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History: Images and Media

Welcome to the library guide for history research at the University of Alabama.


Images are great primary sources full of meaning, but can be a little harder to interpret than print documents.  As James Curtis notes in History Matters, "A picture may be worth a thousand words, but you need to know how to analyze the picture to gain any understanding of it at all."  For great ideas on interpreting images that you find, please see the History Matters page from Curtis, and this page from Library of Congress.

In addition to searching in Google Images and newspapers from a historical period, here are some excellent online collections:

American Memory  Project--Gateway to rich primary source materials relating to the history and culture of the United States. Particularly noted for its images and multimedia.

ARTstor--over a million historical images, including propaganda posters, artwork, newspaper illustrations, cartoons, photographs, maps, pictures of artifacts and historical costumes. 

Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas--over a thousand images from the slave era.

Berg Fashion Library--includes images from from the Victoria and Albert Museum.  It also offers excellent secondary fashion articles that can point you to primary source images. 

British Library: Online Gallery--over 30000 images, documents, books, maps, and other items related to British history.

CAMIO: Catalog of Art Museum Images Online--premier resource of high-quality art images from around the world contributed and described by leading museums, all rights-cleared for educational use. Every work in CAMIO is represented by at least one high-resolution image and a description. Many have additional views of the work, sound, video and curatorial notes.

Illustrated London News Historical Archive: 1842-2003--Includes over 260,000 pages, including specials and presentation pieces. Full color images.

Images of the American Civil War: Photographs, Posters and Ephemera--"presents the dramatic imagery of nineteenth-century Americana as experienced from the social, political, and military perspectives…At completion, Images of the American Civil War will contain 75,000 images."

Index of Christian Art --"descriptions and photographs of Christian art from early apostolic times to AD 1550. Although the focus is on art of the western world, the database includes examples from Coptic Egypt, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Syria, Armenia, and the Near East."

Life Photo Archive--millions of photos from a popular magazine that documented many events of the United States and the rest of the world during the twentieth century.

Vogue Archive--great resource for fashion and popular culture images, 1892--present.


Films, News, TV, Radio

History students can harness TV shows, films, sound recordings, and news programs, especially for many twentieth century topics. For an introduction on how to study these kinds of sources, please see Making Sense of Films.  One of the most important tips in analyzing films is to find out who produced the film and when it was made--and you may have to use other sources to find out that context. 

YouTube--is a great starting point for finding historic news and films.

American Memory--offers multimedia clips along with documents.

EUscreen--collection of Europe's television heritage.

LexisNexis Academic--transcripts of TV and radio news broadcasts, including shows like Oprah Winfrey, Larry King, Entertainment Tonight, 60 Minutes.

National Public Radio--National Public Radio frequently covers news in technology, education, and popular culture. You can search the site for past stories, and find audio clips and transcripts.

Hulu--you can find classic American and other countries' TV shows on this site.

Television News Archive--huge archives of video clips from 1968--present. Features news shows from CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC. You will need RealOne media software to view the clips, some are free and some require a fee.

Practicing Film Interpretation: Duck and Cover (1950)

"Duck and Cover" was a civil defense film produced for American school children in the 1950s.  What attitudes and perceptions of nuclear war are reflected by the film?  Who produced the film, and what was their likely agenda?   Why use a turtle as a character?  Did Americans' views of nuclear war change over time? 

Joan of Arc

photo of statue of Joan of Arc

Historians can study art--paintings, icons, propaganda posters, fliers, advertisements, architecture--to make inferences about culture and politics.  What can you infer about this statue of Joan of Arc?  Please note her gaze and posture, the symbol on her spear, and the items included in her costume.

Questions to Ask about Images

>Who created the image?

>Why was the image made?  What is the "thesis"?

>What do the colors, lines, objects, and perspective in the picture communicate to the viewer?

>Does the image portray history accurately?  Is it more myth?  Perhaps some of both?

>What does the image communicate about issues of gender, race, and class?

>What was happening in history when the picture was made?

Archives for Web Sites?

Did you know there are archives for web pages?  To search through one such storehouse of old web sites, you can try the Internet Archive, offering copies of millions of former sites. 

Map Collections

Digital Sanborn Maps: 1867-1970: AL, GA, MS--large-scale maps containing data that can be used to estimate the potential risk for urban structures, including information such as building outlines, size, shape and construction materials, heights and function of structures, location of windows and doors. Maps also include street names, street and sidewalk widths, property boundaries, pipelines, railroads, wells and dumps.

Other Map Collections:

Alabama Maps

University of Alabama Map Library