the old ways

I see that I’m not the only one making the 0.2/2.0 contrast. Here’s Eric Johnson, in comments to Dan Cohen’s recent write-up of the Smithsonian 2.0 conference (I hope it’s ok that I excerpt the entire comment):

The thing that strikes me is that in some ways, Smithsonian 1.1 (let alone Smithsonian 2.9) is simply the Smithsonian coming around full circle. It’s oversimplifying things a bit, but Smithsonian 0.2 was in the middle of the nineteenth century very much a crowd-sourced operation.

Army officers, volunteer naturalists, and avid amateurs sent specimens by the tens of thousands to Smithsonian Assistant Secretary Spencer F. Baird. In order to manage those collections, he in turn brought in young naturalists (many of whom had no formal schooling in the sciences) such as William Stimpson and Robert Kennicott and taught them to scientifically describe and catalog them. Their schooling, under Baird and others, was almost more an apprenticeship than anything else.

What’s more, Joseph Henry, Baird, and the Smithsonian as a whole promoted an incredible internatinoal exchange of correspondence and scholarly articles. Theirs was a really intentional vision of SI as an information hub for scholarly efforts.

It sounds to me like the Smithsonian might consider returning to its roots. I understand the fears of the curators–after all, they’ve devoted their lives to attaining expertise in their fields. But the institution basically gained its international reputation with experts working hand-in-glove with amateurs. I don’t think it’s a crazy idea to think that it might be able to do so again.