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Monday, July 2, 2018

Increasing Central and South American Archival Collections at the NMAI, and Fulfilling the Museum’s Original Mission

Meeting Minutes from its opening year in 1916 record that the Museum of the American Indian’s founding mission was “the collection, preservation, study and exhibition of all things connected with the anthropology of the aboriginal peoples of North, South and Central Americas.” The following century brought with it many changes to the original museum, including its incorporation into the Smithsonian, its expansion from locations not just in New York but also in Washington, DC and Suitland, Maryland, and a re-wording of the original mission statement that was more inclusive of contemporary Native Americans. Throughout all of that time, however, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) has remained steadfast in its goal of advancing knowledge and understanding of the Native cultures of the Western Hemisphere.

MAI, Heye Foundation Meeting Minutes, 1916. Museum of the American Indian/Heye Foundation Records,
Box 99 Folder 1; National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.

Aiding this goal are individual donors such as G. Gage Skinner who recently gifted to the NMAI’s Archive Center a collection of 260 photographic slides and 1 audio cassette documenting his volunteer service and travels throughout South America.

Young Mapuche woman in traditional dress, Chile. Photograph by G. Gage Skinner, 1964.
G. Gage Skinner Collection, NMAI.AC.116, 116_001_005_011.  

Ricardo Antileo and family, Chile. Photograph by G. Gage Skinner, 1964.
G. Gage Skinner Collection, NMAI.AC.116, 116_001_006_007.

Traveling to Chile in 1964, G. Gage Skinner began his service as a Peace Corps volunteer focusing on rural community development, specifically working with the indigenous Mapuche peoples of the Araucanía Region. As President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps only three years prior in 1961, Skinner was among the earliest of Peace Corps volunteers in Chile. Serving from 1964 to 1966, he was instrumental in developing a local beekeeping project as well as a marketing venture to promote the sale of Mapuche-made arts and crafts, with the proceeds returning to the Native communities of the area. Throughout his volunteer service, Skinner documented the daily lives of Mapuche villagers, their homes, ceremonies, and land, and was even invited to attend, photograph, and record a Mapuche Nguillatún ceremony, or annual harvest celebration and festival.

Mapuche men playing chueca, Chile. Photographs by G. Gage Skinner, 1965.
 G. Gage Skinner Collection, NMAI.AC.116, 116_001_005_001.

Mapuche men playing chueca, Chile. Photographs by G. Gage Skinner, 1965.
G. Gage Skinner Collection, NMAI.AC.116, 116_001_005_020

Returning to South America in 1972, Skinner took part in a mountain climbing party through the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range in Colombia. While there, Skinner again documented the lives of the indigenous peoples of the area, including principally the Ika (Ica/Arhuaco) and the Kogi (Kagaba). Particular focus in his photographs was given to Native dwellings and architecture, trade, weaving, and daily village life.

Landscape view of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia. Photograph by G. Gage Skinner, 1972. 
 G. Gage Skinner Collection, NMAI.AC.116, 116_001_009_011

Ika (Ica/Arhuaco) man with accordion and family. Photograph by G. Gage Skinner, 1972.
G. Gage Skinner Collection, NMAI.AC.116, 116_001_014_005.

Ika (Ica/Arhuaco) woman and child. Photograph by G. Gage Skinner, 1972.
G. Gage Skinner Collection, NMAI.AC.116, 116_001_014_001.

The Archive Center at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian is delighted to receive and make accessible these images which document the lives of Native communities across South America. The 260 photographic slides in the G. Gage Skinner Collection serve to complement and broaden the museum’s growing archival and object collections which highlight the rich and varied histories and cultures of the peoples of the Western Hemisphere.

Examples of other NMAI Archive Center collections which document the Native peoples of Central and South America include the Elayne Zorn Collection, the Gertrude Litto Collection, and the June Alice Spencer Photograph Collection. Many more archival collections relating to Central and South America also exist in the collections, and are currently being processed and digitized by the NMAI Archive Center staff, so please check back often to see how the collections have grown and become more accessible. Finally, you are always welcome to read more about these collections here on the Smithsonian Collections Blog (including recent posts on the Elayne Zorn collection), and to conduct your own searches for similar archival collections via the publicly-accessible Smithsonian Collections Search Center website and the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives (SOVA).

