Looking at photographs is a simple task many family researchers do every day. We all love looking at them but are we really SEEING them? Learn some tricks to better understand photographs from the website Library of Congress Researchers Tool Box. I have shared this page in the hopes of all researchers to better understand our photographs.
The resources below provide information and methods for exploring image history, processes, content, and meaning. Information about searching and using the Prints and Photographs Division collections can be found in the general documents: “Information for Researchers” and “Top Tips for Successful Research in the Prints & Photographs Division.”
Identifying and Interpreting Images
- Every Photo is a Story – A five part video series in which reference librarian Kristi Finefield and architecture and landscape historian Sam Watters lay out ways to uncover the story in a photograph, using examples from Frances Benjamin Johnston garden and architecture photographs. “Try It Yourself” exercises accompany each part, giving viewers a chance to apply skills learned during the video.
- Visual Literacy Exercise (PDF document / 165 kb /) – A method for looking systematically at an image and determining what you see, what knowledge you bring to what you see, and what you would like to investigate further.
- “Reading and Researching Photographs” by Helena Zinkham. In Archival Outlook (Jan./Feb. 2007): 6-7, 28. Available online [pdf]
- Solving a Civil War Photograph Mystery – Describes clues and resources used to identify a Civil War Photograph reputed to be of Ulysses S. Grant.
- What Do You See? (via Library of Congress Teachers site) – Asks questions about sections of a Civil War photograph and, on a second page, supplies the answers.
- Looking at Pictures: An Invitation to the Prints and Photographs Collections at the Library of Congress – Webcast that provides an overview of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division holdings and tips for exploring the collections
- Popular Photographic Print Processes Represented in the Prints and Photographs Division – Provides brief descriptions and chronology of processes popularly used to make photographic prints since the beginning of photography.
- Dating Photographs:
- The Costume Detective: How to Date Old Photographs by the Costume – Provides information on fashion trends of various eras that can be used to help date photographs, as well as examples showing how fashion details visible in a photograph can be used to narrow down the date of the image.
- Family Chronicle: Dating Old Photographs – Provides dated photographs (including several from Prints & Photographs Division Collections), of people 1840s-1900s, as a tool to match clothing styles and styles of portraiture for purposes of dating undated photographs.
Researching Specific Prints and Photographs Division Collections
- Collection and Subject/Format Overviews – Lists online documents about specific collections.
- Collections Ripe for Research: A Sample from the Prints & Photographs Division
- Publications Relating to Prints and Photographs Division Collections – Lists printed books and articles about the Prints and Photographs Division holdings and specific segments of it.
- Dissertations and Theses Using Prints & Photographs Division Collections, 2008-2010
- Cartoon-related Research at the Library – Describes cartoon material held in various Library of Congress divisions and how to search for them.
- Historical Prints: Evaluation, Authenticity, Copyright, Dealers, and Bibliography – Describes general characteristics of historical prints and resources for researching them.
- Women’s History Resources in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (Picture Pathfinder) – Provides a checklist of collections and sources to check for various themes and types of images; may be applicable to topic areas beyond women’s history.
Resources for Learning More About Researching Images
- Picture Research and Visual Literacy in Visual Materials: Processing & Cataloging Bibliography – Lists sources that discuss picture research and analysis.
- Media and Format Identification and History in Visual Materials: Processing & Cataloging Bibliography– Lists sources for researching visual formats.
- Online Reference Sources for Cataloging Visual Materials – A list of tools and sources useful to anyone who is trying to identify or verify information about pictures.
- Finding Architectural Documentation Online: Selected Listings of Research Guides, Archival Resources, and Scholarly Articles & Dissertations
- Symbols: Sources for Identifying and Deciphering
- “Worth a Billion Words: Library of Congress Pictures Online” – An article about how digitized images support research, published in Journal of American History, 94 (June 2007) 99-111.
From the American Social History Project / Center for Media and Learning, Graduate Center, CUNY and the Center for History and New Media (George Mason University):
- Making Sense of Evidence – Provides strategies for analyzing online primary materials, with interactive exercises and a guide to traditional and online sources. “Scholars in Action” segments show how scholars puzzle out the meaning of different kinds of primary sources, allowing you to try to make sense of a document yourself. Includes segments on photographs and political cartoons.
- Picturing U.S. History: An Interactive Resource for Teaching with Visual Evidence – Provides online “Lessons in Looking,” a guide to Web resources, forums, essays, reviews, and classroom activities to help teachers incorporate visual evidence into their classrooms.