tv Using Photographs to Study Western History CSPAN December 28, 2019 7:00pm-8:00pm EST
>> learn more about the people and events that shaped the civil war and reconstruction every saturday at 6:00 p.m. eastern, only on american history tv on c-span3. >> next on american history tv, from the the western history association's annual meeting, outgoing western history association president martha sandweiss gives an illustrated talk about how historians can use photographs, and the stories behind the photographs, to study and understand the american west. professor sandweiss has been studying and writing about photographs for forty years and argues that more historians should use photographic archives in their work.
>> one minute past 12:30. welcome, everyone. i have the happy task of introducing your president and my friend, marnie sandweiss.iven of what i have been describing as an intellectual wedding toast. we will present this room as a vegas wedding chapel and tell the story of marnie and me and work, which got us all here. let me start with the magical alchemy of graduate school. thinkers lead-headed turned into golden tongued scholars, writers, and teachers. picture a process that works something like this. an admissions committee imagines a group of students as a cohort. the cohort becomes classmates. the classmates become colleagues
. and once in a while, they become lifelong friends. so, colleagues, cohort, classmate, colleague, and that golden thing, a friend. i am cheating a little bit yaleuse marnie came to to study with harold lamarr a year after me, and she was in the history department, and i was in that ragtag group in american studies. [cheers and applause] not a cohort, exactly. we did become friends, puzzling over readings, yawning over brilliant, but sometimes excruciating seminars. western history, some of you may know, was taught in the basement. and on friday afternoons. the slow drone of graduate
students, our own included, listened to me. watkins lot better on or timothy o'sullivan. we survived our basement years, scattered, and became colleagues, solving problems for our students for each other. so, cohorts, classmates, colleagues, but for me, marnie and i became friends. a last bit of graduate school alchemy that knit the strange will of ideas where we do our work into the world of spouses, partners, families, and children where we live our lives. this long friendship made me lucky enough to read drafts of marnie's books along the way, yellowing pages still turn up in my files.
i read them and i read them again last week. why are you reading my book, marnie says? said.ned stuff, i i'm going to tell you briefly some of the things i have learned. marty's first book was a biography of the photographer , laura gilpin: an enduring grace, published in 1986. it won a slew of awards and i do not have time to tell you all of them. but there's a story. marnie abandoned her classmates in new haven and moved to fort worth to become a curator of photography at the amon carter museum. legend has it that -- should i tell you this? legend has it her hiring was an accident. her withviewer confuse another graduate student.
true or not, the museum had a lucky break, and she had a job offer, but with a hitch. she needed to defend a dissertation proposal, so she seems to have dreamed up an idea. how about the french in the mississippi valley? she defended it and moved to texas. in fort worth, she published on texas photography. when laura gilpin left her estate to the museum, marnie had an archive, a subject, and a chance to work out her conviction that photography was more than a means to illustrate ideas presented in a text. photography was an interpretive insists, a primary
source as crucial to history as a descriptive diary or a legal document. she wrote a book about gilpin, but she wanted her phd. i have a story that i have told, but marnie tells me that's the legend and is wrong, that she finished this book, a beautiful book about the photographer, back to new haven, and said, here is my dissertation, and in a brilliant book, wrote a proposal, defended it, and turn in the dissertation. she told me she began the book, wrote the proposal, but i still say this. it's probably the most elegant dissertation ever to come out of the yale history department. she continued to write about the visual history of the american west, editing and contributing to a half dozen books, including
the award-winning oxford history of the american west. always been a scholar at heart, not a museum administrator or a president of a learned society. she invested in the and joined the history department at princeton. through all those museum years, she was working on a big book on photography and the american west in the 19th century. "print the legend" came out in 2002. it too swept up a batch of prizes and impressed readers with its central contention that its conquest, settlement, and development of the american west could not be understood without reckoning with the simultaneous development of the history of photography. marnie stopped this bold claim through all sorts of archives and through the big stories of the american west. , research on