Nathan Sowry, Reference Archivist, NMAI Archive Center

Monday, June 25, 2018

NMAH Tuesday Colloquia: From Research Products To Research Resources

Like many Smithsonian employees, I wear several different hats. Officially the curator of photography and an archivist in the National Museum of American History Archives Center, I also serve as the coordinator of the (nearly) weekly NMAH Tuesday Colloquium. This is a series of lectures, normally presented on Tuesday afternoons, in which speakers give presentations based on their research. Our emphasis is on programs by Smithsonian research fellows and staff, although many “outside” speakers have lectured over the years as well. I have been the colloquium coordinator for over fourteen years, and Roger Sherman, curator of modern physics, has served as co-coordinator nearly as long. We have sought out speakers and arranged, scheduled, publicized, and facilitated well over six hundred presentations.

It’s hard to believe that many colloquium speakers at the beginning of our tenure were still illustrating their talks with 35mm slides in Kodak Carousel projectors and even “overhead” projectors utilizing acetate transparencies. Nowadays most speakers rely on PowerPoint files, of course. I admit that I miss the relative simplicity of the Carousel. While I always worried that a projector bulb might burn out in the middle of a program, there are more things that can go wrong with computers and digital projectors. We have had interoperability problems between the computer and projector, and once we found that a prior user of our borrowed laptop had managed to delete the entire Windows suite (by accident, I trust), requiring a last-minute search for another computer. When Prof. Johann Neem spoke about the history of American education a few weeks ago, I was delighted that he simply read a paper and used no visuals, for a change.

Paul Forman at the 2007 History of Science Society meeting.
The series is now nearly four decades old. In a phone conversation, Dr. Paul Forman, NMAH curator emeritus of physics, told Roger that he founded the series in an effort to raise the intellectual tone of the Museum and was its first coordinator, around the time that the Museum of History and Technology became the National Museum of American History in 1980. Subsequent coordinators of these colloquia included curators Deborah Warner, Larry Bird, Patricia Gossell, and Peggy Kidwell. According to Forman, information about the founding and early years of the Tuesday Colloquium can be found among his papers in the Smithsonian Institution Archives—which I plan to consult, as I’m interested in maintaining the legacy of the program and making its recent and future records available for research access. I hope the Forman papers and my continuing compilation may themselves serve as sources for research into Smithsonian history. Forman’s interest in the scholarly side of the Museum can also be seen in a poster which he produced for an Institution-wide program entitled “What About Increase?” In this program “researchers of all stripes had sessions at the zoo discussing the role of primary research at SI, and we searched for commonalities across bureau lines, [including] paper sessions, poster sessions, breakouts,” according to Dr. David DeVorkin of NASM, who is seeking a repository for a poster produced by Forman, “Knowledge Production & Presentation in Postmodernity,” which had resided in his NASM office until recently.

Poster by Paul Forman, ca. 1990s. Courtesy David DeVorkin.
Although I make the scheduling decisions, I see the colloquium program as a collaborative endeavor. I rely on fellowship offices to advise me of new Smithsonian fellows and their schedules. Roger Sherman is always on the alert for colleagues with interesting research projects, and other curators frequently offer suggestions. I always hope that curatorial advisors for fellows will encourage them to sign up to give a colloquium and present the fruits of their research, although sometimes I arrange hunting expeditions. Many fellows would agree that an opportunity to present a paper based on their research, regardless of its current state, can be an invaluable opportunity to receive feedback and suggestions. Attendees often consider a lively Q & A session after a talk to be the best part of the program.

Smithsonian fellows in the sciences, arts, history, and other disciplines are the heart of the Tuesday Colloquia, which are attended by Smithsonian staff and non-Smithsonian colleagues who have asked to be added to our email groups. Some attendees are intrigued by a speaker’s topic, while others are interested in seeing how our collections are utilized in research. Some fellows study “three-dimensional” collection objects, some explore documents and images in Smithsonian archival repositories, and others utilize SI Libraries resources, including rare books and manuscripts. Recent speakers at NMAH Tuesday Colloquia include the following:

Sean Young, a Dibner Fellow, SI Libraries, spoke on “The Art of Signs: Symbolic Notation and Visual Thinking in Early Modern Science,” utilizing rare books in the Dibner Library at NMAH. Anastasia Day spoke on Victory Gardens, studying Archives Center and SI Libraries collections. Al Coppola, Dibner Library Resident Scholar, spoke on “Enlightenment Microscopy,” based partly on rare books in the Dibner Library and consultation with Curator Deborah Warner. Charnan Williams spoke about her study of an African American family living in the West, from the Archives Center’s Bridgewater Family Papers. Emily Voelker, for whom I was a co-advisor, spoke on “Roland Bonaparte’s Photographic Encounters with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in Paris,” based on exciting field research and interviews, plus photographic collections in Paris, the NMAH Photographic History Collection, and the NMNH Anthropological Archives.

