Vol. 10 No. 5 May 2002
Images of History on the Web
by David Mattison Access Services Archivist, British Columbia's Archives
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In the years since photography's sesquicentennial anniversary (1839-1989), the growth of the Internet and the application of digital technology to the history of this one-time analog medium has given researchers an unprecedented glimpse into our collective past. The reaction to the French public announcement in August 1839 of L.J.M. Daguerre's photographic process, named in his honor the daguerreotype, deeply affected and still does human consciousness. With good reason. The daguerreotype was referred to as "the mirror of nature."

Much like software and hardware changes today, rapid advances in photographic technology often steamrolled the competition. The introduction of photography on the world scene is often compared with the public's adoption of the Internet as a new communications and artistic medium. In an essay on the impact of photography, eerily prescient of late 20th century French postmodernists, the 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire wrote, "...I am convinced that the ill-applied developments of photography, like all other purely material developments of progress, have contributed much to the impoverishment of the French artistic genius, which is already so scarce" ("Photography" [1859], Charles Baudelaire, in Photography: Essays & Images, edited by Beaumont Newall, 1980; online French transcription, "Le public moderne et la photographie,"

Baudelaire, as numerous artists, photographers, historians, and critics point out, was quite simply wrong, because his own fabled imagination could not transcend the narrow definition of art he used to premise his argument. Artists and photographers long ago, certainly by the early 1840s, came to peace with the new reality. Photography and art continue to retain both discrete and interdependent spheres of influence in human culture. Unlike the introduction of photography, where commercial applications were eagerly embraced and exploited, publicly funded academic institutions and governments were at the forefront of the digital revolution when it came to the digitization of historical photographs. Commercial operations, such as Corbis and the Hulton/Archive, although sometimes more sophisticated in terms of search strategies and e-commerce capabilities than their academic and government counterparts, only followed after the public infrastructure and the public appetite for digital imagery were in place. Today's historical photograph researcher can quickly access millions of photographs right back to the earliest-known images from France's Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826.

In the January 2002 issue of Searcher, Nicholas G. Tomaiuolo's excellent background article, "When Image Is Everything" [] introduced readers to the ability of some popular search engines to search and display various types of graphical file formats. He also identified some specialized engines that focus on this kind of service. Typically, images appear in the predominant JPEG (JPG) and GIF formats. Tomaiuolo's background article did not cover two additional formats developed specifically for the Web: Portable Network Graphics (PNG) and Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). [Details about the PNG format appear at and on Greg Roelof's site at Information on SVG appears at and]

As Tomaiuolo points out, general and specialty search engines will produce millions of matches for all kinds of images. But what about specialty images, for example, historical photographs? Tomaiuolo mentions two such photographs in his introductory paragraphs: a Matthew Brady daguerreotype and the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph by John Filo taken on May 4, 1970, at Kent State University (Jerry M. Lewis and Thomas R. Hensley, "The May 4 Shootings at Kent State University: The Search For Historical Accuracy."Ohio Council for the Social Studies Review, vol. 34, no. 1, Summer 1998, pp. 9-21. Web version (accessed February 21, 2002) []. While one can use image search engines to retrieve historical photographs, the lack of precision caused by keyword searching and the limitations of the general search engines to target historic photographs lead to wasted time and effort. Other search strategies described here, including descriptions of specific Web sites at the international and national levels, should yield more immediate results for those researching historical photographs and the history of the medium.

What constitutes a historical photograph? Measured by impact, a photograph taken yesterday or on September 11, 2001 can be considered historic. For the purpose of this article, however, a historical photograph must be at least 20-25 years old. This span of time approaches the traditional generational boundary of 30 years and restricts discussion to images beyond the conscious memory of the youngest generation viewing the photograph.

Besides private individuals, businesses, and organizations that acquire and care for historical photographs for personal, commercial, or research interests, historical photographs are preserved by four different kinds of cultural institutions: archives, art galleries, libraries, and museums. In some cases these institutions combine functions; for example, a museum can house an archive or an archive can contain a library. These institutions are frequently operated by public bodies such as government agencies, but may also be run by private organizations, such as historical societies.

Descriptive Systems for Historical Photographs
Historical photographs were among the first category of artifacts, records, or documents to be digitized for presentation on the Internet. My own employer was among the first public archives in Canada to embark upon a large-scale digitization program for public access to its photograph collections. With the assistance of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Victoria, the BC Archives implemented an on-site image database system in April 1993; Gopher and Web access followed in January 1995. [For details, see Web Site Reference: "More About the BC Archives," (accessed February 21, 2002). BC Archives Web Site Statistics:]

Different types of cultural institutions apply different strategies to search and retrieve digital facsimiles. Even where standards exist for describing or cataloging photographs, searchers will not always find these digital facsimile directly searchable using these standards. Many institutions rely upon unstructured keyword searching for the least precise but broadest form of retrieval.

The good news, however, is that photographs are generally described individually. Collection-level descriptions, when in existence, often link to individual online photographs that may include additional descriptive detail for each photograph within the collection. All of the Web sites described here allow keyword or character-based searching, usually by creator (for example, photographer), title, descriptive summary, or subject field. In sites such as the common interface developed for each of the Library of Congress' American Memory digital collections, some kind of controlled vocabulary for name or subject access is always available.

Even though the desirability of supporting date searching for historical photographs would seem obvious, not all databases allow this. For example, even though the photograph's date appears in the descriptive record, the National Archives of Canada's ArchiviaNet search tool does not allow one to search for a photograph by date of creation.

