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Collections Ripe for Research: A Sample from the Prints & Photographs Division

Prints and Photographs Division

Primary sources sometimes trigger the curiosity that grows into a research project. The following collections and thematic groups of pictures, selected because they merit scholarly attention but have so far received relatively little, may offer such inspiration. Prints and Photographs Division staff members are happy to assist researchers to become familiar with the materials and their arrangement and to discuss other research topics. Contact us through Ask a Librarian. We'll put you in touch with the staff member who is most familiar with the collection in which you have an interest.

Advertising | Bilderbogen | Civil Rights | Civil War | Engineering | Geography | Middle East | Postcards | Posters | Urban Surveys | Washington, DC | WWI

Civil Rights Photography

In the past few years, P&P acquired groups of images by photographers who participated in the Civil Rights movement:

  • Peter Pettus photographs of the Civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.  (more than 500 images, 35 mm. and larger – LOT 13514)
  • Ernest Withers photographs, 1948-1970 (26 photographs, including Memphis, Tenn., sanitation workers strike)
  • Smaller groups of photographs by Bruce Davidson, Leonard Freed, David Johnson, and James Hinton

These form the basis for interesting explorations of views from inside the movement (Pettus) and someone who, according to recent news coverage, was working both inside and outside of the movement (Withers), in comparison with coverage in other P&P collections, including:

  • civil rights organizations (Visual materials from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People records)
  • photojournalism holdings (U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection; New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection; Look Magazine Photograph Collection).

More information:

Participants marching in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Photo by Peter Pettus
Participants marching in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Photo by Peter Pettus, 1965.
Mob marching from capitol to Central High, Little Rock. Photo by John T. Bledsoe
Mob marching from capitol to Central High, Little Rock. Photo by John T. Bledsoe, 1959.

Civil War Photographs, Prints and Drawings

The Library's strong collection of about 7,000 Civil War glass negatives and related photographic prints and stereographs has recently been supplemented by more than 700 ambrotype and tintype portraits of individuals on both sides of the conflict in the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs, and images of African American soldiers from the Civil War (as well as later periods) in the Gladstone Collection of African American Photographs. 

These new acquisitions, complement other visual representations of the Civil War, including eyewitness drawings and historical prints, enabling researchers to examine how information captured in photos and drawings were translated for mass distribution through illustrated newspapers. Together, the collections offer opportunities for new scholarship and a fresh look at the visual record of the war.

More information:

Unidentified soldier in Confederate uniform
Unidentified soldier in Confederate uniform. Photo, between 1861 and 1865.

Urban Photographic Surveys, ca. 1900

Two photographic "surveys" carried out in Washington, D.C. around the turn of the century have proven popular for illustration, but have received little scholarly attention:
  • The Washington, D.C., Street Survey Collection (more than 200 photographs printed from glass negatives, dated between 1900 and 1905 - LOT 11516) show Washington streets and neighborhoods in all sections of the city.  The photographer and source of the images is unknown, although some have speculated that they were made in conjunction with the Senate Park Improvement Commission's MacMillan Plan for the architectural development of Washington, D.C. 
  • Frances Benjamin Johnston photographed many of the capital city's schools, ca. 1899.  Some of the photographs were used in The New Education Illustrated but her method for selecting schools and the focus of her efforts has not been thoroughly examined. 

Both might profitably be examined for their relation to urbanization and reform efforts of the era.  Comparison to Lewis Hine's photography in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the National Child Labor Committee a decade later could yield further insights.

More information:

Maryland Ave. at 2nd St. N.E., Washington, D.C
Maryland Ave. at 2nd St. N.E., Washington, D.C. Photo, between 1900 and 1905.
Western High School, Washington, D.C. Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston
Western High School, Washington, D.C. Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1899?.

