Does it matter to you if some people insist on pronouncing GIF with a hard “g” rather than saying “Jiff,” as if they were telling you when they’d get back from the store? (I freely admit, I’m one of those people.) Well then, you, reader, certainly belong to a core audience for the National Archives and Records Administration’s online library of animated “jiffs.” Clearly NARA knows the correct pronunciation, since they announce their new collection with the dated pun “Getting’ Giphy With It.” And they know what the internet needs most from them in times like these: “quality animated GIFs from a reputable source.”
NARA’s archive of jerky, silent, digital moving pictures resides at their GIPHY channel, and contains an “animated history of all flavors including major historic events, celebrities, National Parks, newsreels, animated patents, dancing sailors,” etc…
"... wait, what’s that?," you say, “animated patents”? Yes. Admittedly, not all of the collection’s GIFs make the quippiest of reaction shots. The archive does, as Allison Meier writes at Hyperallergic, “tell US history in motion.” But animated images of static photos—some dating from before the days of animation---tend to look a little stiff, as in the GIF below, made from two different exposures of a Walt Whitman portrait. Or the already exceedingly stiff portrait further down of a young Mark Twain and friend.
Meier compares these GIF anachronisms to the New York Public Library’s “Stereogranimator,” a neat online tool that allows us to experience a 19th century mechanical version of the GIF. In that regard, they join antiquarian interest with digital curiosity. But when we think of animated GIFs, we generally think of weird little vignettes, like the image at the top, which shows us architect William Van Alen dressed as his famous Chrysler Building, from a 1931 gathering of the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects (which we’ve featured in a previous post).
You’ll find plenty of nostalgic GIFS, such as (if you’re a GenX’er) that of Woody the “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” public service owl, above.
Naturally, the archive contains its share of images with world historical significance---like the exploding swastika in Nuremberg from the end of World War II, above---and cultural significance, such as the tippling Hemingway and boyish Beatles, below.
Scenes from classic films and TV shows, advertisements and public service campaigns... the resource “currently has over 150 NARA GIFs,” writes Meier, “with more continuing to be added.” Is this a publicity stunt? Absolutely. “GIFs help keep us relevant,” remarks Darren Cole of the National Archives, “but also further the agency’s mission of providing access to our holdings to the public.”
In light of the popularity of “history image accounts” on social media, notes Meier, the NARA GIFs “are a savvy initiative to connect a wider audience with the richness of the National Archives"---a way that allows users to accurately document sources and place images in context. Each GIF on the NARA channel links back to the National Archives Catalog, with various levels of description and sourcing information. Gimmick or no, it’s a pretty cool resource full of some pretty cool GIFs—even, believe it or not, those “animated patents.”