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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Farewell to American Archives Month 2018

As the American Archives Month blog-a-thon comes to end on this Halloween Day, we want to send a thank you to everyone who participated. We hope you enjoyed learning about the work we do as archivists, librarians, and museum professionals and about the Smithsonian’s vast collections and online resources. This year we explored stories highlighting voting rights, the Spanish Flu, pioneering women photographers, a princess and so much more! To read all the stories from this year’s blog-a-thon, click on the 2018 Archives Month tag.

Stay tuned to this blog as we celebrate Native American Heritage Month in November!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Representing and Misrepresenting Native Americans in Archival Collections

The bulk of historical materials contained in Native American archival collections were not created by Native peoples. Perhaps this is obvious. Historic photographs, anthropological field-notes, ethnological films – these materials were by and large created by non-Native Americans, and thus preserve a non-Native rather than a Native voice. While not necessarily nefarious or ill-intentioned on the part of the creator(s), such representations or misrepresentations prove themselves to be not only inaccurate but also ever-present in the historical record.

Indianer, German Advertising Trade Cards collection, NMAI.AC.288, 288_001_001_005

Indianer, German Advertising Trade Cards collection, NMAI.AC.288, 288_001_001_005

These representations include stereotypes of the “noble savage” or “vanishing Indian” variety, which romanticize a fictionalized portrayal of Native American cultures. What these images reveal are how non-Native peoples chose to represent or misrepresent the lives, cultures, and histories of the Native peoples of the Americas. In other words, these nineteenth- and twentieth-century portrayals reveal not only how non-Native communities viewed indigenous peoples, but also how non-Native peoples viewed themselves and their colonial past.

Straight Arrow “Injun-uity” Manual, Douglas E. Evelyn photograph and ephemera collection, NMAI.AC.226, 226_pht_001_001

This argument about how non-Indians have imagined, represented, and appropriated Indian identity is hardly new. Native and non-Native scholars have written about the subject for years, with a few of the better known works including Robert Berkhofer’s The White Man’s Indian, Philip Deloria’s Playing Indian, and Shari Huhndorf’s Going Native. In fact, the recent AMERICANS exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) delves into similar ground of American Indian identity and its pervasiveness within the context of broader American pop culture and history.

Straight Arrow “Injun-uity” Index,
Douglas E. Evelyn photograph and ephemera collection, NMAI.AC.226, 226_pht_001_002

Among the NMAI Archive Center collections, a few more recent acquisitions which portray these romanticized images are the Dale Jenkins postcard and photograph collection, the Douglas E. Evelyn photograph and ephemera collection, and the German Advertising Trade Cards collection. A shared theme in these collections is the use of romanticized portrayals of Native Americans in order to sell products as diverse as NABISCO Shredded Wheat throughout the United States, or to market condensed milk, chocolate, and pralines in Germany and across Europe.

Kriegführung Bei Wilden Völkern,
German Advertising Trade Cards collection, NMAI.AC.288, 288_001_002_001

Kriegführung Bei Wilden Völkern (verso),
German Advertising Trade Cards collection, NMAI.AC.288, 288_001_002_001v

Reshaping the image of Native Americans was not relegated solely to anthropologists or marketing firms, however. Along similar lines are also representations of Native American school children required to attend government boarding schools. Through coerced assimilation and forced abandonment of Native cultures and languages, the U.S. federal government attempted to reshape the appearance and mind-set of American Indian children. Such images and misrepresentations, while problematic to say the least, are also important in showing how non-Native peoples romanticized, mythologized, and attempted to reshape Native peoples.
Entrance to Indian Training School, Chemawa, near Salem, Oregon, Dale Jenkins postcard and photograph collection, NMAI.AC.069, 069_pht_001_002

Girl Basket-Ball Squad, U.S. Indian School, Chilocco, Oklahoma. Seven tribes represented, Dale Jenkins postcard and photograph collection, NMAI.AC.069, 069_pht_002_005

Indian School, Parade Grounds and Buildings, Carlisle, PA, Dale Jenkins postcard and photograph collection, NMAI.AC.069, 069_pht_001_003

Fortunately, since becoming part of the Smithsonian Institution in 1989, the NMAI Archive Center has actively sought to acquire, preserve, and make accessible archival materials created by Native peoples which represent contemporary Native voices. With the addition of records documenting the lives and works of Native American artists, writers, activists, and organizations, the NMAI is seeking to both complement and balance these earlier representations and misrepresentations of the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere.

