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GIF IT UP Contest Winners Announced

Fluttering butterfly from Merian's Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium
Here’s the winning GIF for Nature & Environment.

It was a very pleasant day when yours truly, Richard Naples, was announced as one of the winners of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) and Digital New Zealand (DigitalNZ) GIF IT UP contest. My entry, a flittering butterfly adapted from Maria Sibylla Merian’s Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, won in the Nature and Environment category of the recent contest. This international competition to find the best GIFs reusing public domain and openly licensed digital video, images, text and other material was a great way for DPLA and DigitalNZ to show off their amazing collections.

If you are not familiar with DPLA, it is an effort to bring together content from the libraries, archives, and museums of America in digital format. DigitalNZ is a similar initiative in New Zealand. The beauty in these organizations lie not only in their portals which bring content from hundreds of sources, but also with their innovative relationship to their own data, allowing for developers to invent new ways of discovering content, engaging with it, and ultimately learning new things. I suggest you take some time to see all the amazing things DPLA & DigitalNZ have to offer. In DPLA, this includes a plethora of content from the Smithsonian in general and the Libraries in particular (The Smithsonian is currently the second largest contributor, after HathiTrust).

Here’s what I wrote (with an unfortunate misspelling corrected…)

 In the year preceding the turn of the 17th century, Maria Sibylla Merian traveled with her daughter to the Dutch colony of Surinam in South America to carefully document the metamorphosis of the butterfly. Born in 1647, Merian was a budding entomologist even at the tender age of 13, spending her time collecting caterpillars and carefully observing their transformations into butterflies or moths. At a time when insects were poorly understood and often interpreted as evil or otherwise ominous, Merian blazed a path in entomology. In her career spanning decades, she left a lasting impact on the fields of entomology, naturalism, and scientific illustration, made even more remarkable considering she did so at a time when women were rarely educated let alone published. Her magnum opus, ‘Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium’ was first published in 1705, a few years after she was forced to return to Amsterdam from Surinam after contracting malaria. This GIF pulls from the 1730 edition. In considering what to submit for this contest, I knew right away that something from Maria Sibylla Merian’s ‘Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium’ would be high on my list. Bringing to life these vignettes was a small effort in comparison to the amazing legacy of work left by this amazing woman.

The source book, ‘Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium’ is courtesy Smithsonian Libraries via the Biodiversity Heritage Library and DPLA: I find Merian to be such a fascinating figure in the history of science. There have been exhibitions about her at places like the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Getty Museum, and she was even the subject of an illustrated children’s book. The Libraries has a number of works by and about her, including Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the secrets of metamorphosis by Kim Todd, and Women on the margins: three seventeenth-century lives by Natalie Zemon Davis.

And if you were curious how these animations are made, I’ve got a presentation on Slideshare and a blog post from early this year that go through the basics, along with how you could try your hand at making them yourself.

You can see all the entries for the contest at and see who won in each of the other categories at, including one that also used Smithsonian content to create their GIF. Namely, an animation of snowflake pictures taken by Wilson A. Bentley, from Smithsonian Archives.

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