Emily Voelker, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow 2017,
National Portrait Gallery and NMAH (colloquium Dec. 5, 2017).
NMAH and other SI staff often speak as well, receiving curatorial credit for presentations. Peter Liebhold, Curator in the Division of Work and Industry, illustrated his talk, “Work Incentives: Posters, Pins, and Perks,” with images of artifacts from his division and posters from the Archives Center. Dr. Frank Blazich, NMAH Curator of Military History, edited a book and spoke about the experiences of a World War II prisoner of war, based on the P.O.W.’s memoirs.

Although colloquia based on research in Smithsonian collections, especially at NMAH, are intended as the core of our program, we also include lectures which are not Smithsonian collections-based, yet represent topics of interest to the Smithsonian community. I have tried to resist pressure from outside publicists who think a Smithsonian stop on an author’s book tour, including a book-signing, would be prestigious and/or lucrative. Since the colloquia are considered “staff” rather than “public” events, outside authors and their publishers may be disappointed to find that a lecture and/or book-signing is not listed on public Smithsonian web pages. I think the essential rationale is that our programs are not vetted and approved in advance by either the Museum’s public affairs office or the Director’s office. John Gray, our recently retired Director, has been an enthusiastic fan of the Tuesday Colloquium, which he frequently attended; he often gave me positive comments and compliments in person and by email, and was certainly our most supportive director since I have been the coordinator. However, he never had an opportunity to approve our colloquia in advance, so it would be inappropriate or premature to make these events “public” and list them on the website.

For example, Hallie Lieberman, now famous for her new book Buzz, was a pre-doctoral Lemelson Fellow in 2012; a major portion of her dissertation research on the history of sex toys was conducted in the Archives Center, amply demonstrating that our renowned Warshaw Collection of Business Americana contains something for every scholar. She also studied objects in the Museum’s Medicine and Science collections. She presented a colloquium on her research entitled “Every Woman Her Own Husband: Why Technological Innovation Leads to Sex Toy Innovation,” which was unusually well-attended despite the August heat.  I suspect that her illustrated lecture would not have been endorsed or advertised by the Museum as a “public” presentation—at least, not without a conversation regarding risk assessment.

Hallie Lieberman (Lemelson Center Fellow, 2012), doing dissertation research in the collections of the NMAH Archives Center: Colloquium Aug. 3, 2012. Photograph by Alison Oswald.
Nevertheless, speakers and staff often invite friends and family to attend colloquia, and members of our email groups pass information to other non-Smithsonian colleagues, and we welcome them. We’re happy to add anyone to our email lists, even though their attendance can create logistical problems when the venue is the East Conference Room on the restricted fourth floor. If you wish to be added to my e-mail groups, please contact me at

I maintain in my office a file of publicity flyers and related information generated by the colloquium program, including biographical information, abstracts, and some complete papers, and I plan to offer these files to the SI Archives eventually. Records of the colloquium program were not maintained systematically by my predecessors, but I think they should be collected and made available for research themselves as a partial record of the intellectual life of NMAH and the SI in general. Years ago Rick Luhrs, the supervisor of the NMAH Technology Services Center, remarked that it was a “shame” that we didn’t produce and preserve audio or video recordings of all colloquia for posterity, but establishing a sustainable procedure to do so has been an elusive goal. For a brief period an education office staff member made sound recordings of our programs to use in podcasts, plus several video recordings, but this initiative ended when he left the Museum for another job. Things looked promising with the opening of the high-tech S.C. Johnson Conference Center in NMAH, since the room has built-in cameras and equipment to facilitate digital video recording. I succeeded in recording two presentations, but the results were technically poor. However, I’m happy to report that there is a new initiative to improve the space, and I believe we’ll be able to obtain high-quality digital video-recordings in the near future. Many NMAH Tuesday Colloquia over the years have been based on research utilizing Smithsonian resources, including artifact collections and archives. I hope to preserve at least a partial but growing archive of the NMAH Tuesday Colloquium’s history, for the use of researchers studying the intellectual life of the Smithsonian. These records of programs given by staff, fellows, and non-Smithsonian scholars reflect the depth and variety of research conducted at the Institution, and its collections and activities. Eventually the paper documentation will be supplemented with digital recordings of our speakers in action. I’m certainly not the first Smithsonian program impresario to envision such an archive: the NMAH Archives Center itself acquired video-recordings of the Museum’s Lemelson Center programs for years (see this example), although they’re currently transferred to the SI Archives, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum regularly records fellows’ lectures and makes them available online.