Nathan Sowry, Reference Archivist
National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center

Friday, October 26, 2018

Voting Rights and Archives Center Collections

The fraught history of Southern states denying African Americans the right to vote, a right guaranteed by the 15th Amendment, was a practice that extended through the first half of the 20th century. Southern states, through the passage of Jim Crow laws, legalized various forms of voter discrimination. A poll tax, a literacy test, and, ironically, moral character tests served as examples. The Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 were the first laws that promoted the rights of African-Americans since the end of Reconstruction. While the former expanded the Justice Department by creating the Civil Rights Division and the Commission on Civil Rights, the latter protected African Americans from voter disenfranchisement in local municipalities and included a congressional provision that authorized the federal courts to appoint “referees” in areas where discrimination took place. However, voter turnout showed little to no variance during this time and demonstrated the power of local election officials to discriminate against minority voters.

The work that went into the fight against the forces of voter suppression is well documented in several Archives Center collections. The Afro Americana series of the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana includes extensive materials from the years 1961-1964. The work behind Freedom Summer, otherwise known as the Mississippi Summer Project (MSP), began in late spring of ‘64. The objectives of MSP involved galvanizing local support by lobbying the state government to ensure full voting rights for African Americans. The project put forth plans spearheaded by the Council of Federated Organizations and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC.) Such materials include “The Battle for Civil Rights Negro Representation Now,” a magazine distributed by the American Labor Party headquarters, along with copies of the “Student Voice,” which showcased the moment college students from elite universities bused themselves to Mississippi to staff educational programs at places that became known as Freedom Schools.

This is not the only collection that illuminates the struggles of African-Americans in the 20th Century. The portfolio Photographs of Stephen Somerstein / 1965 Selma to Montgomery March documented the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in the spring of 1965. The collection includes photographs that document everyone from Martin Luther King to John Lewis, the head of SNCC. Some photographs show the eclectic mix of marchers walking side by side while other snapshots depict families sitting on their porch watching the passersby. The collection features a rare photograph of Martin Luther King addressing twenty-five thousand marchers before the Alabama State Capitol building in Montgomery.

Stephen Somerstein, photographer. "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking behind a sea of microphones... March 25, 2965." Silver gelatin print." Gift of the artist.
NMAH Archives Center, AC1300-0000001.

Lastly, the work of photographer Bob Adelman, as it appears in the Bob Adelman Civil Rights Photographs, are works that span the entirety of the civil rights movement. Some of his most powerful pictures include a boy in school while a portrait of Lincoln hangs above. While the symbolism might speak for itself, it shows how Lincoln’s legacy looms large, casting a shadow over ongoing battles. Another shows a black man leaving a “Whites Only” restroom, suggesting that, for some, the best way to protest segregation is through personal integration, illuminating the strides made by individuals to combat state-sanctioned discrimination. Perhaps the most striking photograph of the group depicts a black man filling out a ballot card in the spring of 1966, just a year after Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. In it, his hand is vividly exposed as he draws an ‘x’ next to each of his chosen candidates.

Bob Adelman, photographer. Silver gelatin print, untitled, 1960s.
Gift of Jae Brown. NMAH Archives Center, AC1438-0000015-2.

Bob Adelman, photographer. Silver gelatin print, untitled, 1960s.
Gift of Jae Brown. NMAH Archives Center, AC1438-0000013.
All three of these collections teach us how the African-American right to vote was contested, not a given. The way this right was earned and how the struggles are remembered now have renewed relevance. Recent threats to the voting rights act challenge us to reacquaint ourselves with the past in order to better confront the present.

Isaac Simon, Intern
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Flashback Friday: Behind the Scenes at the Cultural Resources Center

Smithsonian Institution Archives, image number 2003-37857. 
Family Day at the National Museum of the American Indian, Cultural Resources Center, October 25, 2003. Visitors tour the center and view the collection storage area for baskets and other artifacts. The Cultural Resources Center is designed to house the museum's collections in a manner that is sensitive to both tribal and museum requirements for access and preservation. It also serves as a vital resource center for new approaches to the study and presentation of the history and culture of Native peoples. 

Lisa Fthenakis, Program Assistant

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Adventures in Description and Discovery: Who was Miss Mix?

Smithsonian Libraries was digitizing a book to make available online. While reviewing the book’s description (the MARC encoded catalog record) to check for any errors, a question came up about the author. The mystery related to her authorship of the natural sciences text, when everything else by the same author seemed to relate to music. Was it the same Miss Mix?
Image of Jennie Irene Mix from page 343 of Broadcast Radio, volume 7. Source: Internet Archive
The book in question was Mighty animals; being short talks about some of the animals which lived on this earth before man appeared. It primarily discusses dinosaurs and uses colorful language, photographs and illustrations to appeal to young readers. The illustrations, as seen below, are dramatic. According to the author’s obituary in Radio Broadcast, the text was also used as a supplementary reader in public and private schools. The Director of the American Museum of Natural History, Dr. Frederic Lucas, wrote the introduction.  He commented:
…It is a very interesting history, “for there were giants in those days of old” and Miss Mix tells us how they swam through the seas, splashed through the marshes, and tramped over the hills of the ancient world. More than this, Miss Mix shows us how they looked, these strange beasts that lived in a time when there was no human being to look at them.
He ended the introduction with a warning to save the few animals we have now, for “there may be no Miss Mix to tell about them” in the future. But who was Miss Mix?

