June 23, 2006

LISA V: History of Astronomy & Astronomical Archives

Wednesday morning's first session was titled "History of Astronomy & Astronomical Archives". Some heartbreaking images of archives before they were cared for, and some wild things happening in history projects - all quite interesting! These are my notes, not detailed transcriptions, and may include my own opinions.

L. Schiavone: Specola 2000

Overview of the project (to arrange and produce an inventory of the archives of the 12 Italian astronomical observatories). In this case, “archive” doesn’t mean a collection after-the-fact but the natural, organic development of the documents collection as the organization develops. These archives hold documents older than 40 years, and they must be arranged and held indefinitely. Items less than 40 years are held in a temporary repository until that time has passed, and they then are moved into the permanent archives.

Prior to the implementation of Specola 2000 some of the individual observatories had done partial archival projects; in 2002 all 12 individual observatories were merged into a National Observatory and the main project began. Each observatory now has a librarian responsible for supervising their section of the archival project, coordinating with a professional archivist.

4 phases:

1) Census of the archival materials held at each observatory
2) Arranging and producing an inventory of all records up to 1960
3) Make an inventory of the correspondence items
4) "Virtual" recovery of documents produced by the observatories but held by other institutions.

As a result of the project the inventories of 5 observatory archives are entirely or partially searchable on the web; more will come as they progress.

K. Moran: Astronomical Archives at ROE

Description of the archives held at ROE. 3 distinct yet related collections: Crawford Collection, Plate Library, and the Archives themselves (made up of materials from Calton Hill Observatory, Dun Echt Observatory, and Blackford Hill Observatory).

Examples of items in the collection (which is arranged chronologically and catalogued through 1937) and discussion of processes and progress on the digitization of the archives. Funding issues, increasing profiles, contributing to public events.

E. Bouton: Starting with nothing - Archives at NRAO

Until 3 years ago, there were no archives at NRAO! Many concerns, but no actions. (NRAO’s 50th anniversary is this November.) Convinced director to start a formal archives program starting in 2003; Ellen did a lot of research and held many discussions about creating an archival policy, and then did so from scratch.

What to define: What will be collected and preserved? What and where are the records? Where will they organize and store it? Who will do the work?

Get staff buy-in to help with administrative and managerial support.

They’re starting to mount web resources of digital projects on Nan Conklin, Grote Reber, John Findlay, Doc Ewen, and John Kraus (all pioneers in radio astronomy).

E. Bryson: Gathering the Forgotten Voices: An Oral History of CFHT's Early Years

Project origins in the LISA IV conference. Decision to capture the history of the observatory in video and audio formats, and then create and provide a DVD for all participants and employees (current and former).

Showed clips of how images from the physical archives will be incorporated into the video record, and how interviews etc were obtained (not just face-to-face but via Polycom, etc). All the interview transcripts will be available on the web site, as well.

B.Corbin: Etienne Leopold Trouvelot, the Artist and Astronomer

Introduction to the artist, who worked for the Harvard College Observatory in the mid- to late-1800s, and views of some of his work. He was not only a prolific artist but also an author (50 papers published) - but we remember him for another reason, he introduced the Gypsy Moth into the US environment.

Online exhibit of his art at NYPL -Heavens Above: Art & Actuality - check it out!


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