photography led her to work on the expeditions that mapped the western landscapes, and to the career of clarence king. her accounts of king's life, "passing strange: a gilded age tale across the color line," 2009, returns to the biographical art she learned when writing about gilpin. what animates "passing strange," though, is race, the color line that snakes its way through the post-emancipation united states. , in a way, a survey -- her own work, in a way, a survey of that color line. it shapes the web-based collaborative that she led on princeton and slavery. maps, graphs, videos, left us
with a campus changed by the materials they have found to record and represent the many roles of enslaved people in the history of that university. let me end this intellectual wedding toast by turning to las vegas's other industry and tell you one story about your president. you wonder about this. . marnie in santa fe. --worked again in santa fe come see me, she insisted, sure that the beauties of the my soult were what needed at the time, and we took ourselves on a gambling adventure to the camel rock
casino in the pre-technological days. we invested $20 in quarters and, armed with our grubby plastic cups, spent the evening playing slots. we turned it into an evening outing. while marnie took no risks at the casino floor, not so with her work, which teaches the prizes and opens eyes. i tell you, read her work and you will learn stuff. so let me give the podium to this member of my imagined cohort, my sleepy classmate, my generous colleague, and my brilliant friend, and let you listen to the next iteration of our marvelous weave of the of stories verbal, that play across history, from the intimate encounters to the imperial schemes. raise a toast of whatever is on your table to her talk "seeing history: thinking about and with photographs." [applause]
prof. sandweiss: thank you, ann. when i first came to this meeting 40 years ago, i never standing up here. in fact, i probably did not imagine still standing. but it's the friendships that have brought me back here. i want to say at the outset, thanks to all of you. thank you all for making this such a continuing intellectual poem -- home for me. it has been an honor to serve as your president. [applause]
prof. sandweiss: now, the french historian once said there were two types of historians -- paris to assam truckle hunters. shuffle around in the dirt. he did not elaborate, but we can infer what he meant. the parachutist can see large patterns and track the movement of events, people, pathogens, and ideas across vast stretches of space and time. you need to be a parachutist to see how old world germs or animals we shape the new world, but you can miss things from up there too. from up high, it's hard to see the rhythms of daily life. from the space shuttle, you might spy a smoke plume from a volcano in iceland, but you might be hard-pressed to understand the trouble of rome,ic ash for people in
stuck missing a wedding. conversely, very local circumstances interest truffle hunters. a truffle hunter might not see how atmospheric currents disperse the volcanic ash, but she might learn something really interesting by eavesdropping on a conversation in the airport bar. let me confess, i am afraid of heights. by temperament, i am a travel hunter. i am not asserting this as a superior historical practice. it simply what i like to do. with hindsight, i can see that this is the kind of historical practice to which my own peculiar career led me. career as a my photography curator, i invariably had to start with the thing itself. and over and over again, i have learned that small objects can lead tohs --
big stories. along with the invention of photography in 1830 nine, people in the western half of the north american continent used visual means to make sense of their word, in petroglyphs and paintings with ceramic vessels and devotional art. but the settlement of the west as a part of the united states largely coincides with the invention and spread of photography. the new medium came of age, and through photography, many americans encountered the west for the first time. photographs still shaped our mental images of the west. in our minds i, we imagine ,alifornia gold miners settlers, dustbowl farms. nonetheless, as western historians, we have been more apt to use these photographs as illustrations than to think about them as primary sources that can help us answer central questions about the western past.
