Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Entry #1

Smithsonian Institute Libraries- Drawing from Life: Caricatures and Cartoons from the American Art / Portrait Gallery Collection

The Smithsonian Library Special Collection has a series of digital collections titled "Galaxy of Knowledge," which features a digital collections divided up in specific schools of knowledge. The newest collection that Smithsonian had added was a small digital exhibit on cartoons, depicting political and social satire. The Smithsonian Institute Libraries have over 650 books devoted to caricatures and cartoons spread out over several libraries.

For this particular digital exhibit, the Smithsonian Institute Libraries chose eleven high-profile (male) cartoonists mainly from America and England whose work was featured between 1700 until the 1920's to 1030's. Most of the cartoonists selected for this exhibit contributed to the history of cartooning in a major way or somehow influenced historical events/persona through their humorous observations such as William Hogarth. A few others were picked because they were famous or well known in their time periods, Charles Dana Gibson for one.

The metadata used to search and categorize the collection is basic and largely restricted to author, title of work, date of work or author's birth/death, and a general subject matter of the cartoon. The way the metadata is organized in this collection reflects some of the principles outlined in the Framework of Building a Good Digital Collection. It is controlled, gives out relevant and descriptive information about the contents of the collection.

The objects that this collection focused on were collections or published cartoon books. The books are obviously well preserved and for some books, the cover was photographed. Each author/cartoonist has six digitized rendiditions of his work, thus giving a general idea of subject area, style of humor, style of artwork, color (if there's any), but is not complete or recorded exhaustively. The user can enlarge the picture twice, which in some cases is not enough to be able to read the text.

I imagine the intended audience for this is most likely educators, people interested in political history, American history since the explanations are written with the intention to explain social and political events that the cartoons depict. The audience that the Smithsonian Institute had in mind was broad enough that they exercised political correctness because it is made obvious that careful screening of subject material was done. For example, there was a little blurb commending one of the cartoonists for his early sensitivity in depicting African Americans, however they do not provide any kind of physical examples to prove this. I don't know if this is a matter of being sensitive to one's audience or the SIL is wary of controversy.

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