The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (P&P) has numerous varied and unique collections of Middle East images. This visual material includes photographic prints, negatives, albums, book illustrations, posters, architectural drawings, and cartoons. The majority of images were created between 1840 and 1970, although some earlier and later materials are also available.
The images portray a broad geographic area from Algiers in North Africa to Samarqand in present-day Uzbekistan. The collections are particularly strong in coverage of Turkey, Israel, the West Bank (the Palestinian territories), Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Central Asia. Many images of Iran, Iraq, and North Africa, including Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, can be found along with some images of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states such as Kuwait and Bahrain.
The subject matter depicts well-known and ordinary people, archaeological sites, architecture, landscapes, events, and everyday activities. For a quick introduction to the wide range of topics, search for the word Egypt in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.
The photographers represented in the collections are primarily resident foreigners, such as the American Colony Photographers of Jerusalem, and European travelers to the region like Francis Frith. Photographers born in the Middle East include Ottoman military photographer Ali Riza Pasa and Abdullah fréres.
The Middle East visual materials came to P&P through copyright deposit, gift, and purchase, and today total about 75,000 items. As of 2009, most of these have images or descriptive information available in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC) [//www.loc.gov/pictures/].Researchers can view original materials, including pictures not yet digitized, in the P&P Reading Room. Some materials can only be viewed through digital images or other surrogates, and some require advance arrangements to view. We recommend that patrons first search PPOC and consult a librarian before coming on site to do research.
P&P holds collections which contain images of many different countries in the Middle East. Some of the major collections with images spanning the region include:
This Subject Overview summarizes Middle East collections and images according to country or region. Within each section, the materials are grouped by format, such as photographs, and then listed in a broad chronological order. Collections whose main focus is the Middle East are included as well as collections that do not focus solely on the region, but contain many relevant images. As the purpose is to give an overview of Middle East resources, the coverage is not exhaustive and does not include all Middle East images in P&P collections. An in-depth look at Turkish holdings indicates the kinds of materials that can be found for many countries in the Middle East.
It can be challenging to locate Middle East images in P&P due to the complexity of the material and the many collections where relevant images can be found. When using PPOC, we recommend that researchers:
- use keyword searching to find images because not all collections are fully cataloged with formal subject indexing terms.
- for geographic locations, keyword searches for the name of a country, city or town, or geographic feature will bring up relevant items. Use specific terms such as "Saudi Arabia," "Amman," or "Dead Sea." Because some records do not include geographic access points and the language of historical captions can be antiquated, using variant names will result in more hits. For example, search for both "Iran" and "Persia."
- for people, search for different forms of their names, for example "Atatürk" and "Kemal Pasha."
- to find topics, keyword terms such as "mosques" and "harvesting" are useful and can be combined with geographic terms to focus the search.
- for help in finding the subjects and formats of fully cataloged collections, use the subject and format vocabulary in the Thesaurus for Graphic Materials, which is linked to PPOC: //www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/tgm/
Other Places to Look for Middle East Images
Researchers should be aware that many other divisions in the Library of Congress hold Middle East images. These include the African and Middle Eastern Division, the American Folklife Center, the Manuscript Division, which has the American Colony in Jerusalem collection and papers of American Colony member John D. Whiting, and the Serials and Government Publications Division. The Rare Book & Special Collections Division and the General Collections also have many books containing illustrations of the region.
Numerous institutions around the world also have unique collections of Middle East photographs. A select bibliography of these libraries and archives is found here: //www.loc.gov/rr/print/resource/mepbibliographySAA.html
This bibliography features resources that focus on collections in the Prints & Photographs Division or other Library of Congress Middle East image collections. Books and articles that have used P&P materials as illustrations are too numerous to enumerate here.
"A World Apart: Photos Document the Middle East and its Past." Library of Congress Information Bulletin 65 (October 2006): 236-237 and //www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/0610/middle_east.html LC Call Number: DS41 .M533
Alexander, Arden, Verna Curtis, Mary Jane Deeb, and Christopher Murphy. "Photographic Resources Documenting the Middle East at the Library of Congress." Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 40 (June 2006): 63-74. LC Call Number: DS41 .M533
Allen, William. "The Abdul Hamid II Collection." History of Photography 8 (April-June 1984): 119-145. LC Call Number: TR15 .H57
Gavin, Carney E.S. and the Harvard Semitic Museum, eds. "Imperial Self-Portrait: the Ottoman Empire as revealed in the Sultan Abdul Hamid II's Photographic Albums." Special issue of Journal of Turkish Studies 12 (1988). LC Call Number: DR438.94.J68
Hobart, George. S. "The Matson Collection: A Half Century of Photography in the Middle East." In A Century of Photographs, 1846-1946 selected from the Collections of the Library of Congress, compiled by Renata Shaw, 109-129. Washington, D.C.: The Library of Congress, 1980. LC Call Number: TR6.U62 D572
Matson, G. Eric. The Middle East in Pictures. 4 vols. With introduction by George S. Hobart. New York: Arno Press, 1980. LC Call Number: DS44.5 .M37 1980 fol.
Parker, Brenda. "Turkestanskii Al'bom: Portrait of a Faraway Place and Another Time." Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress 40 (Fall 1983): 284-341. LC Call Number: QR01 A3
Sonntag, Heather S. "Photography & Mapping Russian Conquest in Central Asia: Early Albums, Encounters, & Exhibitions 1866-1876" In Journée d'Etude Centrasiatique. Atelier 3: Histoire du Turkestan russe et du Xinjiang. Oct. 26, 2007. http://www.reseau-asie.com/cgi-bin/prog/pform.cgi?langue=fr&Mcenter=article_standard&TypeListe=showdoc&ID_document=269
Vanderbilt, Paul. "Kun Collection." In Guide to the Special Collections of Prints & Photographs in the Library of Congress, 92. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1955. LC Call Number: NE53.W2 A52
Because of the historic nature of our collections, places mentioned in image captions have sometimes changed names and/or country locations. Below are some of the resources P&P catalogers use to determine contemporary place names for locations depicted in Middle East images.
Library of Congress Authorities:
Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names Online:
The Columbia Gazetteer of the World (subscription only):
The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection (University of Texas Libraries):
Prepared by: Arden Alexander, Prints & Photographs Division. Last updated: February 2015.