Washington, D.C., Commercial Photography

Scholars have explored the workings of the Mathew Brady Studio and, to some extent, its successor, the Brady-Handy Studio, which are prolifically represented in P&P holdings.  Less attention has gone to the output of some of Washington, D.C.'s other commercial photographers, which are also represented in the collections:

  • C.M. Bell (more than 30,000 glass negatives, ca. 1873- ca. 1910, served on microfilm and prints of selected images
  • George Prince (more than 500 photographic prints, ca. 1890-1910)
  • Waldon Fawcett (more than 300 photographic prints, ca. 1900-1910)
  • Harris & Ewing (more than 70,000 glass negatives, 1905-1945; 25,000 available online, with more being added)
  • National Photo Company (more than 35,000 glass negatives, with corresponding prints for many, plus some additional photographic prints, 1909-1932)

Individually or in combination, these collections offer opportunities to explore documentation of the many sides of the nation's capital, from the portraits and activities of ordinary citizens to the ceremonial and diplomatic functions.  They offer great potential for researching the history of photography, the role of photography in shaping impressions of government and government officials, and Washington, D.C., history.

More information:

Full delegation of Sioux Indians Photo by C.M. Bell
Full delegation of Sioux Indians Photo by C.M. Bell, 1891 Feb.
Suffragette [i.e., Suffragist] demonstration. Photo by Harris & Ewing
Suffragette [i.e., Suffragist] demonstration. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1818..

World War I in Stereographs

P&P’s strong stereograph holdings offer many opportunities for research.  For example, a recently acquired group of stereographs from a boxed set, “World War Through the Stereoscope” (300 images, published 1923 – LOT 14008) could be examined for how stereographs were used to convey an account of the war, taking advantage of their ability to deliver a three-dimensional image when viewed through a stereoscope. 

Comparison with the division’s other stereograph holdings, its multi-faceted documentation of World War I in photographs and graphic media, as well as with motion picture and other Library holdings would inform a studies of the stereograph format as well as studies of World War I and its aftermath, and communication about it.

More information:

Guards at American Bridgehead Boundary,"Montabaur" on the Rhine. Stereo by Keystone View Company
Guards at American Bridgehead Boundary,"Montabaur" on the Rhine. Stereo by Keystone View Company, 1920.

Cultural Geography in the Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection

Frank G. Carpenter (1855-1924) and his daughter Frances (1890-1972) produced and gathered photographs by the thousands to illustrate his writings on travel and world geography. Carpenter's works helped popularize cultural anthropology and geography in the early years of the twentieth century.

Consisting of more than 15,000 photographic prints, the majority dating from 1910 to 1925, the Carpenter Collection lends itself to investigations of cultural geography and how it was presented to Americans in earlier eras, as well as to histories of education and publishing. Exploration of the role and use of the photos can be amplified by examination of associated papers are in the Manuscript Division, and Carpenter’s publications in the general book collections. 

More information:

"Eskimos." Photo from Carpenter Collection, 1921.

Souvenir Photography/Postcards

Collections that highlight how entrepreneurs translated photography and other graphic media into consumer  items in the twentieth century include:

  • The Detroit Publishing Company Collection (more than 25,000 glass negatives and transparencies as well as about 300 color photolithograph prints available online, ca. 1880-1930, primarily 1890-1910; corresponding prints for many) expanded beyond its line of products for advertising and home decorating to provide domestic tourist views of hotels and resorts and studies of the American landscapes and frontiers published as postcards. 
  • The Wittemann Brothers founded a souvenir viewbook publishing business after the Civil War and expanded into the production of souvenir postcards (more than 1,500 photographic and photomechanical prints; hundreds of souvenir view books, postcards, 1890s-1920s). 
  • P&P's collection of more than 55,000 postcards is relatively untapped.

The postcards, together with source images from these two collections, could support explorations of the growth of consumer culture, tourism, souvenir publishing as well as thematic treatments of particular subject matter, such as Native Americans, cities, resorts, expositions, etc.

