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The Best Places to Look
for Historical Images Online
More and more archives are digitizing their collections, and
that makes the world of photo researching completely different than it
was just a few years ago. For most projects, you can do the bulk of
your research online. For others, you may be able to find what archives
you need to visit by doing online research. The commentary below on
downloaded images reflects how a "test image" that we saved directly
from the site looked as a PowerPoint slide. Of course quality within
any online collection can vary. Regarding use of downloaded images,
generally for teachers the Fair Use rule applies. Fair use includes
"the use of protected materials for non-commercial educational
purposes, such as teaching, scholarship, research, criticism,
commentary, and news reporting." Often the fair use rule DOES
NOT apply to web site use. Doublecheck each individual site to find out
if use on web-sites is allowed!!!!
Detail from a stereograph, ca. 1890. Austin/Thompson Collection.
The American Memory Collection at the Library of Congress This website is another
excellent place to begin. A project of the Library of Congress,
American Memory is helping smaller institutions around the country
digitize elements of their collections. A few examples include The
Chicago Daily News Collection, which comprises over
55,000 images of urban life captured on glass plate negatives between
1902 and 1933 by photographers employed by the Chicago Daily News, then
one of Chicago's leading newspapers. The Chicago Historical Society
encourages use of these images to the extent permitted under the fair
use clause, but it does ask that a credit line be included with each
image used. Excellent download quality. The
Northern Great Plains 1880-1920 is a collection from the
Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota State University contain
900 photographs of rural and small town life at the turn of the century
includes the Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection and the
F.A. Pazandak Photograph Collection. The Institute does not
seem to follow Fair Use rules. Excellent download quality. South
Texas Border Photographs, The Robert Runyon Collection This is a collection of
over 8,000 items, is a unique visual resource documenting the Lower Rio
Grande Valley during the early 1900s. All images in this collection may
be used for educational and scholarly purposes, but they do ask that a
credit line be included with each image used. Excellent download
of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection This amazing public
treasure trove includes collections such as the Farm Security
Administration photographs, Matthew Brady’s images of the Civil
War, and Ansel Adams photographic documentation of the Japanese
internment at Manzanar. They’re almost all public domain images
and many can be downloaded in high resolution jpegs or tiffs. Just
remember that if the image has a blue border, it can be enlarged. If
not, it is just a frustrating thumbnail! Almost all LOC images are in
the public domain.
Archives and Records Administration The National Archives
search engine is called ARC and you can get very detailed in what types
of searches you want to do. However, the site can be a bit glitchy, so
be careful. The idea of thousands of images from government agencies
may seems dull, but check out the EPA’s photographs of Texas
towns from the 1970s or the Labor Bureau’s Lewis Hine images of
child labor. All Archives images are in the public domain. Excellent
Institution Research Information System (SIRIS) Image Gallery This database is
difficult to navigate at first, but if you persevere it is worth it.
Choose a format you want to explore (i.e. "photograph and negatives");
then choose a collections (i.e. "Photographs from National
Anthropological Archives"); then click on "refine search" and add your
key word to the "Title Keyword" box. Each Smithsonian archive follows
the fair use rule, "Fair use of copyrighted material includes the use
of protected materials for non_commercial educational purposes, such as
teaching, scholarship, research, criticism, commentary, and news
reporting." Excellent download quality. NEW!!!! on
SIRIS is the Scurlock Studio Collection. Addison Scurlock and his two
sons were major African American photographers in Washington D.C., and
the Archives Center at the Smithsonian has now digitized over 2,000 of
the photographs from that collection. They are an incredible resource
and of excellent quality. Just click on Cross-Searching
Center and type the name "Scurlock" into the search box.
Museum Archives Photographs Catalogue (Canada) This site contains
80,000 historical photographs, illustrations, cartoons and posters
documenting the people, landscape and development of the Canadian West
from the 1870s to the 1970s. If you are using the images purely for
personal purposes, such as for research, school projects, genealogies,
or gifts, you do not need to ask for permission or pay a Usage Fee. If
you plan to exhibit the images publicly in a museum or interpretive
centre, on an interpretive sign or plaque, or as decoration in a
school, hotel, restaurant or other public area, you do not need to ask
for permission or pay a Usage Fee. We require, however, that the
Glenbow Archives be visibly credited as the source of the image, and
that the credit line include the image number of the photograph. Very
good download quality.
