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Author: Erin Thomas

Erin Thomas served as a Digital Collections Librarian at Smithsonian Libraries from 2009-2014.

Highlights from the Cultural Heritage Library: Vintage Knitting Patterns

Illustration of an old woman and a little girl knitting, from the Art of Knitting
Illustration from The Art of Knitting

In 1892, for 50 cents or 2 shillings, you could have purchased this month’s Cultural Heritage Library selection and wowed all your friends with the latest and most comprehensive guide to knitting on the market to date. The Art of Knitting (1892) was published as a companion to The Art of Crocheting and contains simple instructions for beginners as well as more complex fancy stitches and patterns for more seasoned craftsmen. As it stands, however, we are well into the Electronic Age and you can impress your friends and save your cash by downloading this title for free from the Internet Archive!

CHL Collections Highlight: Japanese Woodblock Prints

Roughly half of the Cultural Heritage Library (CHL), available online here, includes titles from the Smithsonian’s Art Libraries. While copyright restrictions prohibit much coverage of more contemporary titles, the CHL addresses a broad swath of art history’s major movements and themes, including wildly popular and renowned movements like Cubism and Impressionism. Sometimes we isolate historical events; we forget that preceding events and influences play major roles in what comes next. This seems to be especially easy when it comes to art history’s tendency to declare masterpieces and the genius of the artisté. This month we take a look at part of what made Van Gogh and Monet so relevant for their time and enduring into ours: ukiyo-e, the “floating world” of Japanese woodblock prints.

Digitization Dispatch: Typography!

Typography, the aesthetics of language, gets a lot of attention these days. What was once the purview of specialized professionals is now as common as the PC. The digital revolution’s democratizing impact on publishing has also been a boon for the typographer–or at least the typographer’s eye–in the digital sphere. Even if you aren’t labeling your digital choices as “typography,” chances are you are posing questions that typographers ask. How can font help convey meaning? Why is one font preferable to another? Or even, should this be bold and in red?

Digitization Dispatch: A Rose By Any Other Name…Still Has an Historically Accurate Rendering as Accessory!

It might be a little confusing to keep up with the digital humanities collection that provides the basis for most of these posts. The collection that began as HAC (History, Art, and culture), spent a brief adolescence as SHAC (Smithsonian History, Art, and Culture), has now matured into the CHL (rhymes with BHL!). The Cultural Heritage Library is still available here, and still includes the same content from the history, art, and culture locations; the name changes simply reflect the evolving nature of this arm our digitization practices. Currently at 3,670 items, the CHL features new additions every week. 

Digitization Dispatch: Online Photography Journals

Over the last century, photography has evolved as much as, if not more than, any technology in wide-spread use. From the first experiments with light and the various chemical compounds used in creating daguerreotypes to Instagram and jpegs, photography has had more costume changes than Madonna. One of my favorite sub-collections in the Smithsonian History Art and Culture (SHAC) digital collection, housed at the Internet Archive, traces the early development, theory, and practice of fine art photography.

Digitization Dispatch: Downloads and Usage

As you may already know, in addition to viewing pages from the online “flippy book”, or BookReader, the Internet Archive (our digitization partner and the SHAC collection’s current point of access) provides versions of digitized items in a variety of file formats so that the general public can download items for use offline or on mobile devices. And while we don’t actively retain granular usage statistics from IA, we get some idea of a title’s general popularity via the download numbers displayed on each item. So, while stopping short of providing objective data about the use of SHAC materials, these stats provide a glimpse into the active lives of the digitized collection.  Without further ado, I present the 5 most popular titles from the Smithsonian History, Art, and Culture digital collection: