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Campaign gifts enable the Archives to share its collections online.

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The Terra Foundation for American Art

Sustained Support Transforms Access and Discoveries

The Terra Foundation for American Art’s two multi-million-dollar grants to the Archives of American Art have been transformative. The Foundation’s support of the processing and digitizing of collections has allowed the Archives to implement innovative approaches to digitization that now serve as a model for other institutions within the Smithsonian and around the world. The grants fund the website, Terra Foundation Center for Digital Collections, which features close to 600 finding aids and 2 million digital images. The foundation's generosity has greatly advanced discoveries in the collection and has formed a critical foundation for the development of new methods for digital art history.

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Patty Stonesifer and Michael Kinsey's campaign gifts inspire new connections among Smithsonian visitors. 

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Patty Stonesifer and Michael Kinsey

New Media Connects Audiences in New Ways 

Patty Stonesifer was a digital pioneer as a senior vice president for Microsoft’s Interactive Media Division and her husband Michael Kinsey was a founding editor of online Slate Magazine. Their philanthropic interests dovetail in the virtual world. One of their gifts to the National Museum of Natural History’s David C. Koch Hall of Human Origins created an app visitors use to morph their faces back to prehistoric time. Another enhances  the National Museum of African American History and Culture online presence with to website improvements and online conversations using Facebook, Twitter and other social media. “James Smithson’s gift all those years ago is still paying dividends for so many,” Stonesifer says. “It is my belief that similar dividends are available to all of us who have resources, and who want the world and this country to be a bit different – that want to see certain things preserved, certain knowledge extended, certain ideas considered.”

 

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The Smithsonian digitized 45,000 bumblebees from its collection in 40 days.

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Gunther Waibel

Building a Digital Smithsonian

Remove a bumblebee from its storage tray.  Pin it (and the tiny tags that hold the data for each bee) to a custom designed imaging stage.  Add a barcode.  Place it under a high resolution imaging system.  Snap a picture.  Upload the photo to the collections database.  Make it available to the whole world.

That's the process we engaged in at the Smithsonian's Natural History museum on average 1,100 times per day, every day, for 8 weeks with the end result of digitizing a total of 44,000 bumblebees.  This type of digitization throughput for this type of collection has never been achieved before.

The value of this type of data is immeasurable when you consider the impact the declining pollinator population has on the earth's food supply.  "You can recreate environments, say which bumblebees, which birds and which butterflies were at McLean, Virginia, in 1935," says Dave Furth, the entomology department's collections manager, providing an example.

"Pollinators are a big deal now and especially Bombus," Furth says, referring to the genus for bumblebees.  "They're becoming rarer and rarer.  We don't always know why.  By having the data and having images, people can ask a lot of different questions."  The entomology department hopes its database can help people understand that decline and the Digitization Program Office plans to help them with that goal by creating innovative and efficient ways to digitize the tens of millions of insects in the rest of the entomology collection.

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A Smithsonian team captures 3D data of a fossil whale in Chile.

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Cerro Ballena

3D Team Scans Fossil Whales in Chile

Cerro Ballena ("whale hill") is the paleontological site where a spectacular collection of fossil marine mammals was excavated next to the Pan-American Highway in the Atacama Region of Chile.  The scope of the site was revealed by road construction in 2010 and systematic excavations through 2012 showed that it preserves dozens of complete skeletons of extinct whales, seals and bizarre species such as walrus-whales, and aquatic sloths.  The density of fossil marine mannal skeletons at Cerro Ballena is unrivaled by any other fossil site in the world.  But the hill was about to be buried under highway construction.

The site no longer exists.  The fossil skeletons embedded in rock were removed and stored in a local museum.  It may be decades before the bones are prepared for study and display.  But before the fossils were moved, the Smithsonian's 3D digitization team scanned the entire site, capturing essential data about the arrangement and condition of the skeletons.  3D documentation provided not only a snapshot of paleontological fieldwork, but also a rich data set that will allow future generations to study the anatomy and conditions of several of the whale skeletons as they were originally found. 

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