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Posts Tagged ‘archive

“Archives are a kind of site in the sense of like an archaeological site”*…

 

card catalog

 

If time at home has you missing life in the stacks or sifting through old papers in search of pieces of the past, fear not: You can do the same thing online. Slews of institutions are in the market for armchair archivists—volunteers who can generate knowledge by clicking through digitized resources, deciphering handwriting, tagging photos, and more.

Several institutions have already seen an uptick in digital detective work since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A transcription project at the Newberry, a research library in Chicago, has seen a surge in contributions: “In two weeks, we’ve received 62 percent of the traffic we typically see over the course of an entire year,” writes Alex Teller, the library’s director of communications, in an email. This past weekend, the By the People transcription project at the Library of Congress saw 5,000 more users than the previous weekend, says Lauren Algee, the team lead for the crowdsourced initiative. Here’s how you can join them. (Unfortunately, that delicious old-book smell is not included.)…

If you’re cooped-up and curious, use your free time to decipher handwriting, tag images, and more: “How to Help Librarians and Archivists From Your Living Room.”  And/or dive in at that National Archive.

* John Berger, Portraits: John Berger on Artists

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As we dig digging, we might send carefully-curated birthday greetings to Frederick Baldwin Adams Jr.; he was born on this date in 1910.  A bibliophile, he was the the director of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City from 1948–1969.  His predecessor, Belle da Costa Greene, was responsible for organizing the results of Morgan’s rapacious collecting; Adams was responsible for broadening– and modernizing– that collection, adding works by Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, Willa Cather, Robert Frost,  E. A. Robinson, among many others, along with manuscripts and visual arts, and for enhancing the institution’s role as a research facility.

Adams was also an important collector in his own right.  He amassed two of the largest holdings of works by Thomas Hardy and Robert Frost, as well as one of the leading collections of writing by Karl Marx and left-wing Americana.

Adams source

 

“The writing of history reflects the interests, predilections, and even prejudices of a given generation”*…

 

archive

History, as a discipline, comes out of the archive. The archive is not the library, but something else entirely. Libraries spread knowledge that’s been compressed into books and other media. Archives are where collections of papers are stored, usually within a library’s inner sanctum: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s papers, say, at the New York Public Library. Or Record Group 31 at the National Archives—a set of Federal Housing Administration documents from the 1930s to the ’70s. Usually, an archive contains materials from the people and institutions near it. So, the Silicon Valley Archives at Stanford contains everything from Atari’s business plans to HP co-founder William Hewlett’s correspondence.

While libraries have become central actors in the digitization of knowledge, archives have generally resisted this trend. They are still almost overwhelmingly paper. Traditionally, you’d go to a place like this and sit there, day after day, “turning every page,” as the master biographer Robert Caro put it. You might spend weeks, months, or, like Caro, years working through all the boxes, taking extensive notes and making some (relatively expensive) photocopies. Fewer and fewer people have the time, money, or patience to do that. (If they ever did.)

Enter the smartphone, and cheap digital photography. Instead of reading papers during an archival visit, historians can snap pictures of the documents and then look at them later. Ian Milligan, a historian at the University of Waterloo, noticed the trend among his colleagues and surveyed 250 historians, about half of them tenured or tenure-track, and half in other positions, about their work in the archives. The results quantified the new normal. While a subset of researchers (about 23 percent) took few (fewer than 200) photos, the plurality (about 40 percent) took more than 2,000 photographs for their “last substantive project.”

The driving force here is simple enough. Digital photos drive down the cost of archival research, allowing an individual to capture far more documents per hour. So an archival visit becomes a process of standing over documents, snapping pictures as quickly as possible. Some researchers organize their photos swiping on an iPhone, or with an open-source tool named Tropy; some, like Alex Wellerstein, a historian at Stevens Institute of Technology, have special digital-camera setups, and a standardized method. In my own work, I used Dropbox’s photo tools, which I used to output PDFs, which I dropped into Scrivener, my preferred writing software.

These practices might seem like a subtle shift—researchers are still going to collections and requesting boxes and reading papers—but the ways that information is collected and managed transmute what historians can learn from it. There has been, as Milligan put it, a “dramatic reshaping of historical practice.” Different histories will be written because the tools of the discipline are changing…

Alexis Madrigal takes a deep dive into how archives– and the ways that we use them– are morphing: “The Way We Write History Has Changed.”

* John Hope Franklin

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As we “turn every page,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1812 that Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry signed the redistricting legislation that led to his being accused of the first instance of “gerrymandering” in the U.S.

