- Get Involved
October is American Archives Month, a time to focus on the importance of the Smithsonian’s vast collections of archival and historical records and to highlight the many individual Smithsonian archival units responsible for maintaining these rich and complex documentary resources. Organized by the Smithsonian Institution Archives and Special Collections Council (SIASC), the Archives Fair highlighted collections of archival and historical records at the Smithsonian. Staff from over different archival units showcased some of the Smithsonian’s archival treasures as well as current projects and programs through lectures, Ask The Smithsonian in-person and online events, and new this year - a film series. View the webcast of the lecture series or jump to the Lectures Series Descriptions and Film Series Descriptions.
Wednesday October 17th, archivists specializing in audio/visual material, photos, and digital objects (or electronic records), together with a paper conservator gathered on the Smithsonian's Facebook page to field questions posted on the Smithsonian's "wall". You can check out those conversations by visiting the Facebook page.
S. Dillon Ripley Center, Room 3111
Postcards From the Colonial Edge: Digitizing Hidden Treasures From Africa
Presenter: Amy Staples, Supervisory Archivist, National Museum of African Art
The Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives (EEPA) is completing a three-year cataloguing and digitization project of over 13,000 historic postcards from Africa produced during the late 19th to early 20th century . Funded by the Smithsonian's CIS/IRM Pool (FY2010 - 2012), the goal of this project is to make fully accessible one of the EEPA's premiere visual resources for scholarly research, exhibition and publication. This slide presentation will feature the postcard as a multi-layered artifact that not only presents challenges for cataloguing and digitization, but illustrates how popular and stereotypical images of Africa were created, circulated and gained global currency throughout the 20th century. Examples from the EEPA collection will highlight the role of African photographers, studios and publishers in creating a commercial market for the postcard, and how these mass-produced images and personalized messages contributed to the promotion of travel, tourism and trade in Africa.
Word, Shout, Song: Revealing the Hidden Research of Lorenzo Dow Turner
Presenter: Jennifer Morris, Archivist, Anacostia Community Museum
In the 1930s and 1940s, pioneering linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner proved through scientific research and audio recordings that the Gullah language, spoken in the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia by descendants of African slaves, retained African words and expressions and conveyed cultural traditions. In 1936, Turner wrote to the president of Fisk University: “The resemblance between these [West African] languages and Gullah [is] much more striking than I had supposed.” Lorenzo Dow Turner papers at ACM contain approximately 110 field recordings made by Turner in the United States, Brazil, and Africa which includes songs, stories, and poems used by Turner for his seminal work, Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect (1949). This lecture will discuss how ACM preserved these recording which risked loss of content due to delamination and palmitic acid. In addition, the process involved with cataloging photographs documenting Turners research in West Africa will be addressed.
When More Process Equals More Product:
Access to the Carnegie Institute Museum of Art Records (1883-1962) Collection
Presenters: Judy Ng and Marisa Bourgoin, Archives of American Art
This lecture provides an overview of this 240 linear feet collection prior to processing, the challenges to research access that presented, the reasoning behind processing the collection to a full level, and the resulting success it has found in the Reading Room and through Collections Online now that the collection is fully accessible.
World War II Monument Men
Presenter: Barbara Aikens, Chief Collection, Archives of American Art
During World War II, the Allied Forces formed a special armed forces unit named the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section (MFAA.) This unlikely group of heroes was composed of American and British museum directors, art historians and scholars, curators, educators, artists, architects, and archivists who were tasked with locating and protecting historical and cultural monuments, buildings, and sites throughout Europe from bombing. The unit became simply known as the Monuments Men. Towards the end of the war and shortly after the war, these same Monuments Men were tasked with locating and recovering innumerable cultural and artistic artifacts stolen by the Nazis during World War II. The Archives of American Art holds a number of personal archives and oral histories of several of the leading Monuments Men and archival documentation of their recovery efforts. The story of the Monuments Men is one of danger, espionage, interrogations, discoveries, and the recovery of the largest stash of stolen art and cultural objects ever imagined.
Discovering Artistry in Field Books: Intersection of Art and Science
Presenter: Emily Hunter, Cataloger, The Field Book Project, National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Biodiversity field books are the original documentation of scientific exploration and discovery. The Smithsonian Institution houses over 6,000 such field books distributed throughout various departments, divisions and buildings. The Field Book Project is currently working to bring all of these field books together in one online location with detailed catalog records and digitally imaged content. These materials range in content from brief notes on scientific data and observations to lengthy personal accounts of the scientist's field experience. Despite the implications of the term "field books", these records can also take the form of more visual materials including sketches, maps and a variety of photographic formats. Often overlooked when discussing field books, these visual materials can provide great insights into the surrounding environment in which a specimen was collected; methods of collecting; and the social and cultural contexts in which specimen collection occurred.