Because the four classes of cultural institutions preserving historical photographs have independently developed descriptive and retrieval systems, coordinated work on cross-domain databases has assumed even greater importance. Assuming the use of a higher-level metadata descriptive framework and a search protocol such as Z39.50, differences in descriptive systems should not matter much, especially for very simple searches, e.g., by photographer or personal name, place name, or an event.

Library, archival, and museum networks in North America are well developed, but operate, for the most part, independent of one another. Outside of the commercial search engines, which may or may not index cultural institution databases, only a few cross-cultural domain databases for historical photographs exist. One of the best examples so far is PictureAustralia. In the U.S., development of the SGML-Based Encoded Archival Description (EAD) [] assisted in the creation of at least one major cross-domain database, the Online Archive of California [].

The emergence of the Web as an important communications media galvanized the international museum community into establishing new standards geared to the networked world. This work, unlike most of the archival and library systems already in place, is building on the common foundation of the Dublin Core standards. The Consortium for the Computer Interchange of Museum Information (CIMI) [] and the Museum Computer Network [] are the two most active participants on this front.

Descriptive standards for art gallery collections have followed a pattern similar to the standards in the archival community: Competing interests define what most benefits each community of users. The Getty Standards Program, however, strongly influenced the development of cataloging standards for artwork, particularly in the area of subject vocabulary, name (artist and place) authorities. [See and] The guidance even extends to how-to manuals, e.g., Introduction to Imaging: Issues in Constructing an Image Database by Howard Besser and Jennifer Trant [].

Established in 1972, the Art Libraries Society of North America [] appears to follow library standards. [See the ARLIS/NA Cataloging Section Web site at] The Visual Resources Association [], founded in 1982, created its own cataloging standard. The VRA Core Categories work with other descriptive standards, including electronic metadata such as the Dublin Core. Representatives from ARLIS/NA and the VRA met for the first time at a joint conference in March 2002.

Art and photographic history researchers should also know about ICONCLASS [], a visual classification and descriptive system developed during World War II in the Netherlands by Henri van de Waal (1910-1972). Finally, as but one example of the variety of online resources devoted to the description, preservation, and access of historical photographs in their original, digital, and other formats, the SEPIA (Safeguarding European Photographic Images for Access) project of the European Commission on Preservation and Access contains a searchable bibliography of close to 400 print and online works on caring for photographic collections [].

Search Strategies
Many, if not all, photographic databases fall into what people call the Invisible Web, meaning the databases may not be directly searchable through external search engines. Nevertheless, online historical photographs are relatively easy to find, because the cultural institutions entrusted with their preservation have embraced the Internet and the Web for the presentation of historic data.

The following approaches to searching should work for locating collections of historic photographs. General keyword searching is not effective unless searching for a very specific kind of image, for example, a stereograph or a cyanotype, or when you have an event, place, or personal name, including the photographer, which will not produce many matches. In the case of historical photographs, specificity is a must.

Search for individual institutions through basic keyword searches or topical directories in a major search engine, such as Google, or a directory, such as Yahoo!. For example, for historical photographs, the two most relevant, general Yahoo! categories are "Arts > Visual Arts > Photography > History" (and its subcategories, including Photographers) and "Arts > Visual Arts > Photography > Exhibits >Historic." Besides looking for institutions likely to preserve historic photos, you can also try searching for the digital collections themselves, as well as associations dedicated to the history of photography and its technology, such as the Daguerreian Society [], the Photographic Historical Society of Canada [], or the Royal Photographic Society []. Commercial and academic sites developed by and for those interested in the history of photography also exist. City Gallery [] by Steve Knoblock was one of the first Web sites to target the photo collector. His site also supports the academic community by hosting the International Directory of Photography Historians [].

Online directories and networks of archives, libraries, museums, and art galleries can also constitute excellent choices for locating collections of historic photos. Use a geographic perspective to narrow your choices and start from that point. If you seek historic photographs of the Grand Canyon, try archives in Arizona. Think about who would have had occasion to produce photographs of people, landscapes, or events that interest you. Start with the photographer or agency responsible for the original photograph or the archival institution responsible for its preservation. Some of the earliest surviving photographs of the Grand Canyon were taken during exploratory surveys by individuals working under federal government sponsorship. Federal photographs in their original form are, for the most part, preserved by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) or the original agency. A large number of online historic photographs are accessible through the NAIL (NARA Archival Information Locator) database described below.

Test searches of the search tools and individual Web sites described in this article were conducted in mid-February 2002. The sites listed here illustrate the wide variety of historical photographs available online and the techniques used to search the Web sites or databases describing these images.

Search Tools
Though certainly not exhaustive, this list describes some of the national and international search tools used to locate online historical photograph collections. Many digital library collections, such as the Berkeley Digital Library SunSITE, include links to other digital collections. So far as could be determined, there does not appear to be a single, comprehensive, current Web resource for locating all publicly accessible, digitized, historical photograph collections.

Canadian Archival Information Network (CAIN)
The culmination of many years of work by Canadian archivists, CAIN unites into a single user interface several subnetworks of archival records databases operated at the provincial/territorial or interprovincial/territorial levels. Search fields in CAIN are based on the Canadian Rules for Archival Description. Searchers unfamiliar with what the various searchable fields could contain should probably use a basic keyword search. Subject headings, if assigned to archival records by the subnetworks, are not incorporated into the CAIN search interface. The records only describe photo collections, but include a hyperlink to the host institution. CAIN also links directly to each subnetwork.

Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN), Artefacts Canada
The Humanities portion of this national database focuses on museums, art galleries, and heritage sites, where historical photographs may reside. Some of the museological descriptions have online images linked to the record. You can retrieve these online images by selecting the Image Contributors link in the contents frame on the left side of the search interface. Many of these images will download as JPEG files.