In 1812 the state adopted new constitutionally-mandated electoral district boundaries. The Republican-controlled legislature had created district boundaries designed to enhance their party’s control over state and national offices, leading to some oddly shaped legislative districts. Although Gerry was unhappy about the highly partisan districting (according to his son-in-law, he thought it “highly disagreeable”), he signed the legislation. The shape of one of the state senate districts in Essex County was compared to a salamander by a local Federalist newspaper in a political cartoon, calling it a “Gerry-mander.” Ever since, the creation of such districts has been called gerrymandering. [source]

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The word “gerrymander” (originally written “Gerry-mander”) was used for the first time in the Boston Gazette newspaper on March 26, 1812.[78] Appearing with the term, and helping spread and sustain its popularity, was this political cartoon, which depicts a state senate district in Essex County as a strange salamander-shaped animal with claws, wings and a dragon-type head, satirizing the district’s odd shape.

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“…for no change comes calmly over the world”*…

 

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The world is powered by open source software.

It is a hidden cornerstone of modern civilization, and the shared heritage of all humanity. The mission of the GitHub Archive Program is to preserve open source software for future generations.

GitHub is partnering with the Long Now Foundation, the Internet Archive, the Software Heritage Foundation, Arctic World Archive, Microsoft Research, the Bodleian Library, and Stanford Libraries to ensure the long-term preservation of the world’s open source software. We will protect this priceless knowledge by storing multiple copies, on an ongoing basis, across various data formats and locations, including a very-long-term archive designed to last at least 1,000 years.

The GitHub Arctic Code Vault is a data repository preserved in the Arctic World Archive (AWA), a very-long-term archival facility 250 meters deep in the permafrost of an Arctic mountain. The archive is located in a decommissioned coal mine in the Svalbard archipelago, closer to the North Pole than the Arctic Circle. GitHub will capture a snapshot of every active public repository on 02/02/2020 and preserve that data in the Arctic Code Vault.

Adjacent to the Global Seed Vault, Github’s Global Archive Program.

* Walter M. Miller Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz

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As we preserve for posterity, we might recall that it was on this date in 1810 that Baltimore jeweler Peregrine Williamson was issued the first patent for a metal writing pen.  (His patent, #1168, is among the “X Patents,” those lost in the Patent Office fire of 1836.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA source

 

Written by LW

November 22, 2019 at 1:01 am

“I rather think that archives exist to keep things safe – but not secret”*…

 

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For hundreds of years, families in Mauritania have been maintaining libraries of old Arabo-Berber books.  Originally on the route of pilgrims traveling to Mecca, the libraries are now at risk from the spreading Sahara and ever dwindling numbers of visitors, in part because of security restrictions due to terrorism.  One center of this preservation is the vanishing city of Chinguetti.

Most of Chinguetti consists of abandoned houses which are being swallowed up by the ever encroaching dunes of the Sahara. But this was once a prosperous city of 20,000 people, and a medieval center for religious and legal scholars; it was known as “The City of Libraries.”

Seen as a legacy from their ancestors, the families feel it’s an honor for them to care for these books:

About 600km north-east of the capital, in Chinguetti, once a centre of Islamic learning, the Habott family owns one of the finest private libraries, with 1,400 books covering a dozen subjects such as the Qur’an and the Hadith (the words of the Prophet), astronomy, mathematics, geometry, law and grammar. The oldest tome, written on Chinese paper, dates from the 11th century…

Precious Arabic manuscripts from western Africa are under threat as Mauritania’s desert libraries vanish.  Learn more– and marvel at the photos that you’ll find at “Mauritania’s hidden manuscripts” (source of the direct quote above) and “Desert libraries of Chinguetti” (general source).  See also @incunabula and the photos at Messy Nessy.

* Kevin Young

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As we treasure treasures, we might recall that it was on this date in 1846 that President James K. Polk signed the legislation that established the Smithsonian Institution as a “trust instrumentality” of the United States, to be administered by a Board of Regents and a Secretary of the Smithsonian.

Based on the founding donation of British scientist James Smithson, and originally called as the “United States National Museum,” it now houses over 150 million items in 19 museums, nine research centers, and a zoo, several of which are historical and architectural landmarks.  “The Nation’s Attic,” as it is fondly known, hosts over 30 million visitors a year.

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The “Castle” (1847), the Institution’s first building, which remains its headquarters

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Written by LW

August 10, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Maps codify the miracle of existence”*…

 

This 1922 map of the world was the first general reference map created by National Geographic magazine’s in-house cartography shop, which was founded in 1915.

