Picture the Twentieth Century: Sources for Images of the Last Hundred Years

By Berinstein, Paula | Online, July/August 1999 | Go to article overview

Picture the Twentieth Century: Sources for Images of the Last Hundred Years


Berinstein, Paula, Online


Another terrific resource representing our tax dollars at work is the National Archives search engine...

The year 2000 does not, strictly speaking, herald the twenty-first century. If it did, the Common Era, a.k.a. A.D., would have to have started with the year 0. The first century would have spanned 0 to 99, the second 100 to 199, and so on. But the first century began with the year 1; therefore, it had to run through 100, and each century thereafter has been locked into the same pattern. No, 2000 properly belongs to the twentieth century, wishful thinking and Y2K issues notwithstanding.

But who's being picky? The year 2000 marks a psychological watershed, and it does signify the beginning of a new decade-the oughts. (I like to think of the 1990s as the "oughts not" for a variety of reasons that should be obvious if you follow politics and popular culture.) With all the clamor about the millennium (even though you hear little about the century, and nothing about that trivial matter known as the decade), and everyone in a retrospective mood, I thought it was time to look back at our century-the century that brought you Technicolor and Kodachrome-in pictures. This column will point you to recommended Web-based sources you can use when the inevitable requests start flowing in. If you've been reading THE BIG PICTURE for a while, you'll know that quality image sites-those that offer breadth and/or depth as well as stabilitydo not grow on trees. So, while many venues dedicated to this or that historical period or event exist, I've eschewed the bulk and attempted to pick those maintained by known quantities. However, a few image archives maintained by history buffs are so compelling that I can't resist trumpeting them.

COLLECTIONS SPANNING ERAS, DECADES, OR CENTURIES

The American Memory exhibit at the Library of Congress (http://memory. loc.gov/ammem/) spotlights various aspects of American life in both the l9th and 20th centuries. Bibliographic access and searchability are librarian-quality. Some of the stars include:

African-American Odyssey. See Booker T. Washington, boxer Jack Johnson, the Harlem Renaissance, segregation, African-American soldiers and sailors, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Wilt Chamberlain, Paul Robeson, Thurgood Marshall, and the civil rights movement. You'll find document reproductions as well as pictures of people, places, and events.

Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson. Who says sports isn't history?

Voices from the Dust Bowl. Self-explanatory.

Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten, 1932-1964. Don't be fooled by the title of this exhibit. You'll find more than celebrities in this eclectic collection featuring lifestyle and location photographs as well as the likes of W.E. B. Du Bois, William Hopper (remember him from Perry Mason?), Lotte Lenya, and Clare Boothe Luce.

America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information, 1935-1945. A comprehensive and stunning collection of black and white photos taken by government photographers. See a farm auction in Kansas, a boot-making shop in Texas, twelve-dollar-a-month housing in downtown Los Angeles, and miners in Kentucky.

Another terrific resource representing our tax dollars at work is the National Archives search engine at http://www.nara.gov/nara/nail.html. Note that the acronym is "nail," not "mail;" it stands for NARA Archival Information Locator, NARA being National Archives and Records Administration. If you crave instant gratification, select NARA Digital Copies Search to see pictures online. Areas covered include the military, social programs, science and technology, natural resources and the environment, and posters. But try your request even if it falls outside these categories; the scope encompasses many facets of American life.

In addition to its general search engine, the National Archives offers a collection of stunning World War II posters called Powers of Persuasion at http://www. …

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