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On our first day in the AMNH Archives, we got acquainted with the collections, primarily focusing on departmental records.
We worked on a variety of material types ranging from the early to mid-20th century. It was a great place to start the project and to know the history of AMNH at a glance, it included administrative reports, historical analysis of charters, constitution and law, report of history of Museum founding, donation and consultant reports on the future and funding of the Hayden Planetarium.
We also worked with a collection of manuscripts that consisted of translations of newspaper and scholarly articles about snails, oysters, pearls, and shells. These translations were done between 1938-39 for the Works Progress Administration Translation Project. The original articles were obtained from the New York Public Library and were written in various languages, including English, French and German. Some of the handwritten papers in this collection have become brittle, but most of the typescript pages, which make up the bulk of the collection, are in good condition.
We encountered some subjects that we were not very familiar with; therefore, doing research about the topics that we worked on the papers today will definitely help our work for the next time!
Today is our last day working on the Hayden Planetarium Collection and we spent most of the day straightening up. We put our final touches on our catalog spreadsheet, shifted the last few boxes around, and finished up our risk assessment of the collection. We’ve had a great experience working with this collection, even though it could be aggravating at times when we would come across box after box of administrative records. We really enjoyed coming across all of the surprising marvels – such as the Robots in Space laserdiscs! – that this collection had to offer. But most of all, we’re proud of how neat and organized all the boxes look now – even if the contents inside the boxes are still unprocessed!
We finished up the last big push of our attempt creating collections for the Hayden Planetarium materials today. While we still have to physically organize quite a few items we were able to organize a great deal of it, particularly our media collections.
Of all the things we’ve done so far with the Hayden Planetarium collection we think this has been our most important effort: making the archives look pretty and searchable again! It was certainly a very cathartic (and at times, frustrating) effort for us to untangle the mishmash of boxes up here.
There are still miles to go before we sleep in terms of completing our efforts on the collection but we think we’ve earned the right to pat ourselves on the back right now, and to sit back and enjoy the view of a finally organized shelf.
For several weeks now I have been working on a unique collection of letters in relation to the Hayden Planetarium. I find the collection to be truly fascinating and have enjoyed arranging it. The letters are truly genuine and are often times hilarious and, in some cases, perhaps too honest. There was one letter I discovered from an individual who was fascinated with dinosaurs. In her letter she expressed her wish to travel to Venus because, according to her, it was a known fact that dinosaurs did indeed live on Venus.
In an attempt to publicize their exhibit “Conquest of Space”, the Hayden Planetarium set up what they called the “interplanetary-tour reservations desk”. This offices primary function was to draw patrons in by advertising the idea of future space travel. The late 1940s and early 1950s showcased major breakthroughs in astronomical technology and space exploration was on the minds of individuals across the globe, especially in the United States. Through advertisement in major magazines and publications in the U.S. and overseas, the Planetarium was able to generate an incredible amount of publicity for their exhibit. Potential space travelers flooded the Hayden’s inbox with letters requesting reservations for themselves, their friends, their unborn children, and even their dogs. To this date the museum has not let the public down, even if the promise of future space travel was a bit premature in 1950. Perhaps in the future, the several hundred individuals who wrote letters to the museum all those years ago will finally get their chance to travel to a distant planet.
Easily one of the best moments so far in this project has been looking up from the work we’re doing and seeing how much we’ve already accomplished. So far, we’ve been able to develop collections for all the paper items in the Hayden Planetarium Collection. When we look at one of our previous disorganized rows of boxes we find that – wow! – it doesn’t look so disorganized any more.
While today was spent mostly correcting any errors we thought we had made in the spreadsheet and on the shelves, we did make a discovery elsewhere that’s pertinent to our collection and to our childhoods. As you may know, Titanic is being re-released this week. As you may not know, James Cameron was convinced he had to alter the night sky in one of the final scenes of the film by AMNH’s very own Neil deGrasse Tyson. Watch Tyson discuss this below.
Today we uncovered thirteen boxes full of photographs of various astronomical events and equipment. There were pictures of telescopes, observatories, and antennas – oh my! There were pictures of space shuttle missions, star maps, nebulae, galaxies, and all the beautiful things we associate with outer space. Perhaps most interesting were the reprints of pictures of nebulae and galaxies taken in the late 1800s. These black and white photos show us the arrangement of the cosmos as it was then, and it’s pretty much how it appears to us now. A century is a but a drop in the bucket to the universe after all.
