The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
- From Bondi Beach to ballerinas: the National Library of Australia is now on the Flickr Commons [via Susannah Wells, SIA].
- Facebook. The inadvertent photo archive [via Marguerite Roby, SIA].
- What would you do if you found hundreds of young women's report cards from the 1920s in the basement of a building? One man talks about how stumbling upon this found archive of 1920s report cards changed his life [via Now & Then blog].
- The Library of Congress’ National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program recently hosted a personal digital archiving event during the National Book Festival on the National Mall—now they report back.
- Who wants a space shuttle launch ringtone? NASA has released lots of free audio clips to the public [via Neatorama].
- We’ve talked about the incredible photographs of Empress Dowager Cixi at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler archives before. Now there’s an entire exhibition about the Empress.
- The Powerhouse Museum profiles the Free Your Metadata project, and their recent collaboration together (plus, how you can free your own metadata). Check out the video on the project below:
“Seth van Hooland, Max De Wilde, and Ruben Verborgh introduce Free Your Metadata,” Courtesy of FreeYourMetadata YouTube Channel.
If you do some exploring on the Smithsonian Institution Archives newly designed website, you’ll see that the Archives' collections house a number of oral histories. Some document the careers and experiences of Smithsonian employees, while others cover more specific and quirky subjects, like the history of Acuson Ultrasound Machines, the work of the Nepal Tiger Project, and the experiences of African-American Aviators in the 1930s.
As advances in audio technology have made the collecting, archiving, and accessing of oral histories possible and practical, the public’s appreciation of them and interest in making and listening to them continues to grow. The success of Story Corps—which encourages Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs to record, share, and preserve the stories of their lives—is one example. Since 2003, Story Corps has created the largest oral history project of its kind, an archive of 35,000 interviews that’s preserved at the Library of Congress. The kinds of oral histories that make news, on the other hand, are generally not of the everyday variety though, as was revealed in the flurry of recent reporting that announced the release of a book and audio recordings extracted from 8 ½ hours of interviews that the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger conducted with Jacqueline Kennedy in 1964.
Often seen and much photographed, the former First Lady was not so often heard from, particularly in the years after Kennedy’s assassination. The interviews, kept private at Mrs. Kennedy’s request, have been released now by her daughter, Caroline Kennedy, on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s presidency. The material covered in them includes reminiscences about the Kennedy’s marriage, Mrs. Kennedy’s role in her husband’s political life, and revealing stories about major, minor, and revealing events during their White House years.
For a public obsessed with following and/or deconstructing the roles political wives choose, are able, or are forced to play—and that watches television shows like The Good Wife in large numbers—this Kennedy project is destined to attract interest up and down the media food chain. Stories about what Mrs. Kennedy, whose public persona was Sphinx-like, really thought about world leaders (such as Charles DeGaulle, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Indira Gandhi, and Lyndon Johnson); political aides; women reporters; and her mother-in-law, are attracting the first rounds of publicity for this newly-released cache of material. But if the continued popularity of exhibits about First Ladies at the Smithsonian are any indication, this latest archival surprise seems destined to give political junkies, feminists, cultural critics, and historians plenty of new material to mull over and for quite some time.
The Archives’ revamped website offers several new and enhanced features intended to improve service to our researchers, and to make information more readily accessible to those searching our collections.
One of the big changes on the site is our new and robust Collections Search. Among its features are several browse options to find materials in our holdings. These browse tools are created to help researchers learn about our Archives, and also to focus searches on the history of the Smithsonian. Say, for example, you want see all the records and information we have cataloged documenting the history of the Smithsonian American Art Museum—you can search on Smithsonian Museums & Research Centers, and select the museum you’re interested in under “Filter Your Results.” This will return not only collections and selected digitized images, but also chronological historic entries on major events in the museum’s history.
From there you can further focus your search to just collection guides (box and folder inventories of collection contents) by selecting “Show only collection guides,” or just images by selecting “Show only digital media.” There are numerous ways you can continue to refine your searches from these browse lists. We invite you to explore these topics and give us your feedback for improving these options.
One feature that we’ve wanted for some time is a Reference Inquiry Form. This form allows researchers to enter and submit their questions to the Archives online. There is a drop-down list of topics on the form so that your inquiry can be directed to the appropriate staff, and a place to enter your detailed request. While you are searching, if you find a collection you want to explore on-site in our Reading Room, or if you need help finding something specific, click “Submit a reference request about this item” from any of our Collections Guides. The form will pop up with the collection number already populated for you. Requests submitted by this form will go directly to email accounts that are monitored on a daily basis. Our staff is, as always, committed to getting back you as soon as they can. Please note that we’re still answering emails through our normal reference account (firstname.lastname@example.org) and still answering your telephone calls. We hope the form, though, will be a quick and usefully way for you to contact us with any of your questions.
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