The Canadian Virtual Museum
Similar to the 24HourMuseum in the U.K., this is a true virtual museum and guide to Canada's museums, galleries, and heritage attractions. Unlike the 24HourMuseum, the Canadian Virtual Museum includes a keyword-searchable Image Gallery with thumbnail illustrations of museum and gallery artifacts, including historical photographs.

Cornucopia: Discovering U.K. Collections
Under development by Resource: The Council for Museums, Archives, and Libraries, this site contains a database describing the U.K.'s museum collections. The database does not as yet include the ability to limit searches by a medium, such as photography, but the database will denote a collection strength in photography. The database does not link to actual images.

Digital Library Federation, Public Access Collections
Search or browse for descriptions of publicly accessible digital collections. The database holds at least 288 records describing such collections, records which display 25 at a time. Because the keyword search is phrase-based, multiple searches are necessary to uncover all instances of digitized photographs.

direct search
Compiled by Gary Price, co-author with Chris Sherman of The Invisible Web (Information Today, 2001;], this site contains a site-search interface and categories of Web sites that offer searchable databases not crawled by the search engines. (When we checked it, the site had not been updated for many months.) Although photography is covered in the Images section of the Humanities category, the list, even by the last update of this site, does not include many of the highly visible public and private online historic photo collections listed below.

European Archival Network (EAN)
This search tool locates archives in Europe, Russia, and, through other links, elsewhere in the world. Collections are not described, only basic contact information is provided, along with a Web and e-mail address, should those exist, for each archive.

European Union, Community Research & Development Information Service (CORDIS), Information Society Technologies (IST), Digital Heritage and Cultural Content (DIGICULT)
DIGICULT is one of the Key Action 3 domains of the IST program. It is as good a starting point as any to the bewildering array of European Union initiatives in the area of digitization of cultural artifacts and archival records. The IST Projects or the Project Themes pages provide links to research and other initiatives into digital libraries and the visualization of heritage and cultural artifacts and documents.

International Council of Museums, Virtual Library museums pages (VLmp)
Browse or search for museums around the world by the kinds of collections preserved. Use the keyword "photographs" to find institutions preserving photographs. Selected archives, art galleries, and libraries are also represented in this directory.

International Federation of Library Association and Institutions (IFLA), IFLA Electronic Collections
An extensive guide to the world of digital libraries in the form of annotated, subject-oriented bibliographies, this site is most useful for locating information about what kinds of digitization projects libraries are planning or have implemented.

Museum Computer Network (MCN)
The site includes an A-Z list of museum Web sites around the world helpful as a starting point if you know the name of a specific museum. The eSpectra link contains many articles about the application of digitization techniques to museum and art gallery collections. Use the MCN Topical Guide link to The Community Projects Section of eSpectra to locate digitization projects, some of which involve historical photograph collections.

National Grid for Learning (U.K.)
An enormous gateway to educational and learning resources, including cultural institutions such as museums, archives, and libraries, the NGL brings the wealth of Internet/Web resources to U.K. teachers and students, as well as to the rest of the world. Use the "What are you looking for?" link to locate "Reference material" and cultural institutions.

National Library of Canada, Inventory of Canadian Digital Initiatives
This site "provides descriptions of Canadian information resources created for the Web, including general digital collections, resources centered around a particular theme, and reference sources and databases." The largest category for Type of Material is Images (photographs, maps), with 130 records.

24HourMuseum: The National Virtual Museum (U.K.)
This gateway site offers the ability to search for museums and galleries containing photograph collections. Select the Advanced Search option, then Photography as the Collection Type. Because photography collections may also be categorized by subject matter and since you can only search one Collection Type at a time, a basic keyword search for "photography" yields more results than an advanced search limited to that collection type.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO Archives Portal
Look in the Primary Sources Online and Preservation and Conservation links for digitization projects involving historical photographs.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO Libraries Portal
Look in the Preservation and Access Initiatives link for digital library projects.

University of Arizona Library, Clearinghouse of Image Databases and the IMAGELIB listserv archives
Created in July 1994 by Stuart Glogoff at the University of Arizona, this site serves as a clearinghouse "targeted at professionals working with imaging technology, librarians, archivists, metadata specialists, database administrators and others who are planning or developing databases containing digital objects." The database is organized by institution name and by media type (e.g., photographs) and can be searched through a WAIS index.

University of Chicago at Illinois and Association of Research Libraries, ARL Digital Initiatives Database
Search or browse by digitization project or institution. The Browse by Project option retrieves 427 records, displayed 25 records at a time. The database search form provides a thesaurus for locating specific vocabulary within the "Project Objective, Description or Keyword" field that pertains to the digitization of photographic collections.

The Public Galleries
As with the search tools list, this list is not exhaustive and only serves to highlight selected online collections of historical photographs at the national level in North America and elsewhere in the world. Many worthy institutions had to be excluded from this list. The main consideration was how significant a representation of the historical photograph collection is available to the Web visitor. Except as noted in the site descriptions, the arbitrary, minimum number of digitized photographs for inclusion in this list is 1,000. As an example of how skewed this survey is, the British Columbia Archives [] describes more than 110,000 photographs and artwork in its database, with more than 65,000 of those descriptions linked to digitized photos. That number is only 10,000 images shy of the total number available through Images Canada.


Images Canada
This gateway site is very much like PictureAustralia. Both consist entirely of historic photograph and graphic arts collections at several public institutions. Over 75,000 online images can be simultaneously searched through simple keyword searches or by combining up to three different search fields, including creator, format, and date. The site includes photo essays by historians on a variety of topics, along with activity ideas for educators and several pre-set searches called Trails. One of the most important and largest contributing partners to Images Canada is the Glenbow Archives in Calgary, Alberta (50,000 online images).

