I’m thinking a lot about what direction I want to go in with my “research”. The Smithsonian, not surprisingly, is HUGE, and is turning out to be even vaster than I had anticipated. Archives exist everywhere you look and sadly there is not always a centralized point of search from which to jump in.

So this all seems a bit overwhelming, especially when I try to explain to the various archivists with whom I meet that I don’t really know exactly what sort of material I am looking for. I know I’m looking for audio recordings, primarily containing spoken voice, but other than that, I am casting the net wide initially for a variety of reasons. I don’t want to get my heart set on something that I think is available only to find out that is isn’t and more importantly to me, I really want to use this experience as a research opportunity in the broadest sense of that word.

Ideally, I will be able to sample a whole bunch of disparate types of recordings from different fields of study, different historical times, different types of people and material collected for a variety of different purposes. Interestingly, I learned that many recordings SI has made in the past were made exclusively for the transcript as the final product. In other words, they did not really care about the audio recording itself as long as it was good enough for someone to transcribe. This approach led to things like Isamu Noguchi’s dog barking throughout his interview, which I think is pretty cool, but others may not(!) I guess this made sense in the past, but I’m very glad they didn’t throw all the original recordings out.

So needless to say, asking for a “random sampling” of audio recordings from a particular archive is not the typical request that folks here get, but they have all been very open-minded and encouraging, so I’m excited. I’m starting out with some from the Archives of American Art and got to know Wolf Kahn from the 70’s a bit earlier today who said, among many other interesting things:

“We start things; we don’t try to finish anything.”


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