David Haberstich
Curator of Photography
NMAH Archives Center

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Year-in-Review: The Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki Papers and Artifacts Project

Year one of the Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki Papers and Artifacts Project is nearly complete!

Ralph Solecki’s personal trowel.  Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

As you may recall from a previous, poetic post (Collection in Process: A Poem from the Ralph and Rose Solecki Papers), Ralph and Rose Solecki are paleoarchaeologists most famous for their excavations in the Near East, including the Shanidar Cave site in northern Iraq. During their excavations in the 1950s and 1960s, they uncovered the remains of nine Neanderthal individuals as well as a cemetery of twenty-six human burials dated to the 9th millennium BCE, just before the emergence of agriculture in the Near East [1, 2, 3].

Ralph Solecki’s field notebook entry from April 26th, 1957 describing the discovery of the Shanidar I Neanderthal, nicknamed “Nandy.” The Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki papers. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

In 2016, the Smithsonian’s Department of Anthropology acquired the Soleckis’ personal papers as well as artifact collections including lithics, or stone tools, and other materials collected during their excavations. Funded by a grant from the Smithsonian's Collections Care and Preservation Fund, the first phase of the project began in the summer of 2017 with the processing of the archival papers. Comprising of nearly 35 cubic feet, the collection includes field notes, photographs, film, maps, illustrations, and more. I was tasked with rehousing, arranging, describing, and ultimately creating a finding aid for the Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki papers.

Ralph and Rose Solecki examining artifacts from Shanidar Cave at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, Iraq, 1966. Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki papers. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

In January 2018, National Anthropological Archives staff visited the Soleckis again in order to acquire additional material. This new accession has added approximately 50 more boxes of material as well as archaeological field equipment used by the Soleckis, including Ralph Solecki’s personal trowel. During this visit, Diana Marsh, post-doctoral fellow in the National Anthropological Archives, and I conducted an oral history with Ralph and Rose Solecki, in which they discussed their careers, intellectual approaches, legacies, and views on the future of the field of archaeology.

Throughout this first year of the Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki Papers and Artifacts project, I have come to a deep understanding that the collections donated by Drs. Ralph and Rose Solecki are of great significance not only the Department of Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History but also to the field of archaeology as a whole. With research continuing at the site of Shanidar Cave [4] as well as the other sites in which the Soleckis worked, their field notes, excavation analysis, illustrations, photographs, film, and so much more will undoubtedly be a resource for researchers for years to come. Although the collection will not be ready for researchers by the summer of 2018, we expect them to be open for research by the summer of 2019.

Project Archivist Molly Kamph and Post-doctoral Fellow Diana Marsh (not pictured) conducted an oral history interview of Ralph and Rose Solecki in January 2018. Photographed by Diana Marsh.
What will the second year of the project bring? Thanks to another grant from the Smithsonian's Collections Care and Preservation Fund, the artifact collections donated by the Soleckis will be rehoused and catalogued within the museum’s collections database. Be sure to look out for more updates about the project and collections highlights over the course of the upcoming year!

Sincerest thank yous to Drs. Ralph, Rose, John, and William Solecki, Dr. Melinda Zeder, curator emeritus in the NMNH Department of Anthropology, and the staff of the National Anthropological Archives and the Department of Anthropology for continued support of the Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki Papers and Artifacts Project.