McCord Museum, Notman Photographic Archives
Based in Montreal, the firm of William Notman and Sons was the first Canadian photographic business to achieve international recognition in the 19th century. The McCord Museum at McGill University acquired the company's entire negative collection. To search the Notman Photographic Archives, whose work spans Canada, select the Search > Notman Photographic Archives link. Nearly 24,000 images are available for online viewing, including photographs acquired by the archives and not part of Notman's own output. Watermarked images can be downloaded in the JPEG format.

National Archives of Canada
Use the ArchiviaNet: On-Line Research Tool to "Research by Type of Document" (e.g., Photographs). The photographs database contains nearly 400,000 descriptions of photographs, historic and current, and provides access to some 3,800 online images. The basic search is by keyword, the detailed search includes additional fields based on an internal database; no option exists to limit searches by format, date, or photographer. The National Archives of Canada also has a number of permanent, virtual exhibits that feature modern and historic photographs and their creators.

Natural Resources Canada, Earth Sciences Information Centre, Photo Gallery
The ESIC holds over a half-million photo negatives generated by the Geological Survey of Canada. An ongoing digitization program is placing selected images on the Web for public access. You can browse through thematic pages or search a few different ways. Watermarked images download in the JPEG format.

Portrait Gallery of Canada
Operated by the National Archives of Canada, this institution was established in January 2001 and is comparable to its counterparts in the U.K. and the U.S.. According to its Web site, "A Virtual Portrait Gallery ... will give access to the extensive historical holdings of art, photography, multimedia, and archival records which the Gallery draws upon from the National Archives of Canada, as well as other portrait galleries and networks of cultural institutions in Canada and around the world." Having only appointed an interim director in July 2001, the online gallery is not yet a reality, and the physical facility will not open until 2004 at the earliest.

United States

American Strategy
American Strategy is an attempt to tie together the vast numbers of digitized collections held by federal institutions into three grand themes which best express the American vision: Foundations of Democracy, From Sea to Shining Sea, and Innovation and Invention. The project is managed jointly by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (Washington, DC), the American Association of Museums (Washington, DC) and the Getty Information Institute (Los Angeles, CA). Because the Search Engine link connects to an inactive server at the Getty Information Institute, the site is navigable only through the thematic pages or the site map page. The PictureAustralia gateway site acknowledges this initiative as a source of inspiration.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Online Catalog
Digitized collections of photographs can be simultaneously or individually searched. Summaries of each collection are available. Several of these collections do not form part of the American Memory site. Some images will not display outside the Library of Congress Internet domain. Some collections, such as the Look Magazine database, contain only bibliographic records.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA Image Exchange (NIX)
Browse or search several NASA databases for online images or digitized photographs which document the human and robotic exploration of outer space, as well as aeronautical experiments preceding space flight. According to the FAQ, "Currently, NIX searches databases of over 450,000 NASA images and links to an additional 2,641,326 NASA images that reside on the Web (accessible via the ADDITIONAL NASA IMAGERY link on the home page)." Many, if not all the images, are downloadable.

National Archives and Records Administration (U.S.)
Use the Research Room link to get to the NARA Archival Information Locator (NAIL) database. A convenient Digital Copies Search link in NAIL allows you to limit your search to online photographs. Including "Aerial Photographs" and "Photographs and Graphic Materials" with no additional search limitations, a search for all units of NARA returned nearly 58,000 online photographs. Images can be downloaded as GIF files. NARA also has a virtual Exhibit Hall which includes some exhibits such as "Picturing the Century and Panoramic Photographs" that highlight its holdings of historical photographs.

National Library of Medicine, History of Medicine Division, Images from the History of Medicine (IHM)
This site provides access to "nearly 60,000 images in the prints and photograph collection [of the division]. The collection includes portraits, pictures of institutions, caricatures, genre scenes, and graphic art in a variety of media, illustrating the social and historical aspects of medicine." Images are searched by keyword or browsed by five different database fields. The watermarked images are downloadable.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA Photo Library
Over 20,000 online images (photographs and artwork) can be browsed by subject matter or searched. The collections include photographs taken by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, the oldest science agency in the U.S., as it surveyed the land and oceans bordering the U.S. High-resolution JPEG images are downloadable.

New York Public Library, Digital Library Collection
Most of its image collections have New York City as their subject matter. Some collections use a different format than American Memory at the Library of Congress. Images accessed here are downloadable. A forthcoming collection, Visual Treasures, is slated for completion in 2004. According to the project's summary, Visual Treasures "will create a publicly accessible, Web-based and fully searchable image catalog documenting cultural and social history in images...."

Smithsonian Institution, The National Portrait Gallery
Use the Classification Type of Photograph to locate bibliographic records (no online images) of thousands of portraits of individuals from around the world preserved by this branch museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Online exhibitions include themes illustrated with historical photographs or centered around individual photographers. The National Museum of American Art, also operated by the Smithsonian, can be simultaneously searched with the National Portrait Gallery via the Smithsonian's Online Photo Collections site [].

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Photo Archives
These photographs, gathered from institutions and individuals around the world, document anti-Jewish activities, principally in Europe during the Hitler years (1930s-1945). You can only search by keyword, though the Search the Collections page states, "This system allows the user to search the catalogs by entering a keyword, personal name, Library of Congress Subject Heading, or geographic place name." The bibliographic record contains hyperlinks to subject matter, so a successful search can help retrieve related photographs. A hyperlink appears at the bottom of each record to "Show me more photographs like this one." Images download in the JPEG format.

