The U.S. National Archives Launches an Animated GIF Archive: See Whitman, Twain, Hemingway & Others in Motion

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.”

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The New York Pub­lic Library Lets You Down­load 180,000 Images in High Res­o­lu­tion: His­toric Pho­tographs, Maps, Let­ters & More

Some of Buster Keaton’s Great, Death-Defy­ing Stunts Cap­tured in Ani­mat­ed Gifs

The His­to­ry of Rus­sia in 70,000 Pho­tos: New Pho­to Archive Presents Russ­ian His­to­ry from 1860 to 1999

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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