Molly Kamph, Project Archivist
National Anthropological Archives

[1] The Ralph and Rose Solecki Papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
[2] Ralph S. Solecki, Shanidar, The First Flower People (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971).
[3] Ralph S. Solecki, Rose L. Solecki, and Anagnostis P. Agelarakis, The Proto- Neolithic Cemetery in Shanidar Cave (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University, 2004).
[4] Tim Reynolds, William Boismier, Lucy Farr, Chris Hunt, Dlshad Abdulmutalb and Graeme Barker, 2015. “New investigations at Shanidar Cave, Iraqi Kurdistan.” Antiquity: A Review of World Archaeology vol. 89, no. 348.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Processing the Burpee Company Records, Part Two

My ‘archival expectations’ began once I was informed by the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens that I would be processing a seed company’s collection. I figured I would find business records—office files, formal correspondence, personnel and financial records, and contracts. What I was not expecting, however, was a surprisingly large amount of family papers.

For me, the most exciting part about working with personal papers is reading into the social life these people lived; especially of those similar to my age (25). Reading about good times had with family and friends is an enjoyable aspect of working on personal collections. Rarely, however, do personal collections that span generations not mention death, and this is a reality an archivist must anticipate. My time with the Burpee Company Collection has been nothing short of an intellectual and emotional roller coaster: one day going through tax forms and marketing files, the next a box full of correspondence introducing me to a very personal side of the Burpee family.

On a Wednesday, I came across a box of David Burpee’s papers (most likely compiled shortly before he took over the management of the company), which slowly crept up on the dates surrounding the death of his father, W. Atlee, in 1915. David was 22. That summer he traveled through New England—golfing and swimming with family and friends, while simultaneously seeking potential brides (he kept a close eye on newspapers, noting every debutante that caught his interest.)

Photograph from a summer canoe outing in Camden, Maine, 1915.

Newspaper clipping of image of Miss Margaret Gray of Girard Farms.
It is amazing how much I can relate to the joy in his adventures with friends and family. But as I read on, the letters took a dark turn, and the content quickly shifted from joyous vacations to his father’s poor health. The humanity and compassion within the correspondence jumped out at me. One can imagine the feeling as David Burpee read letters sent from family and friends who knew he were by the side of his ailing father.

Letter from Aunt Maggie to David Burpee regarding the illness of W. Atlee Burpee, October 25, 1915.
Just two days after working on documents that surrounded W. Atlee’s death, I was working on documents from 1980 approaching David’s death. The box was filled with happy remembrances; composed of documents related to Lois Burpee, David’s wife, and the writing of her garden cookbook, Lois Burpee’s Gardener’s Companion and Cookbook. Newspaper clippings, book reviews, congratulatory letters, and manuscript drafts made up the majority of the material. It appears Lois began working on her book in the early 1970s, but by the time she became more involved with its writing, her husband was ill. David died in June, 1980, at the age of 87. As I went through this box, I came across stacks of newspaper clippings and book reviews, and then another stack of obituaries and memorials. It was a bittersweet juxtaposition.

The fact that this collection includes far more than company records is partly due to who this family was. They were caring, hardworking and intelligent; their company was a vital part of who they were as people. The Burpee Company Collection thus offers insight into not only how a business of this magnitude operated under two generations of one family for nearly a century, but also demonstrates who these people truly were.

Chris DeMairo, Intern
Archives of American Gardens

Friday, April 20, 2018

Processing the Burpee Company Records, Part One

The first time encountering a new collection is exciting for an archivist. This is when we evaluate the physical condition of the collection, the predominant materials (papers, books, memorabilia, etc.), and, if possible, any potential series within the collection (business records, correspondence, newspapers, etc.) that aid in its final arrangement. It can be overwhelming to see a large number of disordered and dusty boxes in front of you, but knowing that within each box rests items that have not been touched for 5, 10, 30, even a hundred years is always exhilarating (in a bookish kind of way). This post will talk about my first week working on a new accretion to the W. Atlee Burpee Company Records.

The first step involves researching what exactly the collection is about. The W. Atlee Burpee Co. was founded by Washington Atlee Burpee in 1878. Burpee’s business grew over the next 15 years, and by 1893, Burpee had reached the top of the American seed scene when he was elected president of the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA). The Burpee Company rose to prominence under W. Atlee Burpee, but, of course, not without its good and bad years. When W. Atlee became ill around 1913, his eldest son David left his studies at Cornell to assist in operating the family business. In 1915, David was made CEO. Under David’s direction, the Burpee Co. continued to expand globally. In 1970, General Foods acquired the company.
David Burpee’s official resignation as president of W. Atlee Burpee Co., and the official “closing” of the deal with General Foods. The Burpee Co. merged with the Ball Seed Company in 1991 and is still an active business today.
The Burpee Co. was a well-run machine by the beginning of the twentieth century. W. Atlee Burpee was an astute businessman, a great organizer, and an innovator in seed marketing and advertising. He kept a close eye on all of his products as well. Constantly in correspondence with employees, contractors, retailers, and consumers, he stayed current with all aspects of his business. But it was marketing that separated Burpee from his competitors. Having the consumer interact with the company not only encouraged interest in Burpee seeds, but also helped the Burpee Co. connect with those who supported its business. Burpee’s approach to marketing ensured a personal and long-lasting relationship with its customers.