we have let writers and scholars from other disciplines shape the contemporary conversations about how to understand photographs. so, let's reclaim that turf. let's ask from the perspective of our own field, how might historians think about and with photographs? 19th century observers were quick to ca connection between photography and history, and as the historical profession moved toward a new focus on the scientific method in the late 19th century, photographs seemed to be the perfect documents for this new age of objective fact. the essayist oliver wendell holmes, among the medium's most astute early critics, regarded photographs as historical aids that accidentally preserve the incidental details that might not have interested contemporary
observers. theoretically, he wrote, a perfect photograph is absolutely inexhaustible. and with a nod to the west, he argued that the accidents of life left photographs an infinite charm. on the rawest western settlement and the oldest eastern city, in the myths of the shanties at pike speech and stretching across the courtyards of damascus, wherever man lives with any of the decencies of civilization, you will find the clothesline. local in 1888, the surgeon george francis addressed the antiquarian society in worcester, massachusetts, on photography as an aid to local history, and called on amateur photographers to aid the work of future historians. he exhorted them to make a systematic photographic survey of new england's developing industries, and he explained there can be no question that
photography is the best method of securing these graphic records. it is by far the most accurate, the easiest, and the cheapest of all methods known at the present day. more than any other graphic process, he said, it was nearly free from error caused by the bias or prejudice of the operator. by 1902, one of the presidents of the historical association could put it this way -- "we dwell in an age of prose. the world cares less for eloquence than it did a generation ago. since darwin, it has been no more possible to produce a crop of mcauleys than for those who picture running horses to expel from their minds what they have learned from photographs about
animal locomotion." to jamison, the precision of darwin's observations and the photographs of galloping horses evidence that historians needed to this new age. and they were useful antidotes to what jamison called the imaginative presentations of human life that were documented in earlier age. what bound them together was a commitment to scientific observation and the neutral recording of fact. now, though, we view these professions differently, and we might observe it is the subjective observation of the world, not a purely objective one, that makes the talk of hers and historians -- that makes photographers and historians kindred spirits. there is no mistaking a pen for a camera, but they make similar
decisions about whether to reveal their presence, about how to frame their subject in time and space, about what to highlight and what to exclude. nonetheless, they stand in fundamentally different relationships to their subjects. historians are always looking back. photographers are always picturing a present, albeit an evanescent one that slips away the moment a sensitized film is exposed. consider the differences with how historians and photographers describe the world. let's focus on a photograph. for some time, i have been exploring the stories embedded in a photograph made at fort laramie in the dakota territory by alexander gardner. on the side of an unidentified girl stands six men, members of the peace commission to
negotiate a treaty with various tribes on the northern plains. gardner made the picture as for that part of a series documents the commissioners work at the fort, as well as the daily lives of the native peoples and mixed-race families that lived there. i pondered the challenges gardner faced in making the photograph, as opposed to those i faced in writing about it. i thought about what he knew in contrast to what i know. he knew how hot it was on this early may day. the weather records don't start up for a few more months. he knew the sounds of these people's voices. -- the what the man ate men ate for breakfast. he knew these people. but as an historian, i can know far more about their lives than he did. i can watch them walk into this picture, and i can follow them as they walk away, out of a photographer's sight, into
their uncertain futures. with the tools of an historian, i can uncover connections that neither the photographer nor the subjects could fully discern. i can know that the child, whose name he did not record, was sophie museo, and i can know that her uncle would become the prime minister of quebec. i can know that there was an army charge on a lakota village 13 years earlier, that resulted in the murder of sophie's half-brother. i can know that a raid indirectly led to a marriage that would last to close to half a century and become sophie's parents. i can know that her father is, at the moment this picture is being made, employing john b
sanborn, standing to the right of sophie, as an attorney to get federal compensation for property lost in indian raids, and i can know that general sanborn, ostensibly representing the federal government in negotiating payments to the assembled tribes, will get a cut of that money himself, if he can divert some of it to sophie's father as compensation for his stolen horses. this is not to demonstrate photographers and historians can have different needs for the same picture. i want to argue that historians have a fundamentally different relationship to time than photographers do. both can observe temporal change as a part of the immediate experience, but historians look beyond the personal, and observing events across time is fundamental to their craft, to our craft.
can compress actions occurring across space and time, and with the benefit of hindsight, they can recover his -- pivotal moments and causal links between discrete events. and looking back, they can reconsider people or events considered uninteresting at the time, but valuable in retrospect. remember holmes's unnamed photographer? he might have inadvertently captured the clotheslines at pikes peak, but it's up to the historian to explain whose clothes they were, and who washed them and hung them out to dry. if i could walk out along the laramie river with gardner and his subjects, i would surely learn something new and interesting about them all. still, it is historical research that lets me know more about young sophie's family history than gardner does in 1868, and because i can see into her family's future, as neither
she nor gardner can, i can know her father's lawsuits will remain unresolved when he dies 30 years later, and i can know that one of her sons will later grandfather's claims. even in the digital era, it is hard to shake assumptions about photography that first drew historians to it as a new kind of historical document. photographs seemed to offer an unmediated glimpse of the past. no matter how much we know about photography's ability to manipulate the same. -- the scene. but photographs are historical artifacts. they are not history itself. history is dynamic. fluid. inherently about change over time. and photographs are static. but their meanings change.
