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Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Best Of 100 Blog Posts from the Smithsonian Institution Archives, Libraries and Special Collections!

The Reader, (painting). Cassatt, Mary, 1844-1926, painter. Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture, Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Dear Readers,

This is the Collections Search Center - Smithsonian Institution Research and Information System blog; where Archivists, Museum Specialists, and Librarians around the Smithsonian blog to you about their new collections, current works in progress or whatever catches their eye.  Our authors are from 11 different units around the Smithsonian Institution, providing a strong show case of diversity of our work and collections.  It is our goal to bring you (our readers) collection highlights, unveil hidden collections as they become online, and relate to current events with historical artifacts, art work and research materials from the past.

This post is to commemorate our Blog hitting 100 posts!  When we began this endeavor in earnest at the beginning of March 2010, we had no idea what to expect nor how to measure the success of our mission.  Now almost 6 months in, I think we're starting to get know you, and ourselves a little better.

Social media has demonstrated itself as a fluid yet stable means of communication across the world.  Various web platforms have emerged that aid people in easy and frequent communication and sharing of information with each other.  Conversations now have the possibility to engage globally; while the idea that any information worth sharing can be easily found and disseminated by the masses.  The Smithsonian Institution's museums, libraries, archives, and special collections have entered the arena with the goal to allow further unencumbered access to our collections and ourselves as collection care-takers; further unveiling our hidden collections and making them available for user interaction.

This Blog's mission echoes that of the Smithsonian Institution: to increase the diffusion of knowledge.  By highlighting new collections, hidden collections, and collections as they relate to current events, we further reveal our work and our collections for your consumption. 

With that in mind, I have compiled for you a "Best Of" series featuring 1 post from each of this Blog's 11 contributing units.  The posts here are stellar examples of how Smithsonian Institution archivists, librarians and museum specialists have helped this Blog meet its mission by writing about their work and their encounters with the collections.  Please enjoy reading about these posts' behind the scenes facts, author quotes, and comments from you!

This post is spectacular because it challenges the stereotypical view of cowboys.  It blew my cowboy misconceptions out of the water as I read with ferocious appetite Hector Bazy's own account of being a negro cowboy.  Post authoress Jennifer Morris adds,

" I really enjoyed writing "Hector Bazy, the Negro Cowboy" post because it provided me with an opportunity to introduce the public to a rare manuscript that offers an account of a real black cowboy's life.  I hope this document gives new insight and interpretation of the experiences of the American cowboy, often a subject of romance and myth."

These comments for "Hector" affirm that Jennifer achieved her goal of offering new insight on the romantic cowboy image:

Anonymous said... No doubt about it!! This is great information and I think more people should follow their heart - just like Hector Bazy. Keep up the great work! May 21, 2010 9:59 AM

Anonymous said... What a wonderful read, thank you so much for making it possible to view this and other works on-line. Steph,UK. May 26, 2010 3:31 PM

(98) Gazing through sulphurous vapors into the crater's frightful depths Aso-San, Japan. 1904 or earlier. [graphic], is part of the larger Henry and Nancy Rosin Collection of Early Photography of Japan, 1860 - ca. 1900. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

I (Rachael Cristine Woody) am the blogger for the Freer+Sackler Gallery Archives, and I can tell you this post was inspired by current events.  The eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull left several of my colleagues stranded in international airports across most of Europe.  The inability to do anything constructive for them, I went to the Collections Search Center to do a pan-Smithsonian collections search on "volcanoes."  I was pleasantly surprised and inspired by the amount of volcano images we had!  The post ended up being wildly successful in part because it was picked up by USA Today blogger Harriet Baskas for her Blog: Stuck at the  Make sure you check out original SIRIS post to read the reverse side of this stereograph, which provides a powerful literary description  of Aso-San.

Our frequent youtube poster Karma Foley expanded our blogging diversity with her frequent and skilled use of providing audio and visual snippets of her collections. 

Karma explains, "The SIRIS Blog is a wonderful outlet for sharing news and information about our collections that don't really "belong" anywhere else.  When we received the video master of the film preservation work for "Hermógenes Cayo", I was blown away at how beautiful it looked and felt very proud to have been able to assist in the preservation of such an important film.  (Just to be clear, HSFA does not do the actual film-to-film preservation in house; the work was done by Film Technology, a lab in California.)  Film preservation is a pretty abstract concept for most people and I wanted to be able to show the results.  A "before-and-after" video clip is not appropriate for a SIRIS catalog record, but the blog was the perfect place to show it off.  Also, as an archivist one has to be factual and objective when describing collections but naturally in the course of our work we come across materials that move, inspire, or amuse us.  It's nice to have a place where we can be subjective and say, "Hey, look at all the amazing things we have!"