Looking at the business records of a company run by such a man is inspiring. Detailed notes scribbled all over scraps of paper capture his marketing skills. David Burpee had large shoes to fill when he took over the company, and he succeeded. In 1926, just a few years into radio broadcasting’s “golden age,” the Burpee Co. promoted a “largest zinnia” contest through a local radio station, WLIT in Philadelphia. Letters poured in to the radio station (which were all forwarded to the Burpee Co.) regarding the contest, with some seeking Burpee publications as well.

1926 letter submitted by Mrs. E. Shepherd of West Philadelphia to WLIT radio station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Listeners were invited to submit a letter requesting free Burpee seeds and publications. 

Between a company that crossed all oceans, and a business model that was as connected as ever to the customer, W. Atlee would have been proud of what his son accomplished. I am excited to be working on the W. Atlee Burpee Company Records. It is a great story of an American company, and deserves to be preserved. Processing collections requires patience, attention to detail, and great organization. Above all else, the archivist must acknowledge that they are presenting once hidden materials to the public.

Chris DeMairo, Intern

Monday, April 9, 2018

Connecting the Threads: Interdepartmental Collaboration and the Elayne Zorn Collection

Men playing traditional Andean flutes.
Subseries 5B: Slides, Elayne Zorn collection,
National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center.
One of the reasons I love working behind the scenes in a museum is that you never know what incredible objects and stories you will come across. This past year, by chance, I stumbled upon the amazing life of anthropologist Elayne Zorn after being asked to enhance records related to her collection in the National Museum of the American Indian’s Collections Information System (CIS). Elayne Zorn spent many years and much of her professional career as a museum collector and anthropologist in the Andean regions of Peru and Bolivia.

The collection of Elayne Zorn was donated to the Museum in May 2011 and is composed of objects, mainly textiles and instruments, as well as archival materials including personal papers, field notes, photographs and other media. My primary task was to update our object records with as much contextual information as possible using the archival materials as well as our existing collections records, and Zorn’s publications related to her work.

Field notebook from Taquile, Peru, 1975-1976.
Box 1, Folder 6, Elayne Zorn collection.
National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center.

When I began my archival research I was immediately drawn to Zorn’s field notebooks which provided a wealth of information on Andean culture, textiles, gender roles, and her own personal experiences as both an anthropologist and a weaver in Peru and Bolivia. Of note, her drawings of weaving patterns, looms, textile construction were meticulously illustrated and much of her research on traditional textiles incorporated the native terms of the objects in Quechua and Aymara, which she also often translated into Spanish. From these notes we have been able to incorporate the original names for weaving tools, motifs, and natural plant dyes into our records.

Zorn also continued a strong connection with many of community members she spent time with. Her friendships lasted over two decades and were multigenerational. Her personal papers documented these relationships and in some cases recorded the stylistic differences between mothers, daughters, and granddaughters. Though there was variance in style and color choices the traditional designs, special relationships, and meanings remained the same. Zorn learned the language of Andean cloth.

Ultimately, my research took me from the documentation in the archives to examining the objects themselves in our collections. This examination resulted in additional information on the artists who created the objects and also revealed the need for further assessment and conservation treatment. I found evidence of pre-acquisition infestation in the form of moth casings, cockroach residue, and fras. Because NMAI utilizes Ingenerated Pest Management (IPM) to protect objects from infestations the collection was not in immediate danger, however the objects still needed to be cleaned as a preventative measure as well as to adhere to our museum standards. A collaborative five day workshop with NMAI’s curatorial, collections and conservation departments was planned where the Zorn collection would be used to train incoming conservation fellows and interns in object treatment, consultations, and documentation.
Consultation with Aymar Ccopacatty, conservators
Susan Heald, Kelly McHugh and conservation
fellows and interns. National Museum of the American Indian,
Smithsonian Institution. Photograph by Smithsonian Staff.
In addition to the conservation work, the workshop invited community consultants, Aymar Ccopacatty, a weaver from Peru, and Jose Montano, an NMAI staff member and musician from Bolivia, to contribute their knowledge. Additional staff presentations from various departments including the NMAI Archive Center, demonstrated how knowledge from across the museum and beyond can be collaboratively compiled to enhance collections information.

