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Research Guides

HSTAA 110: History of American Citizenship: Primary Sources: Photographs

 photo from kent state shootings digital archive  photo: Trash-in demonstration, UW 1970photo of girl in kimono, seattle 1974

Printed Images & Postcards

Special Collections (basement of Allen Library South) has more than 1 million historic images primarily of the Pacific Northwest. Selected images have been digitized and are part of the UW Libraries Digital Collections. 

Special Collections also has more than 50,000 postcards both artistic (e.g., Valentine's postcards, humorous cards) and photographic. The collection is worldwide in scope but approximately 20% depict locales in the Pacific Northwest.

Research in Special Collections is different from more typical library research. The unique nature of the material dictates that there are stricter security procedures -- users need to register, manuscript materials need to be requested, personal belongings are placed in lockers, photocopying is limited, etc.  The staff at the desk can help you find images. The following tips can help you when using the manuscript material in Special Collections:

Photographs as Primary Sources

Strengths

  • Photographs, drawings and other images provide information you can't always get from a text source. Images can provide details of everyday life such as clothing and material culture. 
  • Photographs of the same area taken at different times can show change over the years.

Keep in mind

  • Many photographs come with limited information about the photographer, location and date. You will need to analyze the photograph for clues. 
  • Photographs are not an unbiased reflection of reality -- the photographer chooses what and how to depict a certain scene. You need to ask your self what was the purpose of the photograph.

How to use photographs

Photographs, drawings and other images provide information you can't always get from a text source. Images can provide details of everyday life such as clothing or material culture. It is important to keep in mind that photographs are not an unbiased reflection of reality -- the photographer chooses what and how to depict a certain scene. When using images ask yourself, "why it was created, how it was used, how this subject that was depicted here, was understood."

For more information on using photographs see: Making Sense of Documentary PhotographsAnalyzing PhotographsAnalyzing Material CulturePhoto Analysis WorksheetLearning to do Historical Research: Photographic Images.