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.
William Worthington, museum specialist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History (NMAH), recorded quarrying techniques at VSS on October 12 and 13, 1989, to document remaining nineteenth century industrial techniques before the installation of modern equipment. For example, Worthington recorded the operation of the old cableway system that removed slate from the Eureka pit, as well as the more modern use of cranes, diesel shovels, and dump trucks. Worthington also documented various methods and equipment used in making slate shingles.
The videohistory shoot included both interviews with employees and detailed visual documentation of their work, as well as overall tours of the quarry, its operation, and its environs. Brad Bauman, chief engineer, guided Worthington around the site and explained various processes involved in slate manufacture, while Everett Beayon, the last employee familiar with the cableway system, returned from his retirement to demonstrate and explain the operation of the system. Joseph Root described selecting and extracting slate from the quarry, and Raymond Cull demonstrated the signaling system used to communicate with crane operators for the removal of slate from the pit. A number of other employees appeared throughout both sessions, but were not interviewed.
This collection consists of two interview sessions, totalling approximately 4:00 hours of recordings, and 63 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 12 original videotapes (12 Beta videotapes), 5 dubbing masters (5 U-matic videotapes), and 4 reference copy videotapes (4 VHS videotapes). The collection has been remastered digitally, with 12 motion jpeg 2000 and 12 mpeg digital files for preservation, and 5 Windows Media Video and 5 Real Media Video digital files for reference.