The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Archive
- That thing must weigh a ton! A vault door will great visitors to the new Numismatics Gallery at the National Museum of American History. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- Putting the pieces together - A curator's journey to find pieces of the history of the Art and Technology Program of 1967-1971 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The program was an initiative that paired artists with corporations in the areas of aerospace, entertainment, scientific research, and other industries. [via Unframed blog, LACMA]
- Ever evolving - Lessons in research instruction from the Biodiversity Heritage Library. [via Unbound blog, SL]
- Bibliophiles rejoice - More than 100 lectures from the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia are now available online. [via InfoDocket]
- Between a microfibre cloth, lambs' wool duster and HEPA filter vacuum cleaner, the dust removal winner is . . . [via The National Archives UK blog]
- 5 things you probably didn't know about the 'ukulele. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- The British Library announced this week their plan to digitize and make available online 500,000 "at risk" rare and unique sound recordings. [via InfoDocket]
- Start your Memorial Day Weekend with the following video from the National Archives and Records Administration which tells viewers of the importance of the holiday. [via Prologue: Pieces of History, NARA]
In reaction to observing the logging of groves of redwood trees in California, paleontologist John Campbell Merriam (1869-1945), lawyer and conservationist Madison Grant (1865-1937), and geologist and paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn (1857-1935) established a "Save the Redwoods League." In 1917, the new organization joined forces with local residents, the Humboldt County Federation of Women's Clubs, and the Humboldt County Women's Save the Redwoods League and successfully lobbied California state officials to establish the Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
At the center of the preservation efforts was a magnificent stand of Sequoia sempervirens. In August 1921, this section of the new park was dedicated in honor of the World War I hero, Colonel Raynal C. Bolling (1877-1918).
The park now encompasses over 53,000 acres, including 17,000 acres of old-growth coast redwoods, the Bolling Memorial Grove, and the Rockefeller Forest, the largest remaining old-growth forest in the world.
- Science Service collections at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Each Smithsonian Institution Archives collection has a life story. That narrative, much like the biography of a person, can explain how a collection's photographs, letters, and documents relate to each other. Closer inspection may also reveal hidden connections to other archival materials and can help in identifying photographers and writers. This new blog series will turn a lens on some of the Archives' largest, most eclectic, and interesting collections - the ones relating to the independent science news organization, Science Service.
Over the past decade, a host of surprising treats and treasures have been discovered in those records, from a long-forgotten trove of photographs of the 1925 Scopes anti-evolution trial to the “Cartoonograph” drawings of artist Elizabeth Sabin Goodwin.
But, wait, there is more!
For historians hunting for answers, joy springs eternal. Sometimes, we are lucky; sometimes it takes many eyes to spot the clue (as with identifying Elizabeth Goodwin). The goal of this new series will be to illuminate various overlooked nooks and crannies, to share hidden treasures, and perhaps thereby to encourage deeper research on the Science Service records (including Record Unit 7091, and Accessions 90-068, 90-105, 93-019, 97-020, 01-122, 01-243, 04-042, 06-134, 06-135, 13-034, 13-035, and T89059).
Unlocking the history of Science Service began for me in 2006 with research on its radio programs. That project was made easier once I understood how the staff organized their daily work. For example, the office maintained parallel filing systems: business and financial records; editorial correspondence; a biographical "morgue" of photographs and material about people; and another set of topical "morgues." Archival materials relating to a single radio broadcast might be filed in any (or all) of those groups.
Their topical morgues were arranged according to the same classification scheme used by the Library of Congress to catalog books, a fact that Science Service editor Watson Davis fortuitously mentioned in a letter in Record Unit 7091. Because of that choice, the file labels preserve for intellectual historians a snapshot of what these science journalists judged to be important and how scientific fields expanded over the decades. Look, for example, at the finding aid for Accession 06-134. You can observe the expansion of twentieth-century physics through the folder labels: from “QC Atoms” to “QC Accelerators - Mevatron 50.”
Although science, engineering, and medicine formed the core of the organization’s interests, the Science Service intellectual networks were extensive and eclectic. There are fascinating exchanges with artists and poets, novelists and museum curators, advertising and public relations specialists, military figures, and politicians. Bits of ephemera occasionally shed light on contemporary social mores and taste, and handwritten notes provide insight to an individual decision-making or impressions of a meeting. Group photographs prompt questions about what the people shown had in common. There are letters from or about celebrities of the day, and interesting ones from people who deserve to be better known.
From the onset, Science Service had a number of connections to the Smithsonian Institution. In January 1921, its founders tried to house the editorial offices at the Smithsonian, but the news service secured accommodation instead with the National Academy of Sciences. The Smithsonian Secretary always served as one of the group's trustees, and the Institution frequently used the news service to advise on publicity, to disseminate information about discoveries by Smithsonian scientists, and even to distribute data. During the winter of 1925-1926, for example, they received "daily values of the solar constant of radiation ... via mail, telephone, or messenger" from the Smithsonian for inclusion in bulletins to newspapers.
Science Service interpreted its name and mandate liberally. This series will range similarly wide, discussing cartoonists, "sleeplessness" studies, and river excursions as well as the choices and challenges of early twentieth-century science popularization. Join us along the way, as we turn a lens on the records of Science Service. We invite your help in understanding what we see.
