Thursday, March 5, 2009

By Aereoplane to Pygmyland

"By Aeroplane to Pygmyland" is a robust online collection created from the materials recorded by American Matthew Sterling and Dutch Stanley Hedberg on their 1926 journey by boat among the tribes and locales of New Guinea. Neither Sterling nor Hedberg ever published the materials they produced from this journey, and Curator/Historian Paul Michael Taylor does an excellent job of collecting and displaying them. This exhibit includes a plethora of photographs, a downloadable collection of film, complete transcriptions of both Sterling and Hedberg's journals, and a few interpretive essays Taylor composed about sorting through and organizing the collection.

Taylor states that the selection of materials was curated according to whatever photos could be accurately dated from this particular voyage and that they are presented in an order not defined by either Sterling or Hedberge. Intellectual property rights are no problem, as the collection is owned by the Smithsonian. There are no official indicators of authority, though many of Sterlings journal entries correspond directly to photographs or films, which provides its own type of direct authority I suppose. Taylor perhaps had interoperability in mind when he wrote "This organization of the photographs and their cap
tions should make it possible to integrate, within this framework, photographs from this expedition found in many other archives or collections."

The metadata for the photographs is spare and organized in a somewhat confusing fashion. Each photo has five captions, labeled C1, C2, C3, etc. and each caption corresponds to a different type of description or related data, as explained by the caption details. C1 are notes added by the editor, C2 are notes written on the photographs by Stirling himself, C3 are typed notes corresponding to photographs from a manuscript found in the collection, and so on. However, many of these fields are left empty, and the only one consistently filled are the notes from the editor identifying the date and people and places in the photographs as best as he can by research. Taylor relates photos when he can (ie 809 is similar to 808). There is no administrative metadata apart from the file numbers which are probably meaningless to the public.

These file numbers seem to follow a structure, but I cannot figure out what it is. The objects can be enlarged one time to a fair amount of detail, though the quality of the enlarged image is not pristine. Authenticity information is impossible to glean beyond the informal authentication I mentioned earlier.

This collection seems aimed at the general public, though it could be used by researchers provided they contacted Taylor to obtain authoritative information. By providing numerous types of media and linking the journal entries to the pictures, it does a great job of putting the user right in the boat with the rest of the expedition.

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