfection in the photo can make the moment captured seem unique and authentic.

This photograph of painter Ruth G. Durlacher working outdoors is imperfect in a different way, and yet, I find it so beautifully perfect. The image is a copy print, i.e. a photograph of a photograph. When Juley photographed this existing image, he did not line it up properly within the camera’s frame and so the inner image is crooked. The composition of the inner photo, as well as the repeating rectangles in both images reminds me of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I feel like I’m peering into another, slightly skewed and artistic world. 

I find beauty in deterioration. I can hear the collective gasp from my fellow archivists across the world. Of course, I’m not advocating for folks to purposely let their collections deteriorate. What I mean is that there can be beauty in deterioration that has already happened. Like a beautiful patina on an old brass statue, photographs with deterioration show the age of the object and the journey it has traveled. 

This B&W negative of painter Francis Vandeveer Kughler suffered from deterioration before the Smithsonian American Art Museum acquired it in 1975. The lines resembling a spider web are what’s called ‘channeling’ and it usually occurs when film negatives have been exposed over a period of time to a high and often fluctuating temperature and relative humidity.

On the flip side to deterioration, I love well preserved photographs as well as the act of preserving them. In order to combat deterioration as described above, there are a variety of steps that photo archivists take to ensure the longevity of images, including rehousing images in archival enclosures, controlling light, and maintaining an appropriate storage climate. For film and color based photographic materials, it’s usually recommended to keep images in cold storage. ‘How cold?,’ you ask?

Me bundled up and shivering while working in cold storage.
This Cold! Temperature gauge I photographed while in a cold storage facility.

Despite my dislike of cold temperatures, I have always enjoyed working in the cold room at the National Museum of the American Indian. Even though I usually couldn’t feel my fingers after a few minutes, I knew that my actions were helping preserve the images so that others in the future may enjoy them as well. I have to admit, I also enjoyed the strange looks I would get from coworkers when I would walk down the hall in the middle of July with my thick winter coat, hat, scarf, and gloves.

This Juley photograph of French painter Bernard Boutet de Monvel shows what cold storage can do to help preserve film materials. The image is in such good condition, that it looks like it could have been shot yesterday. I love the stripes in his outfit contrasted with the lines of the building behind him.

While I know that five years isn't that long and that I can still be considered a newbie in the profession, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working with photographs at the Smithsonian. I’ve seen many incredible photographs in person and through the SI Collections Search. I have learned so much and I hope I never stop learning.

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

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,

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.

-AurĂ©lie Beatley, Intern, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections