Cranbrook Archives is pleased to announce the preservation and digitization of eight Institute of Science early education films. Made possible through generous funding by the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF), these silent films were sent to a professional film lab where they were inspected and expertly cleaned, repaired, copied onto archival safe film stock, and scanned. Previously inaccessible to users due to their fragility, a combined ninety-four minutes (2,450 feet) of footage can now be viewed digitally.
In a post exactly one year ago, I first mentioned the Institute’s early forays into the burgeoning educational film market of the 1930s. Using 16mm film technology (the amateur version of Hollywood motion picture film), Institute staff documented scientific field research, captured the work of exhibition preparators, and recorded educational programs. Many of these films were shown regularly to museum patrons and were often accompanied by lectures.
With the exception of one 1955 film, the NFPF grant films were all created between 1935 and 1938. Six of the films collectively display a range of astronomical, botanical, zoological, ornithological, and marine ecological research efforts. In addition to Emergence of the Periodical Cicada at Cranbrook, finished titles include Solar Prominences, featuring telescopic footage of solar flares, and Birds in Summer, which tells the story of newly born birds. Untitled films show the behavior of adult birds, deer, and coral reef life.
While these snapshots in time may no longer be useful as originally intended – to educate the public on their present natural world – they do have the potential to inform current and future research on conservation or climate change. For example, a film on coral reef life, with its unique early underwater footage, offers the opportunity for comparing current conditions with those documented by Institute scientists three generations ago.
The remaining two films demonstrate curatorial and membership activities. In one, staff are seen in the Institute library; painting scenes for exhibit backdrops and gathering botanical specimens in a forested setting; and making plaster molds of specimens in an Institute workroom. In another, Institute Junior Members and staff take a field trip to a local quarry to collect rocks and minerals.
The Institute of Science film project marks the beginning of a concerted effort to digitize the Archives’ audiovisual collections. Due to their age, complex chemical/mechanical makeup, and obsolescent playback equipment (who still owns a VCR?), audio and video recordings capturing the sights and sounds of Cranbrook’s past are some of our most at-risk materials. I hope to share more stories of success in the near future!
—Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research