More information:

The Nubble, York, ME. Postcard by Detroit Photographic Co
The Nubble, York, ME. Postcard by Detroit Photographic Co., c1904.
Greetings from Camp Arcadia on Lake Michigan. Postcard by Curt Teich & Co
Greetings from Camp Arcadia on Lake Michigan. Postcard by Curt Teich & Co., Inc., 1945.

American Colony/Photography of the Middle East

The Library's holdings relating to the American Colony in Jerusalem, including the John D. Whiting papers (more than 3,000 photographic prints) and the Matson Collection (more than 20,000 photographs, primarily photographic negatives presented online) are becoming known, but the photographs have not so far been extensively tapped for their rich coverage of people, places and events in the Middle East spanning the last years of the Ottoman Empire, through World War I, the British Mandate period, World War II, and the emergence of the State of Israel. 

The two collections together document the imagery the American Colony produced commercially as well as family photos that provide a view inside the colony--stories textual materials in the Whiting Papers and in the American Colony records in the Manuscript Division also help to tell.  The materials would support research in the history and geography  of the Middle East, analyses of missionary efforts in that region, and the history of photography.

More information:

Nebi Musa procession with Yorkshire band
Nebi Musa procession with Yorkshire band. Photo from Matson Collection, 1920 April 2.

European Historical Prints: Hecht Bilderbogen Collection

Scholars engaged in research on a variety of topics from major European wars to material culture would benefit from exploration of these German and French historical prints. The more than 9,000 images date from the 1700s to the 1970s, but the bulk were made between 1848 and 1918.

The prints cover such topics as war, politics, theater, romance, cityscapes, fairy tales, children's comic strips, and designs for making such household items as cigar boxes and hat racks.

More information:  

Dietrich Hecht Collection of Bilderbogen

Uebergang über den Rappahannock
Uebergang über den Rappahannock. Print, between 1863 and 1870.

Product Labels

Nineteenth century printed product labels, such as tobacco labels and patent medicine labels, offer evidence of the material culture and commercial development of the era. They would be relevant to studies of printmaking and advertising, the manufacture of particular products, and could help inform gender studies and explorations of particular events (the Civil War, Western expansion) in the popular imagination.

The collections include thousands of labels in various groupings, the majority of which came to the Library of Congress as a by-product of the copyright or patent registration processes.

More information:

Gainer's celebrated Spanish bitters
Gainer's celebrated Spanish bitters. Print, copyright 1868.

Polish Posters

P&P's poster collections provide evidence of Poland's strong graphic tradition as well as trends in visual expression during an eventful period in Poland's history, including some from the Solidarity movement.

The Artist Poster and Yanker Poster collections contain more than 450 posters, spanning the 1890s through the 1980s. Posters from the 1960s and 1970s are particularly well represented. Poles in exile generally produced the posters from the 1940s.   

More information

  • Elena Millie and Zbigniew Kantorosinski, The Polish Poster: From Young Poland Through the Second World War, Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1993.
  • Polish poster descriptions/images

Gdynia--Nowy port nad Bałtykiem. Poster by Stefan Norblin
Gdynia--Nowy port nad Bałtykiem. Poster by Stefan Norblin, ca. 1930.

Civil Engineering and Industrical Architecture in the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER)

The National Park Service's heritage documentation programs (Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey) are well known, but the engineering record, in particular, has been relatively untapped for the variety of explorations the detailed documentation could support.

HAER has produced more than 8,000 surveys, documenting structures, sites, and industrial processes through large-format photographs, measured drawings, and written historical reports for such historic engineering projects as roads, power plants, railroads, dams, canals, bridges, mills, and arsenals constructed from the eighteenth century onwards throughout the United States. (HABS recorded some of these types of structures before HAER came into being in 1969.) The documentation aids explorations in the history of technology, industrialization, civil engineering and infrastructure development, as well as corresponding changes in the ecosystem, and cultural geography.

More information:

Elwha River Hydroelectric System, Clallam, WA
Elwha River Hydroelectric System, Clallam, WA, 1995 from HAER survey

More Resources

Last revised: January 2012.
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  March 25, 2022
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