The Weird and Wonderful at the National Anthropological Archives
Presenters: Gina Rappaport, Photograph Archivist, National Anthropological Archives
The National Anthropological Archives (NAA) is the oldest archives in the Smithsonian, with 13,000 cubic feet of collections including manuscripts, artwork, sound recordings, maps, and 1,000,000 photographs. Though most collections are described in catalog records and finding aids, the NAA archivists routinely find incredible items of historical significance, curiosity, beauty, and just plain weirdness. The stories behind the collections are often fascinating, moving, or disturbing. Several archivists from the NAA will highlight just a few of the many hidden treasures in the NAA as well as what it takes to care for them and make them available to the public.
Preserving a Folk Music Legacy: Digitizing the Moses and Frances Asch Collection
Presenters: Cecilia Peterson and Dan Charette, Archivists, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
This presentation will highlight the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collection's
current efforts to digitize the Moses and Frances Asch Collection, a long-term project funded by the Save America's Treasures grant. Following a brief outline of our digitization process and metadata efforts, we will discuss how the project has helped illuminate obscure items in the collection (and in some cases, helped uncover items we never knew existed !)
Black Mosaic Identity Video
Presenter: Taylor McBride, Archivist, Anacostia Community Museum
This video is a compilation of interviews conducted in the late 1980s-early 1990s for the exhibit "BLACK MOSAIC: Community, Race, and Ethnicity Among Black Immigrants in Washington, D.C." at the Anacostia Museum. In it, African-Americans of various nationalities and backgrounds discuss how their race, ethnicity, and cultural background inform their personal identity. This video has not been viewed publicly since the Black Mosaic exhibit in 1991 and offers interesting perspectives on the multi-dimensionality of immigrant identity.
Land of the Zuni and Community Work; Paper-Bread (Hewe) Making and Corn Grinding
Presenter: Rachel Menyuk, National Museum of the American Indian Archives
This black and white silent footage was recorded by the Museum of the American Indian/Heye Foundation in 1923 during the excavation of the Zuni settlement at Hawikku. The first film shows the Zuni community and work practices such as farming, harvesting, winnowing and threshing wheat, and more. The second show corn being ground and used to make traditional paper bread (Hewe). These films are from a series about the traditions and ceremonial life of the Zuni. This footage is a "Hidden Treasure" because it has been deteriorating for decades, and was just the recipient of preservation treatment thanks to a 2011 National Film Preservation Foundation grant and a 2011 Save America's Treasures grant. We will be working members of the Zuni community to create a new version of this film which includes updated intertitles consisting of tribal knowledge.
The Only People in Town
Presenter: Jennifer Morris, Archivist, Anacostia Community Museum
In this short film, four friends remember their time growing up in the Frederick Douglass Dwellings housing project in Southeast, Washington, D.C. What makes this film a “hidden treasure” is how ACM’s Frederick Douglass Dwellings collection and the Archives facility is incorporated in the film to tell the story of a community that not longer exist in the nation’s capital. In addition, the film validates the value of archives to communities and individuals.
Social and Reproductive Development of the Giant Panda, 1978
Presenter: Kira Cherrix, Digitization Specialist, Smithsonian Institution Archives
This video contains footage from Devra Kleiman's research on Giant Pandas Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing at the National Zoological Park. The studies she conducted on the social and reproductive habits of the Giant Panda completely altered the perception that pandas were solitary creatures. This video, as well as 160 hours of camera-original footage, has recently been digitized in an effort to preserve the deteriorating black and white footage for future researchers. Although her research lasted from 1972 to 1990, this video focuses on her early findings. The video includes clips from 1972 to 1978, and is narrated by Devra Kleiman herself. This is a rare compiled tape of historic moving images by the foremost panda researcher.
Songs of a Distant Jungle
Presenter: Mark White, Archivist, National Anthropological Archives
This is an edited film produced by Bechtel Corporation who funded the research project of American musician Chris Roberts. The film is something of a "hidden treasure" because it is not part of a large-scale research project, nor does it fall squarely within the discipline of anthropology. The 1982 film illustrates some of the concerns surrounding problems of language documentation relevant to Recovering Voices and raises important questions about why it is important to archive even "small" films on specialized subjects coming from otherwise unfamialiar sources.
Mexican Home Movies from the 1930s
Presenter: Megan McShea, Media Archivist, Archives of American Art
These nine short reels of film were found in the papers of artists Stefan Hirsch and Elsa Rogo, who lived in Mexico during the 1930s in a burgeoning community of expatriate American artists. The films provide an intimate portrait of village and town life in Taxco and Tehuantepec through the eyes of these accomplished artists and teachers.. Two of the reels are in color, which is uncommon for amateur films from this period, and one of the color films is Dufaycolor, a color film process so uncommon that the lab had to develop a custom process for preserving them.
Archives Fair attendees consulted in person with experts including archivists, conservators and librarians on how to better care for their own archives-worthy items.