Her writing is easy to find, but her biographical details are not. It required more research that usual to discover Miss Mix’s basic information. I went down a rabbit hole, deciding that Miss Mix was giving me an opportunity. She did not have a name authority record in several of the emerging and existing systems we work with at the Smithsonian. I decided to complete my research and create records in some of the systems.
“How a dinosaur was buried in the rock” [page 31 and page 43] from Might Animals. Source: Biodiversity Heritage Library.
Researching Miss Mix
I began my research with a Google search, and learned that Miss Mix was involved in numerous areas of mass media, including radio in the 1920s. She was a trained classical pianist, worked as a music critic for the Toledo Times and Pittsburgh Post, was an editor of the Radio Broadcast (Magazine), and a radio critic. She also penned a novel, At Fame's Gateway; the Romance of a Pianiste. She has been quoted in some more recent publications, relating to women in journalism and early radio broadcasting. They are clues to a fascinating life. Beyond these professional details, her personal history is surprisingly hard to track down.

For someone so visible professionally, why was there so little personally? No Wikipedia page? It felt like there was a story to reveal. I next learned that she was likely born during the Civil War, worked at the dawn of radio until her death at age 63. In order to confirm basic details like birth and death information, I searched Ancestry Library Edition and found seemingly confusing results: a Jennie Irene Mix born circa 1862, 1872, and 1882. It appears at some point she decided not to age past 40; in the 1910 and 1920 census, she listed her occupations as journalist and music critic but listed “40 years old” as her age, decades apart. Through Find a Grave, an online database of cemetery records, I confirmed birth and death years for her, 1862 – 1925. Additional online searching uncovered she was born in Cleveland, Ohio. One year after becoming editor of the Radio Broadcast (Magazine), she passed away in 1925. It appears she never married.
Cover of Broadcast Radio, volume 7. Source: Internet Archive.

Creating records for Miss Mix
First, I created a Library of Congress Name Authority record for her; each piece of information in the record must be cited. This made it very easy to re-purpose the information to create records for her in other platforms like…

Smithsonian units have been involved in Wikipedia for several years now, hosting Wikipediathons to improve the quality of information in the online source. Miss Mix did not have a page, so I learned how create a stub biographical page.

Though Wikidata has only been around six years, it has been working quickly to develop relationships with institutions like the Smithsonian, to test out and strengthen its data and organization. Institutions are studying its structure as they look at ways to manage collection description as Linked Data. I created a Wikidata record for Miss Mix.

VIAF is a project managed by Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) which aggregates name authority records from institutions around the world, including Library of Congress. VIAF is particularly appealing because it creates a “name cluster” with multiple variations of a name, assigned to an Identifier. Records from institution contributors are ingested weekly, but the process of ingesting and quality control with existing records can take varying amounts of time. Through Miss Mix, I began to understand how long this process could take.

Smithsonian is one of several institutions that are involved in the formation of a new archival name authority called the Social Networks and Archival Context. I edited an existing record for her in SNAC.

According to Miss Mix’s obituary in Radio Broadcast:
A woman of striking personality, Miss Mix had a peculiar talent for transferring her personal charm to her work, which was one reason for her great popularity with the readers of RADIO BROADCAST. It is interesting. To note, also that, in the newspapers, her writings were almost as widely quoted as those of Professor Morecroft in 'the March of Radio.'
I look forward to seeing who else might be intrigued and document more about Miss Mix.

Interested in Learning More? 
Here are some resources:

Lesley Parilla, Cataloging and Bibliographic Access Librarian

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Spanish Flu

This year marks the 100 year anniversary of the World War I armistice. While many will remember this year as the end of the First World War, many may not realize that this is also the centennial anniversary of something much deadlier than the Great War itself. This killer did not come in the form of a bullet, bomb or chemical weapon, but appeared at first as a simple flu virus. A century later, we can find testimonies from the people who directly witnessed this virus’s destruction.

