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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Staff Picks: A Celebration of our 500th Post

Three years ago, we launched this blog to bring you closer to the vast and varied archival and library collections of the Smithsonian. Our materials tend not to get the attention that is lavished on some of their more sparkly colleagues (I'm talking to you, ruby slippers) but we're here to change that. From anthropology in Andalusia to the zoology of topiaries, you name it, we've blogged about it. We recently reached a milestone, our 500th blog post, so in celebration we rounded up a few of our favorite posts from the past three years. If this is your first introduction to our blog, then welcome! We hope you'll stick around for the next 500.

A is for Anthropology, Anarchy and Andalusia
Real-life Sons (and Daughters) of Anarchy, written by Human Studies Film Archive intern Amelia Raines, highlights the importance of not only one particular filmmaker and collection at HSFA, but also the role the archive serves as a keeper of cultural memory. It discusses how the works of anthropologist Jerome Mintz have aided the Andalusian community of Casas Viejas in the search for their own historical record. Raines explains how films and film outtakes housed at HSFA can further educate both Casas Viejas residents and others in the anthropological field on the history of this culturally significant, yet under-documented community.

B is for Banana Beer
My favorite post is What's Cooking at the Archives: Good to the Last Drop by Jennifer Murray of the National Anthropological Archives. It combines some of my favorite subjects: food culture, fermentation, and beer. Jennifer's fascinating explanation of the process, in addition to the selected scans of Ethel Mary Albert's slides of beer making in Burundi, Africa, make this post stand out for me. It has certainly made me think twice before claiming I've made anything "from scratch." It reminds me of something Carl Sagan wrote in his book Cosmos: "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe." To make banana beer from scratch, you must first place "ripening bananas in a pit heated with smoke for no less than five days." The next time I buy a head of cabbage, slice it, salt it, and throw it in a store-bought crock to ferment for a month (without any help from me), I'll try to refrain from feeling smug about my DIY ethic. 
-- Cecilia Peterson, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Special Collections

C is for Capeless Crusaders
I am partial to Lorain Wang’s post about Brain Boy, the short-lived comic about a telekinetic superhero. At first I was curious why this item was owned by the National Anthropological Archives, but that mystery is explained by the fact that Brain Boy's alter ego is mild-mannered anthropology student Matt Price, recruited by a branch of the Secret Service operating under the name "Organization of Active Anthropologists." Librarians (myself included) love to tout the fact that Batgirl was a librarian by day, and I hope the anthropology community got the same boost from learning about Brain Boy!  
-- Bettina Smith, Archives of American Art    

D is for Double Dutch
One of my favorite posts is A Hop, Skip and a Jump by Mark White of the Human Studies Film Archives. I love posts that highlight the unexpected in collections, and really, who would think that the Human Studies Film Archives would have an educational film on rope skipping? The irresistible combination of the narration, music, choreography, and adorable kids made me instantly fall in love with this film. In addition to expanding my jump rope repertoire, what’s also great about this post is the way Mark places the film in the context of the history of documentary filmmaking.

-- Lorain Wang, National Anthropological Archives 

F is for Fine Facial Hair
A quick but entertaining read, my favorite post is Cecilia Peterson’s Sneak Peek from the Stacks highlighting the creative facial hair of folk singer Bob Ross. I think this was first posted on an afternoon in the middle of what was turning into a long week. Cecilia’s post was a nice break from the day since the attached links gave me a chance to check out the Smithsonian Folkways website.
-- Rachel Brooks, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Photograph Archives

M is for Morris and Marcella
I nominate Morris Louis: Looking Through the Eyes of Love. It's a great human interest story about a somewhat enigmatic artist. True stories about artists in love are pretty irresistible.
-- David Haberstich, National Museum of American History - Archives Center 

S is for Soft Drink Slang
My favorite post is I Call it Pop, You call it Soda by Kayla Burns, a former Archives of American Gardens intern. We asked Kayla to write a post that would explain “public tagging” to those new to the subject and this was the result. To date, it is one of the Top Ten most read posts on the blog! Since Kayla’s original posting, the Archives of American Gardens has made a big push to encourage people to tag select images in the collection starting with last October’s hugely successful “Take Ten Minutes to Tag” initiative for American Archives Month.
-- Kelly Crawford, Archives of American Gardens 
Z is for Zoo of Topiary Critters 
Kayla Burns, former intern at the Archives of American Gardens and clearly a very promising writer, also composed my favorite post: A Topiary Zoo. In this post Kayla summarizes the age-old practice of pruning bushes into animal figures and other outlandish shapes. I hadn’t realized that the use of topiary in gardens has been in and out of fashion and a theme of intense aesthetic debate. Are topiary animals charming, accessible, and cool additions to a garden, or kitschy and lacking in grandeur? Personally, I think these herbaceous critters are wonderful, just like Kayla’s blog post!





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