Classroom Teacher Features for Images
How to Look at a Photograph
Printable Classroom Posters with Discussion
General Discussion Questions for Images
Jennie Camillo, age 8, cranberry
Photo by Lewis Hine. National Archives.
and Local Collections
Arkansas History Commission Photographs This site has a great
many wonderful images but they do not display automatically. You have
to click on "Details" and then on "A look inside: url" The Arkansas
History Commission (AHC) holds visual materials for purposes of private
study, research, and scholarship. Not all AHC images are in the public
domain. The patron using AHC visuals (including digital images) does so
with the agreement to having read its Copyright Notice and assumes all
responsibility for any infringement of copyright held by others in the
use of AHC visuals. The downloaded images are of very high quality.
Even a zoomed in detail holds up fairly well.
Beinecke Rare Book and
Manuscript Library, Digital Images Online Beinecke's Digital
Images Online offers approximately 70,000 images of a wide range of
materials from throughout the Beinecke Collections: photographs,
manuscripts, correspondence, artwork, objects, illustrations, and
selected pages from printed works. The majority of images are scans of
original material in full 24-bit color. Approximately 1200 images are
added every two weeks. About 20,000 images are scanned images from the
Beinecke's Photonegative File, which contains negatives and color
transparencies of images selected for reproduction or study by patrons
over the last twenty years. Downloads should not be used for any
purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research. It is not
necessary to seek the Library's permission to publish texts or images
(unless the University is identified as the copyright holder.) The
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library should, however, be cited as
the source. Excellent download quality.
History Online Images from the Connecticut Historical Society, the
Connecticut State Library, the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the
University of Connecticut, Mystic Seaport, and the New Haven Colony
Historical Society. Personal or educational use of all images found in
CHO is permissible. Excellent download quality.
Photographs, "Through the Lens of Time" This is a wonderful
collection of nearly 300 images of African Americans dating from the
nineteenth and early twentieth century from the Cook Collection of
Photographs at the Valentine Richmond History Center. The photos are by
George S. Cook (1819-1902) and Huestes P. Cook (1868-1951) primarily of
the Richmond and Central Virginia area. Fair use applies. Excellent
Denver Public Library The Library’s
Western History/Genealogy Department is joined by the Colorado
Historical Society on-line database. It contains some 100,000 images of
Colorado and the American West. This is a larger collection of images
than the Denver Public Library’s American Memory Collection. The
Denver Public Library does not seem to use the Fair Use rule. It also
asks that images not be downloaded from the site. Images must be
purchased through the Photo Sales Department.
Photographic Collection (State Archives of
Florida) There are over 100,000 photographs on the website, and all are
in the public domain. Excellent download quality.
Angeles Public Library Digital Images is an excellent
collection. However, it allows downloads for personal use only.
Database photos are copyrighted and "may not be used in any manner
without the written permission of the Los Angeles Public Library." They
do charge for "educational presentations." Excellent download quality.
of Virginia Photographic Collections This site is not easy to
use, but there are a great many images from local Virginia library
collections here. The site is unclear on whether it follows Fair Use.
Excellent download quality.
Digital Library This broad database includes documents and images. The
collections gathered here include The American Missionary Association
collection at the Amistad Research Center as well as the Millspaugh
Photograph Collection, and the Teaching American History Collection,
among many others. Excellent download quality.
Native American family held at Fort Marion (also
called Castilla San Marcos) Saint Augustine, Florida, 1875. Florida Photographic Collection, Florida State
Society, Visual Resources Database Click on "Collections,"
then "Photo & Art Database." This database contains 120,000 images.
The historical society does not charge for personal or educational use.
Very good download quality.
North Dakota Photo
This site does not have that many photos yet. What is there is from the
collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. The images
on this site may not be included in any publication, printed or online,
without the written permission of the Society. Decent download quality.
State Historical Society Photographs The Nebraska State
Historical Society has collected over 1/2 million images, collection
represents nearly every aspect of life in Nebraska and the Great Plains
from the later 1800s to the near present. Unfortunately, this site does
not have that many photos yet. The society allows use for personal,
research, and nonprofit educational purposes only. Very good download
OhioPix This is an image
database created by the Ohio Historical Society's Archives/Library to
provide online access to photographs, paintings, prints and objects
from the Society's collections. The copyright page allows for free research
use only, no publication, exhibition, or any other
public purpose without permission. Adequate download quality.