Leo Baekeland, inventor of the first commercialized plastic, known as Bakelite, personally saw the virus in action. He wrote almost daily about life in 1918 and the end of the war in his diaries, which are part of the Leo H. Baekeland Papers in the Archives Center, National Museum of American History. He also made many entries revealing that some of his close friends were becoming severely sick from what he thought was just only the every-day flu virus. In his diary entry dated October 24th, Baekeland wrote, “Albert sick with influenza.” Baekeland’s November 3rd entry stated, “Albert and children better and out of bed, but now (his) wife is sick with pneumonia,” and by November 10th, Baekeland recorded, “Albert’s wife is dead.” A week after Albert’s wife died, Baekeland wrote that his maid, “Katie is buried this morning.” The severity of this flu virus must have become jarringly evident to Leo when he wrote, “From five who had influenza, two deaths!” But this was no average flu season.

Leo Baekeland’s diary entry explaining that he had lost two friends to the flu. Volume 25, pages 158-159, Baekeland’s personal diaries, Leo Baekeland Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.  Image #AC0005-D25-083.

This epidemic, better known as the Spanish Flu, became a pandemic viral outbreak that struck almost every corner of the world.  While World War I appeared to have brought the world to its knees in human costs, the losses the war brought paled in comparison to the toll the Spanish flu took, especially on the healthiest of the populations.

Most victims of influenza are of the youngest, oldest or most physically vulnerable groups, but this was not the case with the Spanish flu. This type of influenza began as a bird virus and for reasons unknown, mutated into something very different, making the jump from infecting birds to infecting humans. What made this virus so devastating was how it attacked the body. Unlike other viruses, the symptoms of the Spanish flu included nosebleeds, explosive hemorrhaging, air hunger and cyanosis (skin turning blue or black from lack of oxygen). In many cases, people literally suffocated to death. The Spanish flu further differed from other flu viruses in that it turned the autoimmune system into a weapon against the body; the stronger your immune system, the stronger the virus’s attack.  This is why over fifty percent of the deaths were of the healthiest people, ranging from 20 to 40 years old.

Leo Baekeland’s diary entry detailing the need for oxygen tanks for his sick friend’s wife. Volume 25, page 148, Baekeland’s personal diaries, Leo Baekeland Papers, Archives Center, National Museum of American History. Image #AC0005-D25-078.
The world being at war also helped vault this flu from an epidemic into a pandemic. It is believed to have started in the United States in the spring of 1918 and it quickly spread throughout the world with U.S. troop movements and deployments. As American military soldiers deployed to the war zones, they brought the virus wherever they went. Six months later, with the end of the war in the fall of that year, American and foreign soldiers returned back to their homelands, taking the virus from the battlefield to the home front. This created a perfect recipe for a pandemic disaster.

The legacy of World War I left a devastating impact, but the Spanish Flu would soon dwarf the war’s casualty count. Approximately 20 million people died as result of World War I, but the Spanish flu claimed fifty to possibly as many as 100 million lives. The continual national and international movement of troops only fueled the impact of the virus’s impact on a pandemic scale like no other flu in modern times. So as we remember the centennial of the end of World War I, we should note this is also the anniversary of one of the worst viral outbreaks of the modern age.

Joe Hursey, Reference Archivist,
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Pioneering Women Photographers in Africa, 1930s-1970s

We are excited to announce a major project the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, is starting: In support of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, we will be digitizing and describing 14 collections created by women photographers in Africa! All of the women photographers were trailblazers in their respective fields and professions – art, anthropology, architecture, art history, geography, photojournalism, travel – and used photography as a tool for documentation, ethnographic field research, or ‘salvage photography’ to produce fleeting glimpses of what were perceived as rapidly ‘vanishing’ cultures and ways of life. These women exercised different cultural and social sensitivities when it came to photographing indigenous peoples in local and domestic settings.

These photographic collections include field expeditions by Marie Louis Bastin (Angola); Constance Stuart Larrabee (South Africa); Barbara Blackmun (Benin, Nigeria); Jean Borgatti (Northern Nigeria); Christraud Geary (Cameroon, Senegal); Marilyn Heldman (Ethiopia, Nigeria); Marilyn Houlberg (Nigeria, Haiti); Aylette Jenness (Northern Nigeria); Natalie Knight and Suzanne Priebatsch (South Africa) Betty LaDuke (Ethiopia, Eritrea); Lynn McLaren (Kenya, Tanzania); Eva Meyerowitz (Republic of Benin; Ghana); Marvin Breckinridge Patterson (Cape Town to Cairo trip); and Marli Shamir (Djenne and Timbuktu, Mali). Through the cataloging of these collections, we hope to inform the narrative of women’s history, address historical gaps in African photography, and advance dialogues about gender, power relations, and other understudied but crucial topics.

Each month we will feature a different woman from the project. Stay tuned – in November we will explore the life and photographs of Constance Stuart Larrabee!

Constance Stuart Larrabee and friend photographing among Ndebele women, 
near Pretoria, South Africa, 1936

Eden Orelove, Photo Archivist
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art