- Scientists Arrive in Dayton...and Find a Mansion, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Finding Elizabeth, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Science Service collections at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Being from Hawaii, I've had my fair share of mixed plate lunches. What is a mixed plate lunch you ask? A mixed plate lunch or just plate lunch is unique to Hawaii and finds it origins in Japense bento boxes. A plate lunch typically consists of two scoops of rice, macaroni salad and a main entree. As more immigrants came to Hawaii from other countries to work in the sugar and pineapple plantations, they brought with them their culinary cultures. As a result plate lunches started to include Filippino, Portuguese, Puerto Rican, Chinese, Korea, Okinawan, and Hawaiian foods.
On May 23, 1999 the exhibition, From Bentō to Mixed Plate: Americans of Japanese Ancestry in Multicultural Hawai’i, opened in the Arts and Industries Building. The traveling exhibition organized by the Japanese American National Museum featured artifacts, family photographs, and personal accounts that explored the role of Japanese-Americans in a wide range of areas and their adaptation to life in Hawaii. As part of the Smithsonian's exhibition, the National Museum of American History lent the Olomana, a 9-ton, six-wheel steam locomotive that was purchased in 1883 by the Waimanalo Sugar Co. to use on its 3-foot-gauge railroad located near the ocean on the northeast side of Oahu.
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and the Smithsonian has a number of events, programs, and resources that tell the stories of the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who came to the United States and influenced its history and culture.
- Asian Pacific American Heritage Month programs at the Smithsonian for 2015
- Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center
- Asian American and Pacific American related materials and content at the Smithsonian
- Accession 06-06: Office of Special Events and Protocol, Event Files, 1998-2001, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Like thousands of other aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, my husband and I recently wandered through Smithsonian museums as we photographed a paper cutout. In our case, "Flat John" had traveled from a second-grade classroom in Missouri and is now back home with many tales of an "adventure" in Washington, D.C.
Although poor Flat John could not pull or push the mechanical and electronic devices in the exhibitions he visited, his fellow (human) visitors, large and small, could – and did – with gusto. A century ago, Smithsonian exhibitions featured passive displays. Now, in every museum along the National Mall, adults and children watch videos, listen to exhibition narration on their smartphones, and touch screens in order to "interact" with the artifacts.
One of the pioneers in introducing such action to science museums was George Roemmert (1892-1952). His most famous development, the "Microvivarium," projected images of amoebas, infusoria, and other animalcules placed underneath a special microscope. In 1933 and 1934, Roemmert's display became such a hit at the Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago that local newspapers recommended that visitors skip the more commercial displays and head first to the Hall of Science.
The public's newfound fascination with motion pictures undoubtedly contributed to the popularity of the Microvivarium. Here, as in the films of Jean Painlevé, one could watch and wonder at a world in miniature. Worms, larvae, and water-fleas swirled, swam, and swallowed each other within the huge circles of light created by six projectors.
To this raw display of nature, Roemmert added a dramatic narrative. "The part of the show that gets the most fascinated attention from the audience," Science Service biology editor Frank Thone observed, "is a display of fierceness and flesh-hunger on the part of invisibly small one-celled creatures that is as awesome as though they were tigers or leopards. First, Dr. Roemmert shows you his little beasts of prey ... then he displays the animals that are to be the victims ... slipper animalcules ... pushes the two together ... and, with a ferocity which makes you shudder, each beastlet selects its victim, seizes it with unshakeable grip, and proceeds to devour it alive."
Roemmert's Microvivarium exemplified the excitement that Science Service wanted to associate with popularization of science. Thone therefore became caught up in the inventor's search for a permanent installation – no small task in the midst of an economic depression. Thone brokered a demonstration at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C., and he introduced Roemmert to William Mann, Director of the National Zoological Park, and other Smithsonian Institution scientists. Discouraged by his failure to interest any Chicago museum in offering a permanent home, in 1935 Roemmert returned to New York, where he continued negotiations with the American Museum of Natural History. Its offer, however, did not include more than nominal salary for Roemmert and the museum never had sufficient funds to support installation.
Roemmert's struggle to find a home for an acknowledged success mirrored the dilemma long faced by popular science projects. "Public institutions everywhere, however great their interest," he acknowledged to Thone, "are hampered by a lack of funds."
Such setbacks left Roemmert amenable to a pragmatic decision in December 1937. The Westinghouse Electric Company wanted the Microvivarium as the main feature of their hall in the 1939 New York World's Fair. Abandoning his dream of a non-commercial venue, Roemmert agreed to the company's terms, which allowed him to retain freedom in the laboratory and in how the Microvivarium was exhibited.
And so, when you next enjoy a lively science exhibition (perhaps accompanied by your own "flat" tourist), take a moment to remember George Roemmert, whose vision of popularization added a new dramatic dimension to biology. In the Microvivarium, Thone wrote, "single cells loom big as bushel baskets, [and] microscopic animalcule are as large and as lively as jackrabbits."
- Record Unit 7091 - Science Service, Records, circa 1910-1963, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 90-105 - Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s, Smithsonian Institution Archives
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