University of California at Berkeley, California Heritage Collection
Search or browse through more than 30,000 images, including photographs depicting Californian and Western North American history and culture (includes digitized images from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America) from the university's Bancroft Library collections. This site is part of the California Digital Library's Online Archive of California []. High-resolution and mid-resolution images download in JPEG format.

University of California at Riverside, California Museum of Photography
Not unlike the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, the CMP documents the history of photography from a California and Western U.S. perspective. Featured here are online photographs by Ansel Adams, special presentations from the Keystone-Mast Collection of stereograph (three-dimensional) photographs, and virtual exhibits on topics such as women photographers and hand-colored photographs of 19th century Japan. Illustrated databases to parts of the huge camera collection are also available.

University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, Department of Photography & Film
A special Web page, The World's First Photograph [], describes the history of and illustrates the oldest surviving photograph taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in France in 1826 using his own process. The center also hosts a permanent virtual exhibit, "Reflections in A Looking Glass: A Lewis Carroll Centenary Exhibition" []. The entire photography collection database can be searched or browsed in various ways, including collections with digital images. Images are downloadable.

The Private Galleries
Here we list a few of the most prominent, internationally renowned photographic archives operated as commercial ventures or by private organizations and individuals, including academic faculty. Some of these sites allow users to download photographs. This section also includes descriptions of some Web sites focused on the history of photography and its practitioners, though we only include a small number of photo-journalism image databases, e.g. Associated Press, Hulton/Archive, and TimePix.

AccuNet/AP Multimedia Archives
Home to the image archives of the Associated Press, this user-pay database operated by AccuWeather, Inc. targets the U.S. educational and library communities. No free searching is available, but potential customers can register for a 2-week free trial. A Macromedia Flash tutorial provides a peek into the wealth of photographs selected from an archives dating back to the 1840s, including other media (AP news stories, illustrations from 1999 forward, and audio files back to the 1920s).

American Museum of Photography
The personal project of William B. Becker, this museum exists only on the Internet. The museum existed in a previous form beginning in 1996 as "Photography's Beginnings: A Visual History." Rotating exhibits are based on Becker's own collection of 5,000 images supplemented by digitized photographs from other institutions. The Research Center includes links to other photographic history Web sites.

Hulton/Archive Picture Collection
Part of the vast Getty Images empire and linked to, this site deserves special mention because 230,000 online images from the 40-million-strong photo collection are searchable or browsable upon free registration. The Hulton/Archive collection was established when Getty Images merged the Hulton Getty operation in London, England, with Archive Photos in New York City. Watermarked images can be freely downloaded as JPEG files.

International Museum of Photography and Film, George Eastman House, Photography Collections Online
George Eastman, inventor of the Kodak camera, resided in Rochester, New York. His home includes this museum and archives with an extraordinary array of digitized photographs, from a collection sampler (1839 to the present) to photo albums, stereo views, and collections of images by the medium's most important practitioners. All images are available as downloadable JPEG files for private study. Because of its focus on photography, its international scope, and its public nature, though a private organization, this site can be considered the most important Web resource for online historical photographs.

J. Paul Getty Museum (The Getty)
To view a large assortment of online examples of various photographic technologies preserved by the museum, select the Collections link, then Photographs under Collection Types. There are more than 100 digitized daguerreotypes and nearly 600 photographic prints in various formats. To locate information about the Getty's holdings of a particular photographer, select the Artists link within the Collections page. Digital images download in the JPEG format. The Getty Research Library also maintains a large database of records, the Photo Study Collection Database, which describes photographs depicting works of art and architecture. Some of these photographs are available in digital form [see].

National Stereoscopic Association
Select the Oliver Wendell Holmes Stereoscopic Research Library link, then the Photographers and Subjects (3-D Images and Information) link to view sample digitized stereographs from some of the most celebrated historical stereo photographers, organized by photographer name and subject matter. Images download as JPEG files.

Register for free and access a large portfolio of online images from the Time-Life magazine and the Mansell collections. Simple keyword searches or extensive advanced search options are available, including by Time-Life publication or specific photographers. The online help system was inactive and the total number of online images unrevealed when we searched. A search for the term "world," however, returned 14, 976 images. Perhaps the most famous photographer affiliated with this collection is Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971). Watermarked images in the JPEG format can be downloaded. A related Web site is Time Life Photo Sight [] which includes photo essays and selections of historic photographs by 20th century photographers who worked for Time or Life magazines.

Women Artists of the American West: Past & Present
Developed by Susan Ressler, Purdue University, and Jerrold Maddox, Penn State University, this Web site is an Internet course and a Web resource that includes contributions made by women photographers. While not image-rich, the site contains much valuable historic data, especially in Peter E. Palmquist's "Women in Photography Archive" section.

International Public and Private Galleries

Alinari Picture Imaging Photo Gallery
Founded in 1852 in Florence, Italy, Fratelli Alinari is the oldest firm in continuous existence connected with photography. The company claims to have over 3.5 million images available. There are two sites, one commercial (100,000 images) and one for students and educators (50,000 images); both require subscriptions. The company also offers hand-printed photographs from its collection of glass-plate negatives.

Art Museum Image Consortium
AMICO is an international cooperative venture to support the educational and research use of art and photographic collections from the collections of its members. The AMICO Library Thumbnail Catalog is available for public searching by keyword or advanced search options, which include creator or object type (e.g., Photographs). Over 25,000 online photographs are documented in the catalog. Two photographic museums, the University of Arizona's Center for Creative Photography and the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, have portions of their holdings represented in the AMICO Library. Membership entitles one to view and download for educational use images up to 1024 x 768 pixels.

