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.
In the Computing Gallery, Computers Before 1946, of the National Museum of American History (NMAH) on February 2, 1988, David K. Allison, Curator at NMAH, interviewed J. Presper Eckert about significant aspects of the design, development, and operation of the ENIAC. Specifically, the session documented both technical and non-technical aspects of the design of the ENIAC, including Eckert's engineering background, early uses of calculators to perform ballistics calculations, materials testing, and the assembly of components. Eckert demonstrated the operation of the accumulators, plug-in units, wiring conduits, and function tables with the original artifacts displayed in the gallery.
Much of the session was recorded for inclusion in the Information Age exhibit which opened at NMAH in May 1990. The video producer, Peter Vogt, frequently interrupted or stopped the interview to meet script and exhibit requirements. Therefore, this session has a number of rough cuts for a professional production.