Online Archive of
California (OAC)-Image Search The OAC is a digital
information resource that facilitates and provides access to materials
such as manuscripts, photographs, and works of art held in libraries,
museums, archives, and other institutions across California, regarding
images the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley
is of particular importance. The site also states that it allows a
"broad spectrum of users: students, teachers, and researchers of all
levels." Excellent download quality.
(New York) This database of over 22,000 images contains some amazing
photographs. It is drawn from collections of the Central Library of
Rochester and Monroe County Local History Division, the City of
Rochester Municipal Archives and City Hall Photo Lab, the Rochester
Museum & Science Center, the Town of Brighton Historian's Office,
the Town of Perinton Historian's Office, the Village of East Rochester
Historian's Office and the Village of Hilton Historian's Office. The
images are for non-commercial, personal, educational, or research use
only. Excellent download quality.
Schomburg Center (New York Public Library) In particular check out "Images of African
Americans from the 19th Century" This is the first of a
series of pictorial databases that will be mounted on this site as part
of the "Digital Schomburg." Others will be added of 19th century
continental Africans and African peoples in Central and South America
and the Caribbean. These image databases are meant to complement and
supplement the full text databases of writings by people of African
descent which also are a part of the "Digital Schomburg," an electronic
reference and research resource on African, African American and
African Diasporan history and culture from the Schomburg Center. The
website states that the images "are presented in the hope that they
will at one and the same time address some of your viewing, research,
education and study needs..." Very good download quality.
The Shores family, near Westerville, Custer County, Nebraska,
1887. Jerry Shores was one of a number of former slaves to settle in
Custer County. Photo by Solomon D. Butcher. Nebraska State Historical Society.
Garment workers strike in Rochester, New York, 1913.
Photo by Albert R. Stone. Rochester
Museum & Science Center.
University of Virginia Special Collections Library has two wonderful
collections online: The Holsinger
Studio Collection is mostly studio photographs from Charlottesville Virginia
from the 1890s through 1920. There are 9,500 images including 500
portraits of African Americans. Excellent download quality. The Jackson
Davis Collection of African American Educational Photographs contains over 6,000
photographs of African American schools, teachers and students
throughout the Southeastern United States was intended to demonstrate
the wretched conditions of African American schools in the south and to
show how they could be improved. They provide a unique view of southern
education during the first half of the twentieth century. Excellent
download quality. UVA allows use of the images for research, teaching,
and private study. "For these purposes, you may reproduce (print, make
photocopies, or download) materials from this website without prior
permission, on the condition that you provide proper attribution of the
source in all copies (see below). Although we do not require you to
contact us in advance for these purposes, we do appreciate hearing from
teachers, students, and researchers who are using our resources in
interesting ways" (send e-mail to Special Collections at
Tech ImageBase This database includes manuscripts and photographs held by
the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, including the
records of the Christiansburg Institute. Images are allowed for use in
research, teaching, and private study, on the condition that you
provide proper attribution of the source in all copies. Very good
This digital collection comprises nearly 18,000 photographs from the
Georgia Archives and documents more than 100 years of Georgia history
and life. The site is not clear on Fair Use policies. Very good
University of Washington
Digital Collections This site features photographs and documents from the
University of Washington Libraries, University of Washington Faculty
and Departments, and organizations that have participated in partner
projects with the UW. Collections in the database include The Alaska
and Western Canada collection, American Indians of the Pacific
Northwest, and the Eric A. Hegg Photograph Collection of the Alaska and
Klondike gold rushes, to name just a few. Fair use for personal study
or research and for classroom teaching. For any other use, researchers
must contact the repository that owns the image to obtain reproductions
and to request permission to use the images. Each collection has
specific copyright restrictions and usage rules. Excellent download
Historical Images This site provides a rich pictorial view of Wisconsin and
United States history. The collection consists of 19th and 20th century
photographs, paintings, posters, advertising material, ephemera, and
political cartoons. The images online represent only a fraction of the
3 million images in the Historical Society’s Archives. It appears
that the archives does not allow fThe use policies are stated as "Use
of the image in any public manner (publication, website, public
display) requires written permission from the Archives." Excellent
Archives Online Exhibits has three excellent
exhibits of Native American Ledger Paintings and Winter Counts. Kiowa
Drawings starts with an illustrated article. With in the article are
links to three databases of images: Fort Marion Artists (excellent download
Illustrations (adequate download quality, but not fabulously sharp), and
the Silver Horn Target Record
(excellent download quality). The Squint Eyes: Artist and Indian
Scout exhibit also starts with an illustrated article that contains the
database Drawings (adequate download
quality, but not fabulously sharp). The NAA site states, "The texts and
images on this Web site may be reproduced for non-commercial,
educational and personal use only. Students, teachers, and individual
users may download, print, photocopy, and distribute these materials
for personal or classroom use without prior permission, provided that
the files are not changed and the Smithsonian Institution copyright
notice is included. The reproduction of images and texts on a Web site
or CD-ROM is prohibited without written permission."