Bildarchiv Foto Marburg (Germany)
This site features over 2 million digitized photographs and artwork, along with corresponding descriptions. The site interface is in German. Select the Gäste (Guest) link in the center frame or the Bildindex (Picture Index) link in the content frame to access the Bildarchiv zur Kunst und Architektur in Deutschland (Picture Archive on Art and Architecture in Germany). Searches are by keyword or drill-down lists accessible through four topic categories (Orte [Places, 1.4 million images], Künstler [Artists, 220,000 images], Dargestellte Themen [Topics, 220,000 images], and Ansichten Porträts [Portraits, 220,000 images]). The Themen category is organized according to the ICONCLASS system [].

Bibliothèque Nationale de France (National Library of France), Gallica
Comparable to the Library of Congress' American Memory site, Gallica has concentrated on digitizing historic publications about France. Many of these works, which include early technical manuals on photographic processes, are illustrated with photographs or other types of imagery. Among the online exhibits at Gallica (select the Dossiers link), the Voyages en France features 6,000 images (art, maps, and photographs). Through the Recherche link, keyword and other kinds of searches are available.

Glasgow University Library, Special Collections, Hill and Adamson Collection
David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson were two of the most important practitioners in the mid-1840s of the calotype photographic process invented by William Henry Fox Talbot. Talbot is considered a co-inventor of photography along with its French inventor L.J.M. Daguerre. This site is an online, illustrated catalog with thumbnail images to the entire collection. Full-size images can only be accessed within the university's network. The site includes background information by photohistorian Dr. Larry J. Schaaf. A related site operated by the university, which Dr. Schaaf is directing, is The Correspondence of William Henry Fox Talbot Project []. The Talbot Project site includes links to other Web sites devoted to the early history of photography.

HeritageImage Partnership (U.K.)
Similar to the ImagesCanada and PictureAustralia gateways, this private/public sector collaboration features images, including historical photographs, from institutions such as the British Library, the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, the Royal Photographic Society, the National Motor Museum, and the Museum of London. Images can be searched or browsed a variety of ways, including by photographic terminology. Subject headings assigned to each image description are hyperlinked. The mid-size watermarked images download in the JPEG format.

Nagasaki University Library (Japan), Japanese Old Photographs in Bakumatsu-Meiji Period
A public site intended to highlight photographs taken in Japan between 1860-1899 or from the end of the Edo period to the beginning of the Meiji era. Many of the photographs are hand-colored. The English search interface includes a clickable map along with suggested English keywords. The photographs can also be searched by shelf location. According to the About page, "As of the end of March 1999, items in the collection numbered 5,414, making it one of the largest collections in Japan." The images download as JPEG files.

National Library of Australia, PictureAustralia
Gateway site to online image collections in Australia. The Advanced Search feature includes an option to search by format (e.g., "stereo" with Truncate selected produces 313 stereograph images). A series of thematic "Trails" allows one to browse the collections. A hyperlink to the image provider's site allows a user to locate offline image collections and order copies.

National Library of New Zealand, Alexander Turnbull Library, Timeframes
Search or browse over 20,000 online images (photographs, artwork, and other media, including print) and accompanying bibliographic records pertaining to New Zealand, the South Pacific basin, and the British colonial settlers' roots. Browsing uses a controlled subject vocabulary. The Advanced Search option includes the ability to limit a search to the Photographic Archive. Images download in the JPEG format or, upon registering, can be ordered online.

National Museum of Photography, Film, and Television (U.K.)
This museum is the British equivalent of the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester, New York. Unlike the former's Web site, however, large numbers of photographs are not available online. The site does feature virtual exhibits on the history of photography in the U.K. and elsewhere. Many downloadable Adobe Acrobat PDFs are available on the history of photography, film, and television. Digitized photographs at the NMPF&T can be searched via the HeritageImage Partnership site.

National Portrait Gallery (U.K.)
According to information accompanying each bibliographic record, "The online database contains information on approximately 34,000 works, 11,500 of which are illustrated; the National Portrait Gallery's collection includes over 1,000,000 works." The Advanced Search option offers the ability to limit the search by "Medium type" (e.g., Photograph). A search retrieved 1,062 digitized photographic portraits, including photographs of pioneer photographers such as David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson.

Research Libraries Group, Inc., RLG Cultural Materials
Full access is available only by annual subscription, but you can arrange free trial access. Some of the collections appear to be already available at their host institutions at no cost. For example, in the "Tour" section of how one might use RLG Cultural Materials, you would learn that a color image of Jorrocks, a famous racehorse, was contributed by the National Library of Australia. This same image, however, is available at no charge through PictureAustralia (though the quality is not great). The digital collections listed in RLG Cultural Materials include ones consisting entirely of historical photographs.

Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network (SCRAN)
Gateway and customizable portal service to Scottish heritage and cultural resources that features over 1 million text and multimedia (images, videos, audio) database records. Public access is limited to thumbnail images, while full access to larger-size images requires an annual subscription. The site can be searched or browsed and includes virtual exhibitions. A search using the keyword "photograph" returned nearly 50,000 images.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO Photobank
Extending back to 1957 or 9 years after UNESCO's founding in 1946, the database contains over 10,000 digitized photographs and slides relating to its activities. UNESCO also maintains databases for video (Videobank) and artwork (Artbank). Images download in the JPEG format.

Victoria & Albert Museum (U.K.)
Although only 152 digitized photographs are available, these are among the most important representations of photographic art and technology from the earliest years of photography. All images download as JPEG files.