Karma's Imaginero post elicited the following comments:

Stone said... I hope to be able to see this exhibit. Should be very interesting. I'm also looking forward to seeing the exhibit on The Gay civil rights. Thank you! April 8, 2010 10:51 PM

Anonymous said... Fantastic post! Thanks so much for adding the video clip--it's amazing to see the difference. Thankfully now, in many years to come, researchers will still be able to appreciate the original intent of the video in the restored version. April 9, 2010 11:50 AM

Anonymous said... Great example of why preservation is so important. May 10, 2010 8:30 PM 

Acee Blue Eagle Papers 1935-1959. Blue Eagle, Acee 1907-1959 Creek Pawnee. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Museum Support Center.

Jennifer Murray's post on native recipes was a huge hit among you and our peers!  This post was a wonderful example of what you can find in the Archives.  Jennifer does a great job at presenting the collection object in a way that resonates with you.  We are all familiar with recipe books, and our traditional family recipes; this post brings a familiar quality to the Oklahoma Indian Cook Book while at the same time educating and amusing our readers. 

Jennifer's post had these thoughtful comments:

Anonymous said... Fantastic! I laughed out loud at the "serves 30". And I love the phrase "IDLE GOSSIP SINKS SHIPS". Not sure I'm brave enough to try any of the recipes! March 30, 2010 10:25 AM

Anonymous said... I loved this post! Funny and informative. But it would be nice to include a wine recommendation for the chicken mousse. April 14, 2010 12:43 PM

Scurlock Studio Records, ca. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

The Archives Center houses one of my most favorite photograph collections, the Scurlock Studio Records.  Archives Center blogger David Haberstich treats us regularly to these poignant images, but this post has perhaps the best I've seen yet!  This photograph (as with all Scurlock photographs) has infectious romantic warmth that allows readers to move beyond the skin color and connect to the sincere emotions like a mother and daughter's love for each other, as shown in this post.

Reader Daniel shares with us, "It's interesting to think about how images of motherhood have been communicated in particular contexts and towards particular ends - I think they have been as celebratory as they have been heart-breaking."

"The portrait of Mrs. E. P. Shaw and her daughter - to my surprise - reminded me of another photograph depicting a mother and her children: Dorothea Lange's FSA photograph, 'Migrant Mother.' Both share a sense of intimacy and tenderness which, as you note, has been commandeered by industries interested in encouraging us to express our feelings and appreciation through the celebration of market transaction."

"The imagery and affect associated with motherhood and maternity is interesting to think about, as it has near constant explanation. I'm curious about its associations too - to body form, sentiment, and character, all throughout the twentieth century. It's exciting stuff!" May 17, 2010 10:34 PM

Speaking of diversity, who knew Native American dentistry would be such a popular topic?  From these comments it's clear Leuman M. Waugh has a fan club!

Anonymous said... Great post! I will think of this when I am the dentist on Monday! April 15, 2010 5:16 PM

Anonymous said... Love this guy! April 16, 2010 10:08 AM

Anonymous said... My in-laws lived two doors from Dr. Waugh, after he retired to Betterton, MD. I spent many cocktail times with him from 1961 until his death in 1972. We enjoyed many "martoons" as he called a martini at each residence. He gave my wife I an 1856 harmonium which I have since passed on to my daughter. Dr. Waugh was a fun and spirited person to be around. July 14, 2010 9:43 PM

The Diana Davies Photograph Collection, 1963- [Series XI: Social Justice: Peace Movement, Civil Rights Movement, Poor People's March, ...]Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage: Photographing Social Justice: The Work of Diana Jo Davies

The Folklife Archives is perhaps our most surprisingly diverse archives under the Smithsonian.  I had originally thought their archives was primarly of a music - folkways persuasion, but posts like this one on Diana Jo Davies shows yet another hidden depth of their archives, and therefore the depth of the Smithsonian as a whole.