Professor Troy Johnson's web site at California State
University-Long Beach has a number of excellent subpages with images of
Native Americans. Scroll down the page and you will find Alcatraz Occupation in
photographs, a fascinating and education series of images by photograher
Ilka Hartmann of the occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969. Permission
to use these images must be obtained from the photographer. Even
further down the page is The Native American Experience which contains photographs, drawings, maps and short
descriptions chroniclizing the experiences of the Native American
population. These images date from the 1600s to the modern era. Some of
the images are not contemporaneous, but all are credited and of a
decent size. He has
no section that deals with copyright and fair use. The downloaded
images are high quality, but tend to pixilate if you want to focus in
on a detail.Professor Johnson found these images from a variety
of sources, so checking the originating institution's downloading
policies is necessary. However, many are Library of Congress or
National Archives, which are public domain, or the Smithsonian, which
allows use for educational purposes.
For more links visit our Native
Other Sites of Interest
Political History Images This is a small
collection of over 500 public domain images and documents from American
political history. Very good download quality.
Weekly Images Check out their Free Features: The American West; and Black America 1857-1874. Excellent download
Deal Network This site has a number of wonderful images from the
Depression. Excellent download quality.
The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record A wonderful exhibit with
a number of excellent illustrations from the Library of Virginia. The
images on this website are for educational and non-commercial purposes.
They are provided for the personal use of students, teachers, scholars,
and the general public. Excellent download quality.
This is a wonderful site from the Texas Council for the Humanities. It
has a variety of excellent exhibitions including "Africa in the
Americas" (under "The New World" collection heading.) The site’s
permissions page is empty. Excellent download quality.
of Freedom: South Asian Pioneers in California, 1899-1965 All of the material in
the exhibit not otherwise credited is drawn from the South Asians in
North America collection, an archive of journals, books, manuscripts,
photographs, letters, and other primary material documenting early
South Asian immigration to North America. The collection is held at the
Bancroft Library. Good download quality.
Anthony Burns escaped slavery. He
was arrested and tried in Boston in 1854 and returned to slavery.
Drawing by R. M. Edwards, 1855. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs
History Place: Child Labor in America 1908-1912 The Photographs of
Lewis W. Hine A collection of Hines’ photographs organized by type
of work. Private home/school non-commercial, non-Internet re-usage
only. Excellent download quality.
Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco This is a general
multi-media website utilizing text, graphics, and sounds. There are not
that many images and no general image database, but the site does have
an excellent collection of 1906 disaster pictures. Regarding copyright,
the website states, "We are primarily a research and educational site
for scholars, young and old." But they do require permission fees. Very
good download quality.
National Gallery of Art-Search the Collection This database contains
text and/or data on all of the more than 108,000 objects in the
National Gallery's collection. Images of more than 5,600 objects in the
collection and approximately 11,800 related details are available.
There is a "images only" option to limit your search to objects for
which images are available. However, there is no "keyword" search only
"Key Words in Title." Excellent download quality.
National Portrait Gallery The National Portrait
Gallery has two major search engines. The NPG Portrait Search which
includes 12,000 records from the collections of the National Portrait
Gallery and the Catalog of American Portraits (CAP) Portrait Search
which combines the NPG with nearly 70,000 records from the Catalog of
American Portraits, a national survey of American portraits in public
and private collections across the United States and abroad.
Unfortunately, many of these portraits are not digitized and only
display (and are downloadable) as thumbnails.
you're still looking . . .
Digital Librarian, Images The Digital Librarian
has an impressive list of internet sites for research in a variety of
fields. The image list includes a wonderful variety of both
photographic and graphic archives from around the world. Many of the
sites listed above can also be found on the digital librarian's list.