Visual Arts Data Service (U.K.)
Part of the Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS), VADS is based at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design, University College. Online visual resources accessible through the Search Collections link are intended for the use of higher-education institutions in the U.K. Some, if not all the historical photograph images (over 1,000), download in the JPEG format. One of the more interesting products accessible through VADS is a self-contained, downloadable computer tutorial (5.77MB) by Professor Douglas Tallack, Nottingham University, on the documentary photography of Jacob Riis (1849-1914) in New York City. In order to complete the set-up program, users must request the e-mail transmission of a serial number from VADS.

Historical photographs are easily found using the image-search features of the major search engines. For the greatest success in finding such photographs, use the name of a photographer or a keyword, preferably an uncommon one associated with the photograph, such as a place name, a personal name, or an event. You may need to try your search as both an exact phrase and in different Boolean combinations. If you are searching for photographs of a specific place, try locating an archive or other institution in that locale likely to preserve such images. If unsuccessful, expand your search outwards to the regional and national levels. The history and evolution of photography as a technology and medium of communication and art form are best represented in archives, museums and hobbyist organizations devoted to photography. If you are uncertain about the legality of using a historical photograph in digital or print form, always ask, but, as Tomaiuolo pointed out, never assume that the person claiming copyright actually is the copyright owner. Historical photographs of a certain age are in the public domain and do not require anyone's permission to use for any purpose. However, you should assume a historical photography may be protected by copyright, since the responsibility for such use always rests with you.

The views expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author and do not reflect those of his employer.

Image Search Engine Field-Search Comparison Chart
Test searches conducted on February 21, 2002, using the American Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner as a quote-delimited phrase, except as noted, and Advanced Search capabilities when available. The relevance of the number of matches was not verified. no longer searches for still images. BIG Search Engine Index: Images Search is a directory of image search engines.
Search Engine Photographer? Date? Photo Formats? No. of Hits 
AltaVista Image Search Y (as keyword/phrase) N b&w/col. 19
Ditto Y (as keyword/phrase) N N 21
Excite Precision Search Y (as keyword/phrase) N N 2
FAST Multimedia Search Y (as keyword/phrase) N b&w/col. 83
Google Image Search Y (as keyword/phrase) N b&w/col. 396
HotBot Y (as keyword/phrase) N N 1,7002
Ithaki Images and Photos Y (as keyword/phrase) N N 223
IXQUICK Y (as keyword/phrase) N N 104
Lycos Multimedia Y (as keyword/phrase) N N 85
Picsearch Y (as keyword/phrase) N b&w/col. 5
Yahoo! Picture Gallery Y (as keyword/phrase) N b&w/col. None

1 Ditto returned one result using the quote-delimited phrase "Alexander Gardner" and two results using the keywords Alexander Gardner.
2 Even with the page-must-contain-an-image option selected and using the exact phrase option, several of the initial results are irrelevant.
3 Ithaki, a metasearch engine, claims to search Ditto, AltaVista Images, FAST (alltheweb), Yahoo! images, and Excite. The low number of results compared with individual searches of these engines was not investigated.
4 Only nine of the 10 results were displayed. IXQUICK searched AltaVista, Excite, FAST (alltheweb) and Picsearch.

Down for the Count: Total Number of Online Historical Photographs
This list excludes sites described in the Search Tools section.
Country: Collection Title Image Quantity
(U = unknown)
Australia: National Library of Australia, PictureAustralia U
Canada: British Columbia Archives 65,000
Canada: Images Canada 75,000
Canada: McCord Museum, Notman Photographic Archives 24,000
Canada: National Archives of Canada 3,800
Canada: National Gallery of Canada, Cybermuse 18,000
Canada: Natural Resources Canada, Earth Sciences Information Centre U
Canada: Portrait Gallery of Canada 0
France: Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Gallica U
Germany: Bildarchiv Foto Marburg 2,000,0005
International: Art Museum Image Consortium 25,000
International: UNESCO Photobank 10,000
Italy: Alinari Picture Imaging Photo Gallery 150,0006
Japan: Nagasaki University Library, Japanese Old Photographs in Bakumatsu-Meiji Period 5,414
New Zealand: National Library of New Zealand, Alexander Turnbull Library, Timeframes 20,0007
Scotland: Glasgow University Library, Special Collections, Hill & Adamson Collection U
Scotland: Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network 50,000
U.K.: HeritageImage Partnership U
U.K.: Hulton/Archive Picture Collection 230,000
U.K.: National Museum of Photography, Film & Television U
U.K.: National Portrait Gallery 1,062
U.K.: Victoria & Albert Museum 152
U.K.: Visual Arts Data Service 1,000
U.S.: AccuNet/AP Multimedia Archives U
U.S.: American Museum of Photography U
U.S.: American Strategy U
U.S.: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Thinker ImageBase 1,1278
U.S.: Holocaust Memorial Museum U
U.S.: International Museum of Photography and Film U
U.S.: J. Paul Getty Museum 7009
U.S.: Library of Congress, American Memory 239,325
U.S.: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division U
U.S.: NASA Image Exchange 3,091,326
U.S.: National Archives and Records Administration 58,000
U.S.: National Library of Medicine, History of Medicine Division 60,00010
U.S.: National Stereoscopic Association U
U.S.: New York Public Library 600,00011
U.S.: NOAA Photo Library 20,00012
U.S.: Research Libraries Group, RLG Cultural Materials U
U.S.: Smithsonian Institution, National Portrait Gallery 0
U.S.: TimePix 14,97613
U.S.: University of California at Berkeley, California Heritage Collection 30,00014
U.S.: University of California at Riverside, California Museum of Photography U
U.S.: University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center U
U.S.: Women Artists of the American West U
TOTAL 6,793,882

Assuming another 2,000,000 digitized historical images (artwork and photographs) in searchable databases available at the national, state/provincial, and local levels through archives, museums and galleries, universities and colleges, as well as commercial collections not surveyed here but described in Tomaiuolo's article, the total number of online historic images reaches nearly 9 million.

