Building a collection starts with finding subjects to document. Inventors who contact the Lemelson Center and want to donate their records to the Smithsonian happen to be almost exclusively white men. We are developing proactive strategies for locating women and minority inventors, who are underrepresented in the historical record.
Background research using existing sources establishes the foundation for our documentation plan before we embark on a collecting trip.
Ideally, we prefer to visit the site where the inventor’s records are located. Collecting the archival records and artifacts of inventors requires attention to standard archival and curatorial practices, familiarity with the needs of our museum and its collections, and adherence to our goal to more fully document the invention process.
Whenever possible, we conduct oral history interviews with inventors, both to better understand their records and to capture missing information. Beyond standard oral history practices, we use methods borrowed from other disciplines to develop interview plans that more fully document the unique aspects of the creative process of invention.
There are certain aspects of the invention process that can never be fully captured or understood based solely on existing material evidence and oral interviews. We are creating visual documentation using photography and video to capture skills, work processes, and tacit knowledge. Whenever possible, we document the inventor’s workspace visually as well.