in december of 1869, when general william t sherman, standing third from the left, thanked gardner for sending him copies of his fort laramie highlighted the documentary value of the pictures, writing that many of them are beautiful pictures, but i'll give the tales of indian grass and physiognomy that will be valuable for some time to come. when the daughter of a sketch artist connected to the peace commissioners described this photograph more than half a century after it was made, she spoke of it more metaphorically as a ceremonial picture in the nature of a pledge to the future. on the 150th anniversary of the 1868 fort laramie treaty, gardner's images served as the markers of broken promises. photographs have histories of their own.
historians need to pay attention not just to the visual information they contain, but to their context, materiality, and shifting uses. every photograph is a moment seized from the continuum of flowing time and fixed for posterity. it focuses our attention on what we can see, and it can be tempting to decide something is important simply because we have a photograph of it. civil war scholars note, for example, that the dictator has become well-known, even though it has little historical importance. only because of several photographs made during the summer of 1864. as western historians, we might ask, what stories do we emphasize? especially in textbooks? because we can visualize them with photographs. conversely, what stories might we overlook because there exists no photographs to anchor them in a particular time and place?
because we value the evidence we have at hand, we can be led to imagine the moment fixed to the photographic image holds great explanatory power. but that is not always true. photographs document consequences more readily than causes. they capture particular material subjects, but not abstract ideas. they depict fleeting moments, but they do not explain how they came about. gardner's photograph of the six peace commissioners standing with the young girl at fort laramie cannot tell us anything about the tense negotiations between the sioux and federal peace commissioners sent to force them on a reservation. it cannot hint at the betrayal that will follow seven years later when the federal government reneges on its promise to make it a part of the
reservation. it cannot predict the moment in 2016 when the federal board of geographic names will take general harney's name off the highest peak in the black hills and rename the mountain after the lakota prophet black elk. nonetheless, this photograph of seven people, the oldest born during john adams' administration, the youngest dying during franklin roosevelt's presidency, invites the historian in to understand what is there and explore what is not. the photograph certainly drew me into the archives, and that is where i found sophie's parents and discovered both of them came into fort laramie in the aftermath of general harney's attack on little vendors camp at ash follow in 1855. harney's actions set in motion the events that led them to meet mary and raise a large family. his frontier violence triggered their frontier love.
the photograph alone does not tell that story. but it does lead me there. over the past 50 years, as photography has become an increasingly ubiquitous part of modern life, the medium has increasingly drawn attention from critics and become central to a host of disciplinary subfields including visual anthropology, media studies, visual culture, visual studies, but these fields all focused largely on the analysis of contemporary images, not historical ones. even in fields like memory studies, where historical images can play a central role, the place of photographs remains unexplored. photographs can be handmade to what we call collective memory, a deeply felt set of convictions resistant to change. they can also be handmades of history, which employs a more skeptical and critical view of
the past. photographs are not inherently one thing or the other. they derive their meanings from the ways we use them. american textbooks, for example, have long celebrated the construction of the transcontinental railroad with photographs like east and west shaking hands, which depicts the celebrants of the golden spikes ceremony of 1869, but excludes the chinese laborers who made most of the tracks from california east to utah. in the late 19th century, andrew j. russell's iconic picture supported the evolving collective memory of the transcontinental railroad as a triumph of american industry. in recent years, however, as historians turn away from the triumph narrative, the photograph finds a new place in historical writing. once valued as evidence of the nation's technological prowess, the photograph now has value because of the very exclusion of
the chinese workers revealing to us so much about contemporary racial thought. historical photographs shape our more personal reckoning of the western past as well. i first saw yellowstone through 19th century photographs, and i anticipated my first visit would trigger a rush of familiarity. it did, but i was shocked. the place had green trees and blue skies. i had no idea. these old 1870's photographs had made the place recognizable to me. but the monotone -- monochrome tones had also made the 19th-century west seem unduly remote from my own experience. gardner's photographic subjects at fort laramie experience their world in color. i need to remember that. their world was not so far away from mine as some might imagine. my mother reminds me that she was alive during sophie moussa's lifetime.