5 Includes artwork and photographs. 
6 May include non-photographs.
7 Includes non-photographs. 
8 Total number of images: 75,000.
9 Does not include the Photo Study Collection Database. 
10 Includes non-photographic images.
11 Includes non-photographs. 
12 Includes photographs and artwork.
13 Estimate based on keyword search for "world" and may include non-photographs. 
14 Includes non-photographs.

A National Treasure

Library of Congress, American Memory

A national treasure in itself, this is the core of the U.S.' National Digital Library Collection. Because of its significance, this site deserves more detailed highlighting of the wealth of historic photographs available. Many of these collections contain background resource material about photographic processes or the photographers responsible for the original images. American Memory hosts all the sites listed below. Some of the originating institutions also host variant sites with different content that link to the American Memory collection's start page for the site.

The Library of Congress basic search interface is by keyword. Remember, however, that you can not retrieve all online historic photographs of a particular format. For example, of the 12,000 stereoscopic views from the Robert Dennis Collection titled "Small Town America," only six subcollections are retrievable by the keyword "stereo" with a default match of all word variants; the total number of stereoscopic images is far less than 12,000. Some of the collections allow searches or browses for photographer.

Use the Collections Finder page [] and the Photos and Prints link to view a list of all digitized photographic and graphic arts collections, including multiformat collections.

Besides the American Memory digitized collections of historic photographs, periodically check the Exhibitions page at the Library of Congress. Many of these permanent, online exhibitions include or are comprised entirely of historic photographs. One of the most impressive examples highlights pre-World War I color photographs of Russia, "The Empire That Was Russia: The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated" [].

Here are some of the most significant digitized photographic collections, many of which stem from public-private sector partnerships:

  • America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945 (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress; As of December 1998, over 160,000 black and white and 1,600 color photographs.

  • American Indians of the Pacific Northwest (University of Washington Libraries; As of April 2000, over 2,300 photographs.

  • America's First Look into the Camera: Daguerreotype Portraits and Views, 1839-1864 (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress; As of October 1998, more than 725 daguerreotypes, the first commercially successful photographic process.

  • Around the World in the 1890s: Photographs from the World's Transportation Commission, 1894-1896 (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress; As of October 1998, almost 900 photographs by William Henry Jackson (in some ways, the 19th century American equivalent of the late Ansel Adams).

  • Edward S. Curtis' The North American Indian: Photographic Images (Northwestern University Library; As of April 2001, this collection contained "all of the published photogravure images including over 1,500 illustrations bound in the text volumes, along with over 700 portfolio plates."

  • History of the American West, 1860-1920: Photographs from the Collection of the Denver Public Library (Denver Public Library; As of July 2000, over 30,000 photographs, chiefly of Colorado, but also including Canada.

  • Selected Civil War Photographs (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress; As of January 2000, just over 1,300 photographs in two collections.

  • Small-Town America: Stereoscopic Views from the Robert Dennis Collection, 1850-1920 (New York Public Library; As of October 1999, "12,000 photographs of the Mid-Atlantic states New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut from the 1850s to the 1910s [sic], from the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views at the New York Public Library."

  • Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991 (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress; As of October 1998, around 4,000 photographs.

  • Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920 (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress; As of January 2001, "over 25,000 glass negatives and transparencies as well as about 300 color photolithograph prints, mostly of the eastern United States." Also included are "900 Mammoth Plate Photographs taken by William Henry Jackson along several railroad lines in the U.S., [Canada] and Mexico in the 1880s and 1890s."
Copyright and Historical Photographs
Everything stated by Tomaiuolo about copyright and photographs is excellent advice. Copyright, however, does expire and historical photographs do enter the public domain. Judging from the stance of many public institutions, the general user may not be aware that licensing restrictions imposed by these institutions may not be enforceable under the Copyright Act of their respective jurisdictions. For example, one test in a copyright case is economic harm to the creator. Using a nonwatermarked digital facsimile of a century-old photograph for which copyright has long expired and which was copied from the Library of Congress' own collection would likely go unchallenged. Using a watermarked photograph of the same vintage outside the scope of your license agreement from the Corbis Web site [] would likely face challenge by Corbis as an unauthorized use. Corbis, however, might have difficulty proving economic harm and therefore copyright infringement on a public domain image.

In Canada, where there is only one Copyright Act under federal jurisdiction and where the act has not been amended as many times as in the U.S., copyright issues are not as complex. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office, similar to the Copyright Office in the Library of Congress, notes in its online guide to copyright that "you cannot hold a copyright for a work that is in the public domain" []. The example used is Shakespeare's Hamlet, but could equally be a photograph no longer protected by copyright.

A legal challenge to U.S. legislation, which extended copyright protection for existing works for another 20 years (from 50 years to 70 years, the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act [CTEA]), took a new turn when TheWashington Post reported on February 20, 2002, that the Supreme Court will review Congress' power to extend copyright []. The article notes that, according to those arguing against the law, "Once a copyright has expired, a work is in the public domain and can be built upon, which can extend innovation and creativity...."

Researchers in North America interested in copyright issues surrounding photographs should consult the U.S. Copyright Clearance Center [], the U.S. Copyright Office (Library of Congress) [], the Canadian copyright cooperative CanCopy [], the Canadian Intellectual Property Office [], and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) [].


David Mattison's e-mail address is
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