Smithsonian Places 2.8 Million Historic Images Into the Public Domain

Photograph of Harriet Tubman

Carte-de-visite portrait of Harriet Tubman by Benjamin F. Powelson (1868-1869)

We're used to museums and libraries releasing hundreds, if not thousands, of images into the public domain, but no other institution has made quite the same splash as the Smithsonian. The world's largest museum just set the new standard by releasing over 2.8 million pieces of data to a new platform called Smithsonian Open Access. This means that anyone can download, reuse, and remix these images at any time—for free!

The database pulls 2D and 3D images, as well as sound recordings and data sets, from the Smithsonian's 19 Smithsonian museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives, and the National Zoo. It's the first data release of its kind for the Smithsonian and opens up a wide range of possibilities for creators. And, this is just the beginning. With 155 million items across all of its collections, the Smithsonian is continually digitizing and adding to the platform. In fact, through the rest of 2020, an estimated 200,000 images will be added.

The Smithsonian is encouraging people to get creative with the images, even asking people to share and tag their work #SmithsonianOpenAccess. “Being a relevant source for people who are learning around the world is key to our mission,” shares Effie Kapsalis, who is heading up the effort as the Smithsonian’s senior digital program officer. “We can’t imagine what people are going to do with the collections. We’re prepared to be surprised.”

So what can you expect to find? A dive into the 3D records shows everything from CAD models of the Apollo 11 command module to Horatio Greenough's 1840 sculpture of George Washington. To facilitate that content for makers, the Smithsonian is also now on Sketchfab. Other notable pieces entering into the public domain include a portrait of Pocahontas in the National Portrait Gallery, an image of the 1903 Wright Flyer from the National Air and Space Museum, and boxing headgear worn by Mohammad Ali from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

With so much to explore, what are you waiting for? And while you are at it, check out some of the remixes created using information from Smithsonian Open Access.

Check out some of the 2.8 million pieces of public domain material released by the Smithsonian.

Pocahontas Portrait

Pocahontas” copy after Simon van de Passe (after 1615).

Smithsonian Open Access Public Domain Material

Among the Sierra Nevada, California” by Albert Bierstadt (1868)

Alexander Hamilton Portrait

Alexander Hamilton” by John Trumbull (1806)

Smithsonian Open Access: Website 
h/t: [PetaPixel]

All images via Smithsonian Open Access.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.

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