The Smithsonian Puts 2.8 Million High-Res Images Online and Into the Public Domain

No mat­ter how many pub­lic insti­tu­tions you vis­it in a day—schools, libraries, muse­ums, or the dread­ed DMV—you may still feel like pri­va­tized ser­vices are clos­ing in. And if you’re a fan of nation­al parks and pub­lic lands, you’re keen­ly aware they’re at risk of being eat­en up by devel­op­ers and ener­gy com­pa­nies. The com­mons are shrink­ing, a trag­ic fact that is hard­ly inevitable but, as Mat­to Milden­berg­er argues at Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can, the result of some very nar­row ideas.

But we can take heart that one store of com­mon wealth has major­ly expand­ed recent­ly, and will con­tin­ue to grow each year since Jan­u­ary 1, 2019—Pub­lic Domain Day—when hun­dreds of thou­sands of works from 1923 became freely avail­able, the first time that hap­pened in 21 years. This year saw the release of thou­sands more works into the pub­lic domain from 1924, and so it will con­tin­ue ad infini­tum.

And now—as if that weren’t enough to keep us busy learn­ing about, shar­ing, adapt­ing, and repur­pos­ing the past into the future—the Smith­son­ian has released 2.8 mil­lion images into the pub­lic domain, mak­ing them search­able, share­able, and down­load­able through the museum’s Open Access plat­form.

This huge release of “high res­o­lu­tion two- and three-dimen­sion­al images from across its col­lec­tions,” notes Smith­son­ian Mag­a­zine, “is just the begin­ning. Through­out the rest of 2020, the Smith­son­ian will be rolling out anoth­er 200,000 or so images, with more to come as the Insti­tu­tion con­tin­ues to dig­i­tize its col­lec­tion of 155 mil­lion items and count­ing.”

There are those who would say that these images always belonged to the pub­lic as the hold­ings of a pub­licly-fund­ed insti­tu­tion some­times called “the nation’s attic.” It’s a fair point, but shouldn’t take away from the excite­ment of the news. “Smith­son­ian” as a con­ve­nient­ly sin­gu­lar moniker actu­al­ly names “19 muse­ums, nine research cen­ters, libraries, archives, and the Nation­al Zoo,” an enor­mous col­lec­tion of art and his­toric arti­facts.

That’s quite a lot to sift through, but if you don’t know what you’re look­ing for, the site’s high­lights will direct you to one fas­ci­nat­ing image after anoth­er, from Moham­mad Ali’s 1973 head­gear to the his­toric Eliz­a­bethan por­trait of Poc­a­hon­tas, to the col­lec­tion box of the Rhode Island Anti-Slav­ery Soci­ety owned by William Lloyd Garrison’s fam­i­ly, to Walt Whit­man in 1891, as pho­tographed by the painter Thomas Eakins, to just about any­thing else you might imag­ine.

Enter the Smithsonian’s Open Access archive here and browse and search its mil­lions of new­ly-pub­lic domain images, a mas­sive col­lec­tion that may help expand the def­i­n­i­tion of com­mon knowl­edge.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pub­lic Domain Day Is Final­ly Here!: Copy­right­ed Works Have Entered the Pub­lic Domain Today for the First Time in 21 Years

The Library of Con­gress Launch­es the Nation­al Screen­ing Room, Putting Online Hun­dreds of His­toric Films

The Smith­son­ian Design Muse­um Dig­i­tizes 200,000 Objects, Giv­ing You Access to 3,000 Years of Design Inno­va­tion & His­to­ry

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

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Salima Ellis says:

    This is a high­ly racist adver­tise­ment. Why are all the whites pic­tured with dig­ni­ty while the abo­rig­i­nal is pic­tured lan­guish­ing in chains. Stop per­pet­u­at­ing this stereo type of my peo­ple to the world. It is beyond offen­sive and it says quite a lot about your inten­tions in regards to abo­rig­i­nals. There is also quite a resource of infor­ma­tion about abo­rig­i­nals hid­den in your vault will it be released or will your orga­ni­za­tion con­tin­ue to push the slave nar­ra­tive.
    Sal­i­ma K. Ellis ARR

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.