We had something of a hard time figuring out how to catalog and describe these photographs, which ended up being separated into two distinct collections. This was decided by the simple fact that on their boxes they were labeled as coming from either File Cabinet 1 or 2. All the same, we were baffled by the diverse array of topics in the boxes and ultimately had to describe them as falling under the broad category of “astronomical events and objects.” A note to people filing photographs in the past (and present!): narrow down the topics in your file cabinets please! For the sake of the interns!
Because the elevators were down for maintenance we settled into the archive materials on the 4th floor, a little bit closer to Earth and to the Planetarium the materials concern. Today, as we surveyed and cataloged various Hayden Planetarium related materials on the 4th floor, we came across some interesting government related commission meetings. We found documents on the Commission on the Future of the US Aerospace Industry and the Commission on Moon, Mars, and Beyond. This second commission was explicitly geared towards the commercialization of space. We found pictures of an international space station, documents that indicate the US was planning on collaborating with Japan, and a Chinese menu, which probably had more to do with the participants’ hunger than it had to do with living in outer space. Upon reading some of the documents we thought it was amazing how focused and serious the participants seemed about getting humans to live in space. There was even some notes that hinted that this might solve humanities primary problems.
These commissions were held in the early 2000’s and alas, only ten years later, that dream seems to be dead. Though AMNH’s exhibit Beyond Planet Earth shows us how we could travel into space and the science behind it, the cancellation of NASA’s Space Shuttle program shows a shift in the in the idea of getting civilians into space. But if a mere ten years ago space commercialization was being seriously considered there is no reason to believe that it won’t be considered again ten years from now. So though the elevators may be down this week our hopes have been raised somewhat. Maybe we’ll get to go into space after all.
Today, as we continued to survey the Hayden Planetarium materials we came across two interesting books that appeared to be poetry of geometry and advanced scientific theories. These books belonged to Leon E. Gold, whose name – along with Dr. K. Franklin – we kept seeing throughout the day. At first glance we thought that it was very strange, but kind of cool, that scientist Lillian R. Lieber had taken the time and effort to make a poem out of geometric theories. Turns out that they weren’t really poems at all! Rather, they were an effort to make reading the book easier:
This is not intended to be
Writing each phrase on a separate line
Facilitates rapid reading,
Is in a hurry
Did Ms. Lieber have a prescient dream one night in 1931 and see Twitter? We certainly think so.
Despite the fact that Lieber did not intend for the book to read as poetry, the book retains a melodic quality all the same:
Since it is impossible
To draw a straight line on a sphere,
The shortest distance on the surface
Must be a curve;
The books also included some rather beautiful drawings, which you can see above and below.
From 1935 to the present day the American Museum of Natural History has made use of a Zeiss projector in its planetarium. As we were sifting through materials today we came across several binders of blueprints for the Zeiss projector, all of which showed a detailed look at the inner workings of the projector. Because the written material on the blueprints is in German and contain complex mathematical equations it’s hard to understand the full breadth of information present, but the pictures speak for themselves. These intricate drawings show the inner workings of the projectors that have brought us closer to the stars for over seventy-five years.
The most remarkable and interesting thing about these blueprints isn’t really about how they were made, but that the very look of them denotes an idea of the future. The cross section of the projector looks like alien technology, and some of the blueprints are strongly reminiscent of space travel as we perceived it in the 1960s. It was certainly a welcome relief after going through boxes and boxes of administrative papers!
TagsAinu AMNH library catalog Anthropology Archives Archbold Archival Arrangement archives Authority Names CAT Cataloging CLIR 2010 clir 2012 Correspondence Crocker Land Department of Preparation and Installation Department Records EAC-CPF expeditions Fall 2011 Field Notes Finding Aid finding aids Hayden Planetarium Herpetology Archives hidden connections IMLS LARA linked data Mammalogy Archives Manuscript Collection Museum History Non-Curatorial Field Notes Ornithology Archives Paleontology Archives Phase 2 photographs Photo Print Collection Processing Research Library Risk Assessment Slide Collection Spring 2011 Spring 2012 Summer 2011 Summer 2012 T. Don Carter
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