Though project began as a simple data enhancement task, in the end a wealth of information was gained about Andean textiles, festivals, and instruments, signifying how even the most humble of objects have stories and knowledge to impart if we are willing to listen.

Maia Truesdale-Scott, Museum Specialist, National Museum of the American Indian

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

How Computers Came to the Smithsonian Libraries

In the beginning, few offices at the Smithsonian used computers. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory used MIT’s IBM 704 to calculate the orbit of the Russia's Sputnik satellite, another office used an IBM 360 to keep track of grant applications, the Fiscal Division (accounting office) was running some programs on an IBM 1440, and the natural history museum was just awakening to the tremendous potential of collections automation. Yet there was another area well suited to computerization: the Smithsonian libraries. A copy of a book in one library was the same as a copy in another library. The information about one book was similar to the information about another book --- title, author, publisher, publication date, etc. This made it easy to devise data formats that could be applied to all libraries. The Library of Congress pioneered a format called MARC (MAchine-Readable Cataloging).

Mary A. Huffer, Acting Director of Smithsonian Institution Libraries who introduced computer automation,
in the Catalog Room of the Smithsonian Central Library in the National Museum of Natural History.
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image Number OPA-68-26A.
At the behest of Smithsonian Secretary Ripley, the libraries scattered throughout Smithsonian museums and offices were brought under one central office – the Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL). This office mandated a conversion from the Dewey Decimal system of cataloging books to the Library of Congress method. Some of the branch libraries were in bad shape, both in regard to physical condition and cataloging. The Zoo, as an example, “had a little library in two or three rooms of an old house [Holt House] --in fact, some of the books were shelved in the men's room, and they had to go knock on the door to get in this cubbyhole of this old administrative building.

Cataloging and purchasing books were both expensive and labor-intensive. They were obvious early candidates for automation. The Acting Director of SIL, Mary A. Huffer, so far as we know, had no background in computer technology. Yet she was to prove remarkably resourceful in automating the libraries. She sought advice and software from the Interior Department, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the National Air and Space Administration. By March 1965, she had a long-range plan in mind:

Our first application will be the business application in our acquisitions program. We have to keep a tally of 80-some accounts, and we are one of the few units where purchase orders are written and go out directly, so we are trying to tie our system into the Fiscal system and to coordinate these to relieve our acquisitions people of some of this record-keeping.
As soon as we get over the purchasing hurdle we are going to tie in our gift and exchange program. Then we are going on to our serials [like scholarly journals]. Then, we hope, perhaps, circulation. Because of programming difficulties, the last thing we are going to try and pull in on this will be our catalog card production.
We want to start card punching in the next six to eight weeks. We will be building up on punch cards information to go into the retrieval system and into the catalogs. Eventually we hope we will even produce book catalogs and do away with the maintenance of all these separate catalogs in various buildings, reading rooms, special subject collections, and so on.

The library trained its own staff to punch the cards that would be fed into the computer’s hopper to avoid to having to correct the work of unskilled punchers. In a surprisingly short time, the library could report significant improvement:

Late in June, 1965, an IBM-29 key punch was installed in the acquisitions section, and during fiscal 1966 all purchase orders were printed on the computer in the Smithsonian’s data processing unit. The ADP program now provides computer-printed purchase orders, bi-weekly reports on the status of various accounts, receiving cards, book labels, Library of Congress card order slips, and temporary catalog cards.

Retirement party for Mary A. Huffer, Assistant Director of Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL), with Russel Shank, SIL Director. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Image Number 74-2487. 
Mary A. Huffer was succeeded by Russell Shank in September 1967, as the first Director of the libraries. He connected the libraries to OCLC, which furnished cards formatted according to Library of Congress specifications. This saved the libraries not only time and money, but also errors in entering data. But the Smithsonian libraries had moved into the digital age well before library automation packages were available.

John Churchman, Computer History Project Volunteer