The Smithsonian Videohistory Program, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation from 1986 until 1992, used video in historical research. Additional collections have been added since the grant project ended. Videohistory uses the video camera as a historical research tool to record moving visual information. Video works best in historical research when recording people at work in environments, explaining artifacts, demonstrating process, or in group discussion. The experimental program recorded projects that reflected the Institution's concern with the conduct of contemporary science and technology.
Smithsonian historians participated in the program to document visual aspects of their on-going historical research. Projects covered topics in the physical and biological sciences as well as in technological design and manufacture. To capture site, process, and interaction most effectively, projects were taped in offices, factories, quarries, laboratories, observatories, and museums. Resulting footage was duplicated, transcribed, and deposited in the Smithsonian Institution Archives for scholarship, education, and exhibition. The collection is open to qualified researchers.
David DeVorkin, curator at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, interviewed five USNO astronomers about their observing techniques on various telescopes used at the Observatory. DeVorkin was interested in the growth of the application of automation to astronomy. The sessions documented classical visual techniques for star observation, as well as computer controlled telescopes and electronic detection techniques that have virtually replaced the human eye in modern astronomical research. Interviews took place on March 28 and 31, 1988, and May 8, 1991 in various telescope domes on the USNO grounds, Washington, D.C.
Sessions One and Two took place on March 28 and March 31, 1988, respectively in Building Two, the 26-inch telescope building, and in the library of the USNO, Washington, D.C. Charles Worley demonstrated the procedures for making double-star observations and discussed preparation and research necessary for an observing session, as well as the importance of astronomical record keeping.
Session Three, recorded on may 8, 1991 in the 6-inch Transit Circle Telescope Building, at the Photographic Zenith Tube (PZT) telescope, and in the 26-inch telescope building documented Corbin, Gauss, McCarthy, Worley and Douglass demonstrating their observing techniques on the various telescopes and discussing the effects of electronic automation on their astronomical research. Of particular interest, Worley demonstrated the use of a speckle photometer attached to the 26-inch telescope which was not in use in the earlier sessions.
This collection consists of three interview sessions, totaling approximately 7:00 hours of recordings and 172 pages of transcript. There are three generations of tape for each session: originals, dubbing masters, and reference copies. In total, this collection is comprised of 21 original videotapes (21 Beta videotapes), 12 dubbing master videotapes (12 U-Matic videotapes), and 5 reference copy videotapes (5 VHS videotapes).The collection has been remastered digitally, with 21 motion jpeg 2000 and 21 mpeg digital files for preservation, and 21 Windows Media Video and 21 Real Media Video digital files for reference.