Online Archive Creates Awesome GIFS From Historical Photos | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
A still from one of DPLA's new gifs, based on a NASA film. (National Archives and Records Administration, via DPLA)

Online Archive Creates Awesome GIFS From Historical Photos

In partnership with Imgur, the Digital Public Library of America is reimagining classic photos as modern .gifs

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Not all gifs, the popular animated image format, come from pop culture or YouTube. from old archival videos, and can help bring history to life on the internet. This summer, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), in partnership with Imgur, is rolling out the Summer of Archives, a collection of historical pictures and moving images repurposed for the digital world.

Lunar Closeup (1969) - Imgur.gif
From the short NASA-produced film documenting Apollo 11's journey to the Moon, "The Time of Apollo." (National Archives and Records Administration, via DPLA)

"There are a lot of opportunities for historical footage to be relevant to people through the gif and modern implications of technology," says Kenny Whitebloom of the DPLA. "These sort of films aren't on the forefront of the average internet users daily browsing habits, and yet there are stories in them that are interesting things that are actually quite relevant and cool."

Excellent Wipeouts, circa 1946 - Imgur.gif
From footage of a 1946 memorial Ski Jump competition held in New York state in honor of Torger Tokle, America's leading pre-war ski jumper who died fighting in Italy during World War II. (National Archives and Records Administration, via DPLA)

The concept of a national digital library had been discussed since the 1990s, but it truly came to fruition after a 2010 meeting of 40 leaders from libraries, technology projects and academia, who decided that it was time for the United States to create "an open, distributed network of comprehensive online resources that would draw on the nation’s living heritage from libraries, universities, archives, and museums in order to educate, inform, and empower everyone in current and future ­generations."  Since its launch in April of 2013, the DPLA has amassed an open collection of more than 7 million items, which users can search through a digital catalog available to all internet users. It also functions as a platform for digital innovation, encouraging users to take advantage of its various digital programming platforms and interfaces to expand and create innovative digital technology. Lastly, the DPLA functions as a sort of advocacy foundation, working to keep digital information as widely accessible as possible.

Lunar-bound Levity (1969) - Imgur.gif
Candid shots of the crew of Apollo 11, the first spaceflight to land humans on the Moon. This year marks the 45th anniversary of the voyage. Animation based on "The Time of Apollo," a short film produced by NASA documenting their journey. (National Archives and Records Administration, via DPLA)
Extra Extra Extra Extra Extra Extra (ca. 1969) - Imgur.gif
From the short NASA-produced film documenting Apollo 11's journey to the Moon, "The Time of Apollo." (National Archives and Records Administration, via DPLA)

Earlier this year, after finding that historic photos performed particularly well on the site, Imgur reached out to the DPLA with a proposal to collaborate and bring wider audiences to the archive's images. "We came up with the idea to highlight some of the amazing things that are in archives of museums that the average user of the Internet might not know exists," says Whitebloom.

Fiddling with the Flag (1969) - Imgur.gif
From the short NASA-produced film documenting Apollo 11's journey to the Moon, "The Time of Apollo." (National Archives and Records Administration, via DPLA)

So far, the DPLA and Imgur have released five albums. The first, a collection of gifs from World War II footage, came out on May 30. Since then, they've released albums of antique summer postcards, maps and charts from history, a 16-part gif of World War I footage, and, most recently, a collection of gifs that fall under the theme of "Forever Loops" (these gifs are the ones shown in this post).

Lasso Skillz (1922) - Imgur.gif
From a 1922 corporate film produced by the Ford Motor Company detailing cowboys and cattle ranches in the US. Ford released scores of educational films in the 1910s and 20s as part of the Ford Educational Library series. (National Archives and Records Administration, via DPLA)

"Forever Loops" are perhaps the gif-iest of the Summer of Archives thus far: 10 animations that seamlessly loop an image or action over and over. To decide which images would become gifs, Whitebloom and those at the DPLA wanted to choose images that either showed important moments in history (such as those of the Moon landing) or images that showed pieces of everyday life that might be overlooked in our modern times (such as the gif of a skier falling off of a ski jump).

Mind Control (1979) - Imgur.gif
From the National Archives and Records Administration's series of moving images relating to Drugs and Drug Enforcement, compiled between 1928 - 1993. (National Archives and Records Administration, via DPLA)

"Even if they may not be interesting in the historical context themselves," Whitebloom says of the images, "they're visually interesting, and that resonates."

Music at USO Camp Show in Korea (1953) - Imgur.gif
From a longer film documenting the Larry Finley USO Camp Show for the 40th U.S. Infantry Division in Korea in January 1953. According to the cataloger's notes, these guys make up The Top Notchers. At least one USO Camp Show took place somewhere in Korea every single day during 1953. (National Archives and Records Administration, via DPLA)

The Summer of Archives will continue through the beginning of September, with four more albums planned.

All the Livelong Day (ca. 1940s) - Imgur.gif
From "Food to Win the War," one of many public service films produced by US government agencies during World War II. This one in particular was created by the US Department of Agriculture's Office of Public Affairs. (National Archives and Records Administration, via DPLA)
Jazz at USO Camp Show in Korea (1953) - Imgur.gif
From a film documenting the Larry Finley USO Camp Show for the 40th U.S. Infantry Division in Korea in January 1953. June Christie, a singer with the Stan Kenton Band, and Herb Jeffries, the one-time member of Duke Ellington's band and jazz legend, also performed at the event. (National Archives and Records Administration, via DPLA)
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