Harnessing Technology for Museum Research, Information and Education
In 1998, the Academy of Natural Sciences established The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Imaging Center for Collections (GIC) with a grant from The Albert M. Greenfield Foundation. Since then, the Academy has made extensive use of output from the Center for research, information dissemination, and education. Digitized images of items from the Academy’s collections have been used for web pages and in databases, in scholarly and scientific publications, and for a broad range of communications purposes.
Because of the Center, Academy staff members have developed expertise that is essential in today’s world of advanced computer technologies. The Center has enabled the Academy to participate in partnerships with other institutions; protect its collections from the destructive handling of original objects; and share its knowledge with scholars, researchers and the interested public around the world by providing online access to materials. Given the pre-eminence of the Academy’s natural history collection and the scope of its ongoing work in the environmental sciences, the Center has permitted the Academy, and by extension, Philadelphia itself, to play a growing role in the global natural sciences community.
- Because of the equipment in the GIC and the Academy’s expertise, the Academy library was recently accepted as a member of the Biodiversity Heritage Library, a consortium of natural history libraries whose goal is to digitally scan all the world’s natural history literature;
- The Academy’s John Gould web site of birds of Australia, created by the Center, was installed and used as an interactive tool for an exhibit at the South Australian Museum in Adelaide;
- Rather than actual specimen sheets, scanned images of botanical specimens from the Academy were sent to scientists at the Smithsonian Institution in order to protect the specimens from irradiation immediately following the anthrax scare a few years ago;
- The Academy’s important Tiktaalik roseae fossils were scanned and the images appeared everywhere in 2006, when Tiktaalik was one of the top ten science news stories of the year;
- A high-resolution scan of a photograph of Matthew Henson (companion to Robert Peary on his expeditions north) was provided to the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, where a life-sized poster-board version of Henson was displayed for an exhibition;
- Digitized versions and colored plates of the Academy’s famous Lewis and Clark botanical specimens were sent all over the United States for publication and exhibit during the 2004-2006 Lewis & Clark bicentennial years;
- The Academy has been scanning its large portrait collection and uploading the images to the Academy’s web site, and is now receiving more genealogy related requests than ever before;
- 38 images from Audubon’s Birds of America in the Academy collection were provided at very high resolution, for an HDTV documentary that appeared on PBS;
- A student writing a dissertation used digitized versions of plates from Saverio Manetti’s Ornithologia methodice digesta atque iconibus aeneis ad vivum illuminatis ornate, published from 1767-1776. She describes a home in Italy in which birds from the plates were copied to the walls of a room, using the fresco painting technique;
- The Academy so far has received funding from the Save America’s Treasures program to conserve three of its historic collections, including the Titian Peale Moth and Butterfly Collection. All three have been scanned using equipment in the GIC;
- Large blueprints of the Academy building were scanned for the architectural firm that is working with the Academy to create a new plan for the Academy’s 2012 bicentennial anniversary.
Many of the projects described here would only have been possible using the sophisticated equipment that funding from The Albert M. Greenfield Foundation allowed the Academy to purchase. Without this specialized equipment, the Academy could not have scanned blueprints, images for high-definition TV, or life-sized posters generated from very small photographs.
See some of the imaging projects conducted through the Albert M. Greenfield Imaging Center for Collections.
- The Academy of Natural Sciences Albert M. Greenfield Digital Imaging Center photographs courtesy of Katie O. Clark.