The timing could hardly have been better. Just in time for millions of Americans, many of us accustomed to adventuring around outside in many forms, but also diving deeply into the history of those who adventured before us, were forced inside by a pandemic, the Smithsonian announced that images and details of nearly 3 million pieces from its collection would be entered into the public domain, free to be viewed, used, and reused—do what you will with the images, in other words. Welcome to the Smithsonian Open Access Initiative.
There are so many images—2.8 million to be exact, which is still only 2 percent of the Smithsonian’s holdings—that searching for things means chasing rabbits down holes upon holes upon holes. Clear some time before you dive in.
If you’re a botany buff, you’re stoked. Examples of seemingly every plant you could possibly encounter in the wild are here. Love old photographs? You could lose entire days perusing the stacks of old Grand Canyon images from long before the tourism boom descended. Obscure gear? How about woven climbing aids used by indigenous Alaskans? Old, meticulously crafted compasses. Oh, and MAPS. My goodness, the maps. Survey maps of everywhere. Beautiful, tattered, pristine, still rolled up in boxes, some lighted and framed beautifully. The maps alone could swallow a week of your time. 3D models of prehistoric animals? Yep, get that 3D printer warmed up.
Space modules from the Apollo lunar missions are here and photographed perfectly. Journals from anthropologists and archaeologists excavating the Cahokia mounds. Examples of old ice axes. Wanna see what linemen used to attach to their feet to climb old telephone poles? They’re here. So are photos of the pair of the boots Earl Shaffer wore for the first thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail—his shirt and pants, too.
Hunkered down? Sure, we all are. So let’s see who can find the coolest stuff first.