Firsts and Frontiers

Latest update November 29, 2018 Started on April 24, 2018
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For 130 years the National Geographic Society has been on the
forefront of exploration, scientific discoveries, and documenting the world around us, in the process creating a treasure trove of knowledge about our planet. So how do we go about maintaining this knowledge, ensuring that people will still be able to access it, 130 years from now and beyond?

April 24, 2018
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Mission Underway

In celebration of World Digital Preservation Day, we wanted to provide an update on our progress so far with the Digital Preservation Archive, as well as showcase some of the other historic National Geographic expeditions that our Library + Archives team has posted about on Open Explorer:


  • Our first big undertaking for digitization has been the photographic collection for the National Geographic Society-U.S. Army Air Corps Stratosphere Flights. We’ve completed scanning and cleaned up metadata for B&W prints that have been stored in photo albums, and the next step will be to perform quality control before sending the scans to cloud storage. Negatives and textual documents are next on-deck to be digitized.

  • The Apollo program continues to be our focus for digitizing our materials related to space exploration. Inventories have been completed for Apollo missions 4 through 17, and are continuing for supporting materials such as astronaut training and the Lunar Orbiter program. Unpublished photographic materials for Apollo 4 through Apollo 7 have been scanned, and Apollo 8 is in progress – look out for an update on our To the Moon and Back expedition in anticipation of Apollo 8’s 50th anniversary later in December!

  • We’ve also been working on inventorying our collection of Aquascope materials, both photographic and textual. It’s a relatively small collection, but many of the unpublished 35mm slides were not kept in any particular order (disrespect des fonds?), which has made organization a bit tricky. When we’ve completed the Aquascope materials, we’ll have a wonderful collection of high-quality scans featuring underwater photography from Chesapeake Bay.

  • Fish and Chips Fridays is our dedicated time for digitizing high-priority materials that are suffering from vinegar syndrome. Stay tuned for an upcoming behind-the-scenes post about this important work.

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Preparation Stage

Our expedition really begins with the unveiling of our brand new Phase One iXG 100MP camera! As with any digitization project, we need to be able to produce high-quality digital images of our physical materials, so this camera is a key part of the DPA project. In addition to all of the NG staff that helped to acquire and set up our new equipment, we've also received lots of training and assistance from Wayne Cozzolino and Spencer Zidarich of Digital Transitions.


This video shows us getting the camera operational and a glimpse of the Capture One software we're using to process our image files. We'll be sharing more posts from behind the scenes as we continue with our digitization project.

Filming and editing credit: Steve Pickard

People across the globe are eagerly waiting to discover more treasures from the NG's archives :-) Back in December 2017, only about 20 percent of the photography archive had been digitized (https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2017/12/22/from-our-archive-a-look-inside-with-senior-archivist-sara-manco/). Wishing you all the best in this exciting endeavor!

Expedition Background

The Digital Preservation Archive (DPA) project will be an exploration
of how we can achieve the goal of maintaining the National Geographic Society's institutional knowledge and sharing it with the world. Our aim is to develop a workflow that efficiently adapts legacy archival collections to preservation-quality digital surrogates in a consistent manner. This will aid in the preservation of physical materials by limiting the need to remove these materials from storage, increase discoverability of archival materials through the capture of robust metadata, and allow for access by people across the globe for educational and research purposes.

Although we are not venturing outside the walls of National Geographic HQ, we still consider this to be very much an expedition. Much planning and funding has gone into making the DPA a possibility, and we are stepping into the unknown somewhat by taking on a digitization project of this magnitude. We’ll be documenting our progress, celebrating our accomplishments, and not hiding our missteps -- this is a learning experience for all of us! We look forward to having you join us on our journey.

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Conal -- great launch of our project! We have incredible stories hidden in our collections and we are excited to reveal them over the course of our work and share them with the world.

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