Cartography has been close to National Geographic’s heart from the beginning. And over the magazine’s 130-year history, maps have been an integral part of its mission. Now, for the first time, National Geographic has compiled a digital archive of its entire editorial cartography collection — every map ever published in the magazine since the first issue in October 1888.

The collection is brimming with more than 6,000 maps (and counting) and you’ll have a chance to see some of the highlights as the magazine’s cartographers explore the trove and share one of their favorite maps each day.

Follow @NatGeoMaps on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook to see what they discover. (The separate map archive is not available to the public, but subscribers can see them in their respective issues in the digital magazine archive)...

More background– and more samples from the vault– at “Discover Fascinating Vintage Maps From National Geographic’s Archives.”

* Nicholas Crane, Mercator: The Man Who Mapped the Planet

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As we contemplate cartography, we might recall that it was on this date in 1931 that Swiss physicist, inventor, and explorer Auguste Piccard launched himself and an assistant in a 300-pound, 82-inch diameter aluminum gondola suspended from a hydrogen gas-filled balloon.  They rose to a record 51,775 feet, then landed safely.

Auguste Piccard was the model for Professor Cuthbert Calculus in The Adventures of Tintin by Belgian cartoonist Hergé, and Gene Roddenberry’s inspiration in naming Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek.

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Written by LW

May 27, 2018 at 1:01 am

“There is in souls a sympathy with sounds”*…

 

A Marconi-Stille recording machine, which the BBC helped to develop. It used thin steel for tape, a single spool of which weighed more than 20lb. (Photo taken in 1936)

In the worlds of television. audio, and film production, The BBC Sound Archive is legendary.  Founded in 1936, its holdings date back to the late 19th century and include many rare items, including contemporary speeches by public and political figures, folk music, British dialects and sound effects– along with most BBC Radio programs.  The pace of collection has flagged a bit under recent budget pressures; still, the archive is 350,000 hours of material in total duration.

The public has had some access to the archive through the British Library.  But now there is a more direct channel: the BBC has made 16,000 sound effects available (for personal, educational or research use) for download directly on its web site. From “Drilling and reaming machine operating, with occasional pauses” to “Tropical Forest, West Africa at dawn.” there’s (literally) a world there to hear.

* William Cowper

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As we lend an ear, we might recall that it was on this date in 1888, that Nikola Tesla was issued several patents relating to the induction magnetic motor, alternating current (AC) sychronous motor, AC transmission, and electricity distribution (Nos. 381,968-70; 382,279-82).

In his extraordinary career, Tesla patented over 110 innovations, ranging from these (which he deployed at Niagara Falls among other spots; in the long run, Tesla was right and Edison– proponent of direct current/DC, and vicious opponent of Tesla– wrong: AC became the standard) to the first wireless remote control.  Tesla designed and began planning a “worldwide wireless communications system” that was backed by JP Morgan…  until Morgan lost confidence and pulled out.  “Cyberspace,” as described by the likes of Bill Gibson and Neal Stephenson, was largely prefigured in Tesla’s plan.  Often mis-remembered (as a fringe figure, almost a looney), if at all, Tesla was a remarkable genius, whose talent ran far, far ahead of his luck.  He died penniless in 1943.

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Written by LW

May 1, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Archives are a kind of site… like an archaeological site”*…

 

I was told that the most interesting man in the world works in the archives division of the New York Public Library, and so I went there, one morning this summer, to meet him. My guide, who said it took her a year to learn how to get around the Schwarzman Building on 42nd Street, led us to an elevator off Astor Hall, up past the McGraw Rotunda, through a little door at the back of the Rose Main Reading Room. Our destination was Room 328.

A sign above the door called it the “Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room for Rare Books and Manuscripts.” Inside, there were a handful of quiet researchers stooped at large wooden desks, and in the corner, presiding over a cart of acid-free Hollinger document boxes, was the archivist Thomas Lannon…

The New York Public Library’s archives contain dentures, roller skates, and, as David Grann discovered, evidence of a systematic campaign of murder; Thomas Lannon presides over it all: “Keepers of the Secrets.”

* John Berger

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As we dig through the files, we might wish a Joyeux Anniversaire to Denis Diderot, contributor to and the chief editor of the Encyclopédie (“All things must be examined, debated, investigated without exception and without regard for anyone’s feelings.”)– and thus towering figure in the Enlightenment; he was born on this date in 1713.  Diderot was also a novelist (e.g., Jacques le fataliste et son maître [Jacques the Fatalist and his Master])…  and no mean epigramist:

From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step.

We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter.

Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

A thing is not proved just because no one has ever questioned it.

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Written by LW

October 5, 2017 at 1:01 am

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