To see more Social Justice images taken by Diana Jo Davies, click here.
Model for Girl Dancing [sculpture] / (photographer unknown). Vonnoh, Bessie Potter, 1872-1955, artist. American Sculpture Photograph Study Collection, Photograph Archives, Smithsonian American Art Museum.Smithsonian American Art Museum - Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture: Bessie Potter Vonnoh and Lost-Wax Casting

I am always envious of Nicole Semenchuk's posts.  She has such beautiful images to work with in the Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture, and she never fails to alliterate the beauty of both the artist's technique as well as the finished product.  In this post specifically Nicole describes a recent book on Bessie Potter Vonnoh and provides examples and discussion on the artist's technique, elaborating on the process and how it differs from other artistic processes.

Smithsonian Gardens - Archives of American Gardens: Mathematics in the Garden

Gardening has proven to be a popular category of posting, and this one in particular remained popular for weeks after it's initial post.  Authoress Kelly Crawford explains, "I was inspired to write this post after helping a researcher find images of gardens that had connections to science for a flower show exhibit called, ‘Beautiful Science, Beautiful Gardens.’ This research request forced me to think of all the ways that gardens intersected the sciences. When I shared the list (which included geometry) with one of my volunteers and she reminded me of Three Gates, a garden that was inspired by the Fibonacci numbers and golden ratio. After learning April was National Mathematics Awareness Month, I thought that this garden would be a perfect to highlight for a blog post about math and the garden."

Anonymous agrees... Math and Garden? This is really a surprising “odd couple”! I have always associated Gardening with biology and art, but have forgotten the important math component! I now love gardening even more! April 13, 2010 7:25 AM  

Smithsonian history posts are always popular ones, and it helps that Courtney Esposito has a talent to always pick out historical artifacts and relate them to current events.  This post came in the midst of our blizzard winter, as Courtney explains her inspiration for her posts, "I enjoy writing for the blog because it sheds light on not only the collections but the unique stories about the Smithsonian. It is a great way to show how all of the different parts of the Institution work together. I think showing the public that Smithsonian materials, old and new, can relate to their lives in a variety of ways and creates an understanding their world!"

This post also demonstrated how we and the readers could have a conversation surrounding the collections via this social media:

Anonymous said... Other colleagues of mine were all debating the previous worst blizzard for federal employees, and all had different opinions. Thank you SI Archives for settling this debate with your thorough snow history! February 25, 2010 9:38 AM

Anonymous said... What happened during the blizzard of 1966? March 1, 2010 4:26 PM

Courtney Esposito said... After snowing the over the weekend (January 29 and 30, 1966) A Washington Post article from Monday, January 31, 1966 states: "Except for emergencies, Federal and District Government employees are excused from reporting for work this morning." Later in the day officials excused employees for the entire day. Thus, non-essential Smithsonian staff members, who were federal employees, were excused from work. I haven't found any information thus far on whether the Museums were closed that day or not. However, I did learn that the Zoo was closed until at least February 2, 1966. Several Zookeepers stayed at the Zoo to care for the animals. March 5, 2010 8:58 AM 

[Garden scene with dancers, to be used as the set for a miniature theater] [graphic]. Engelbrecht, Martin, 1684-1756. Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Institution.

Despite being the minority as a librarian, Diane Shaw never fails to amaze with her posts on unique artifacts, whether in between or outside of book covers! 

Diane elaborates, "The SIRIS Blog presents a great opportunity to publicize the opening of new exhibitions featuring library and archival materials at the Smithsonian. "Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop & Turn" highlights a collecting strength of the SI Libraries that few people previously knew we had.  As one of the catalogers who has worked with these materials, it was particularly delightful for me to see how ingeniously these complicated and artfully designed books are displayed in the exhibition. The Engelbrecht tunnel book with the garden scene depicted in the SIRIS Blog entry consisted of six flat panels inserted in an envelope when it came to me for cataloging. It is absolutely dazzling to be able to see the book on display now in the gallery, assembled by our conservator and exhibition team in the format that its 18th century creator originally intended."

I hope you enjoyed the "Best Of," and thank you for allowing us to share our joys of working on our Nation's collections.

Rachael Cristine Woody
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives


  1. Not that my appetite needed whetting for anything SIRIS related but nevertheless this blog has broadened my awareness; BRAVO to you all and thank you for taking the time to share so much history with those of us not able to visit the museums in person.

  2. I love SIRIS! Since I signed up, I've been delighted by all the posts. It definitely touches the heartstrings of curators, registrars, and archivists, who all have gems in their collections that they want to share with the world. Hearty thanks to everyone who posts and who supports them, for making this great material visible and meaningful.