The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Archive
- I see you - a new satellite image of the National Portrait Gallery portrait commission, One of Many, One, by Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada. [via AirSpace blog, NASM]
- Yes, you heard right, the Smithsonian is on its way to raising $1.5 Billion to support its museums, research centers, and programs. [via The Torch, SI]
- Getting toned, book style - Toning Japanese paper hinges for reattaching boards to leather bindings. [via Unbound blog, Smithsonian Libraries]
- Announced this week - The papers of Nobel laureate Toni Morrison will reside at Princeton University Library. [via InfoDocket]
- Not just go-go or punk - The new D.C. Vernacular Music Archive at George Washington University encompasses the variety of music found in our nation's capital. [via DCist]
- Challenge accepted - Flickr created a site to tell you if your picture has a park or a bird in it in response to a challenge laid out in the XKCD webcomic. [via PetaPixel]
- A new tool is coming from Rhizome that allows you preserve the dynamic content found on social media sites called Colloq. [via Bits blog, The New York Times]
- Walk in the steps of Jane Goodall, the Jane Goodall Institute and Google teamed up to bring their Street View Trekker cameras to Gombe National Park in Tanzania and allow you to explore and experience it. [via PetaPixel]
On October 23, 1826, James Smithson, a wealthy Englishman, sat down and wrote the final version of his will. Smithson, who was 61 years old and had suffered various ailments, was clearly thinking about his legacy. After establishing his pedigree and naming his executors, his first bequest was:
To John Fitall, formerly my Servant, but now employed in the London Docks, and residing at No. 27, Jubilee Place, North Mile End, old town, in consideration of his attachment & fidelity to me, & the long & great care he has taken of my effects, & my having done but very little for him, I give and bequeath the Annuity or annual sum of one hundred pounds sterling for his life, to be paid to him quarterly, free of legacy duty & all other deductions, the first payment to be made to him at the expiration of three months after my death.
Fitall had been his servant for a number of years, and Smithson seems to have held him in high esteem. There is no indication of the circumstances under which Fitall left Smithson’s employ, but it does seem that a job at the London Docks must have been a step down from his role as a man-servant to a wealthy gentleman. Fitall’s home on Jubilee Place, North Mile End, old town, was part of what is known as the East End of London. The area was not yet as notorious as during the Victorian era, when street gangs, prostitutes and Jack the Ripper kept the penny press headlines focused on the docklands area, but it was already a crowded, gritty neighborhood rife with crime. The East End was the section east of the Roman and medieval walled city of London, north of the River Thames, and bordered by the the River Lea. Many residents worked at the nearby docks, which were growing rapidly, with the St. Katharine Docks opening in 1827. Overcrowded and unsanitary, with transients arriving at the docks daily, cholera and other epidemics were a regular occurrence. This was also the home of the Cockney barrow boys and flower girls, competing for sales with their patter of rhyming slang.
Smithson seems to express regret that he has not done more for Mr. Fitall in the past and thus wishes to provide for him for the remainder of his life. His bequest of £100 sterling annually is not a paltry sum. It is difficult to really calculate what that would mean in today's dollars, but the Old Bailey Online website suggests:
By the middle of the nineteenth century, a skilled engineer could command 7s. 6d. a day, or around £110 per year, if fully employed, but this was not significantly more than their eighteenth-century predecessors. In the last decades of the nineteenth century William Booth estimated that a working family needed an income of at least 18s. to 21s. a week, or around £50 a year, just to get by, and 22s. to 30s. a week (£57-£78 per annum) to be "comfortable".
So it would seem that Smithson provided a decent income for his faithful servant for the remainder of his life. I don't know if Mr. Fitall and his wife remained in the East End or if he continued to work at the London docks, but the Fitalls would have had a comfortable life. Life in the East End continued to deteriorate through the remainder of the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth century – the era portrayed in the current BBC series Call the Midwife. Many residents lived in extreme poverty and deprivation, often consigned to work houses for the indigent. Smithson's first bequest ensured that his faithful servant lived out his days in far greater comfort than his neighbors.
The annuity ceased when Mr. Fitall died with the principal reverting to the bequest to the people of the United States. The Minutes of the Smithsonian Board of Regents for January 11, 1850, reported that Mrs. Fitall, the widow of a former servant of Mr. Smithson, through a Mr. H. P. Bohn, had offered for sale a small portrait of James Smithson which was in her possession for the price of thirty guineas. The portrait by James Roberts (1753-c. 1809) is of a young Smithson as a student at Pembroke College, Oxford University, in 1786, attired in his academic robes and already committed to a life devoted to scientific research. The board resolved that Secretary Joseph Henry be authorized to purchase the portrait of Mr. Smithson which Honorable Abbott Lawrence, United States Ambassador to Great Britain, spoke of in his letter of the 10th of December, 1849. The oil on canvas painting soon arrived at the Smithsonian and is in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery today, allowing the Fitalls to give back to the Institution founded by the man who held their service in the highest regard.
- A bold plan from the National Archives - Digitize their analog records, all 12 billion pages of them. [via AOTUS blog, NARA]
- An epic road trip - Collecting on the road with Jason Stieber, National Collector, Archives of American Art. [via Smithsonian Collections Blog]
- Now availble - DigDC, a new online archive of Washington D.C. history created by the D.C. Public Library’s Special Collections department. [via Washington Post]
- Documenting events as the are happening - A conversation with Howard Besser and the efforts of Activist Archivists in saving the records of the "Occupy" movement. [via The Signal: Digital Perservation, LOC]
- From the stacks - Exhibits writer-editor, David Romanowski, talks about his adventures in doing research in the National Air and Space Museum Archives' Technical Files for the Hawaii by Air exhibition. [via AirSpace blog, NASM]
- Some thoughts on archival appraisal in the age of distant reading and computational analysis of large sets of electronic records. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Gale/Library Journal 2014 Library of the Year - Edmonton Public Libary - presents this cool video timeline of their 101 year history. [via InfoDocket]
The end of the fiscal year is a time to clear the decks and prepare for a fresh start. Everyone knows about closing out the budgetary year – the clue's in the name – but, there are other tasks, too. For example, performance reviews. Most everyone loathes them – both giving and receiving - yet they are a necessary evil. What's especially difficult is how to administer them with fairness and efficiency. The solution – standard form – is not new. In fact, here are a couple of performance review forms with rating scales and numeric values I found in the Archives. Although the forms are simple and direct, these would never be allowed today. Take a look and see:
The first example is my favorite. It is one page (there is room to write in detailed comments on the back) and can be used for any worker from laborer to upper management. It has a graphic scale, along which are terms to guide the rater allowing them to complete the task quickly and efficiency. The rating scale works from left to right – take a close look at the terms sprinkled along each line. That's right: slovenly, lazy and repellent.
Just two years later the form was still one page, but it is much less "nuanced" than its predecessor and not nearly so descriptive. So if you happen to be giving or receiving a performance review soon, I hope that you enjoyed this historic look back at the time-honored ritual of performance reviews.
- Accession 05-123: Smithsonian Institution, Personnel Records, 1892-1952, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Beards seem to get all the attention these days. So in honor of Bald and Free Day and to all of those of you who are hair impared, we present to you a Bald and Free Smithsonian.
- Record Unit 7433 - Ruel P. Tolman Collection, 1909-1964, Smithsonian Institution Archive
- Accession 11-008 - Office of Public Affairs, Photographic Collection, 1960-1970, Smithsonian Institution Archives
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