Smithsonian Wants to Help Black Families Digitize Home Movies for Posterity

By Sameer Rao Nov 21, 2017

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) believes that home movies preserve crucial narratives about Black civilian life. The institution features many personal videos—such as this one chronicling the political organizing of Black teenagers in 1960s Brooklyn—in its permanent collection. Now, the NMAAHC is extending its historical preservation tools to Black families for free as part of The Great Migration Home Movie Project

According to its website, which went live yesterday (November 20), the new initiative allows Black families to schedule appointments with the museum’s audiovisual conservation specialists. These conservators will work with them to determine the best digital conversion options for their videos. The NMAAHC says that its specialists can adapt from a variety of film formats, including pre-digital industry standards like 16mm and obsolete media like VHS. The museum can also convert audio from a variety of formats, including reel-to-reel tape and audio cassette. The digital products will then live on in the museum’s archival database.

“While major motion picture film and television historically lacked diverse representation, Black history was instinctively being preserved in everyday home movies,” reads a passage from the website. “Today, these personal narratives serve as an invaluable tool for understanding and reframing Black moving image history, and provide a much needed visualization of African-American history and culture. Just as the museum explores what it means to be an American and share how American values like resiliency, optimism and spirituality are reflected in African American history and culture, these films are a moving image record of these values in practice.”