The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
- We have old-school photos of snow at the Archives. Check out these high-tech 3D images of snow from the U.S. Department of Agriculture [via Effie Kapsalis, SIA].
- Arianna Huffington talks Web 2.0 and museums.
- What happens when you cross the Library of Congress with Netflix? The LoC is hoping to stream some of their notable films online [via @archivesinfo].
- The National Archives has a shiny new and improved search engine.
- The Secret Life of Images. Smithsonian Libraries talks up metadata and shares their best practices for embedding metadata in digital images.
- Talk about crowdsourcing. When lack resources and the painstaking nature of document transcription get you down, you call in the masses: scholars have recruited the public to help them transcribe the long-delayed papers of the Enlightenment philosopher Jeremy Bentham.
- A Happy New Year to you from SIA! Here’s a bizarre but rousing New Year’s greeting straight from the BFI National Archive:
As I wrap up my first year with the Smithsonian Institution Archives, I’d like to take a moment to pay homage to some of my favorite images. While the title “Photograph Archivist” might suggest I spend a lot of time looking at pictures, the truth of the matter is that I spend a lot of time manipulating and creating data that will make these pictures discoverable and accessible over time. A lot of this process involves scale and the application of global metadata, detecting and exploiting patterns in metadata, and establishing and implementing standards. Have I lost you yet? I do get to see some pretty amazing images though, and would like to afford those with more than a mental note. The following slide show of images simply contains things that make me happy, for no other reason than that I find them visually pleasing. I look forward to collecting many more favorites in the new year and sharing with you the rich visual history of the Smithsonian Institution and its vast collections.
Recently, I read some interesting news about the National Public Radio blog, “The Picture Show,” that explores photographic images and issues. (If you look at some of their past posts, by the way, you’ll note that Shannon Thomas Perich, associate curator of the extraordinary Photographic History Collection at Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, is a regular contributor and writes about groups of photographs she comes across in the course of her work on the other side of the Mall.) What struck me in particular, though, was the announcement of a new monthly feature, “Found in the Archives,” written by Rich Remsberg, an archival image researcher for documentary films and TV shows who often comes across mysterious or curious things that won’t ever find a place in the final edit of shows he’s working on.
"Effects of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) on Troops Marching, Credit: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md., Courtesy NPR's The Picture Show blog.
In his first piece for “Found in the Archives,” Remsberg writes about a short and unintentionally hilarious film from the National Archives—"Effects of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) on Troops Marching"—that documents an experiment conducted by the United States Chemical and Biological Warfare Program. Shot in Maryland in the late 1950s, the film was part of a program designed to inform interested viewers in the role chemical incapacitants, delivered in aerosol form, might play in warfare. As it turns out, the weaponizing of LSD turned out to be problematic because it was nearly impossible to accurately predict which way the wind would blow. But one thing the film clip confirms without question, though, is how powerfully archival films and imagery enable us to revisit and reconsider the thinking and values of the past.
If this kind of film material interests you—if you’ve got a soft spot for films like the classic Cold War primer “Duck and Cover”—a great place to see more is on the website of the Prelinger Archives. Starting in the 1980s, Rick Prelinger’s goal was to collect, preserve, and facilitate access to films of historic significance that weren’t being collected elsewhere. Eventually, he stockpiled around 60,000 of what he called “ephemeral” films, the kinds that were produced by and for hundreds of US corporations, nonprofit organizations, trade associations, interest groups, and educational institutions. In 2002, the film collection became less ephemeral when it was acquired by the Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. To see a sampling of some of the fantastic films that were archived, roll up for the mystery tour, by clicking here.
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