sophie stands in this picture with a man born before lewis and clark headed west. the history of the american west is short indeed. i stand just two degrees of separation, two lifetimes from general harney, a military man with a violent temper, who i actually do not want to meet. writing about photographs in 1980, the french critic roland barth described an element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me. i will concede, the visceral response to a photograph can spark a good novel or a good film. but imaginative responses are not the same as historical responses. imaginative responses favor feeling over analytic thought. they draw attention back to the viewer and away from the photograph itself.
historians and non-historians alike might gaze with curiosity at the child whom gardner left unidentified in the photograph. she commands attention because she looks different from the men who stand by her, by virtue of her gender, size, age, and ethnicity. and because she meets the camera's gaze with an unflinching calm. but the historian needs to push beyond that initial curiosity to tackle the who, what, why, where, when, and how of it all. it is the historian's task to figure out who the child is and resist the impulse to view her as an emblem or metaphor. and to instead establish her as a person with a rich history of her own. there is nothing wrong with historical empathy. but as historians, we need to bolster our empathy with research. sophie never saw gardner's
picture of her. his photographs did not circulate back to indian country. but emerging academic conversations about visual sovereignty, representational jurisdiction, and indigenous media remind us that native peoples have long been involved in the production and circulation of visual images. the needs of native subjects and non-native photographers don't always converge. in the early 1980's, an indian school in south dakota cacheiewed a local interviewed local sue -- sioux aboutlocal those whose ancestors had been photographed over a century earlier. the 1877 government catalog described associated tribal groups as people who had made more substantial progress in civilizations. many of them having permanently discarded the indian habits and dress. but a century later, community
members recalled their relatives differently. struck by who you see on the right, it was no assimilationist. similarly, smutty bear on the left was an expert hunter who resisted federal policy. these family stories shift the meaning of 19th century portraits. photographs tossed out into the world as evidence of a vanishing race get pulled back in as emblems of family pride. photographs may be stable objects. but they do have unstable meanings. and tracking the shifting workpaper form over time and in different contexts, that is the job for a historian. most historians, if they think about photographs at all, focus on them as images, not material
objects, and as illustrations, rather than primary sources that should be the subject of historical analysis. watch ken burns' 1996 series on the west. pay attention to its treatment of the pueblo revolt of 1680. while he carefully uses 17th and 18th century engravings of spaniards to visualize his story, he relies on 19th and 20th century -- sorry -- i gave away my story. i was trying to highlight this picture here. he relies on 19th and 20th century photographs to depict the pueblo protagonists. this approach conveys an insidious image. european people change with time. one would never use images from two centuries later to depict them. but native peoples live on in an unchanging past. i photograph made 240 years
later is just fine. we are susceptible to this a use -- to this ahistorical use of photographs when we do not know better. i like to imagine that burns' viewers realize that motion picture footage of a snake dance could not actually depict the pueblo revolt of 1680. but my students presume they saw 17th-century dancers performing in front of a movie camera. i know they are not alone. to move beyond the uncritical use of photographs as illustrations and engage them as primary source documents, we need to give our digital students a greater familiarity technologiesphic and formats, so they can better understand what photographs could and could not capture, who had the wherewithal to make photographs, how photographs circulated. ize the to perceptual
familiar world and help them appreciate how revolutionary this technology is. the enlarged pool of digital picture takers is profoundly shaping how the american west is now being photographed, and how it will be understood through photographic evidence in the future. we also need to reiterate for our students the point i just made. photographic meaning is not fixed. historians follow people and places, events and ideas through time. that is the hallmark of our trade. we need to follow photographs through time too. we need to be aware that we exist at a tail end of a continuum of viewers who have encountered any particular photograph, and that power needs -- our needs from the images differs from theirs. it is hard to look at this 1872 washington, d.c., studio portrait of chief bigfoot without visualizing the photograph of the frozen body made in the immediate aftermath of the massacre at wounded knee.
it is hard to stare at a photograph of the young hawaiian schoolboy barack obama without also seeing who he will become. photographs depict moments pregnant with possibilities. but by the time we look at them with our historian's curiosity about the past, the range of possibilities has narrowed. the time captured in a photograph stands still, but for the historian, it continues to unfold. a photograph of the twin towers rising over lower manhattan cannot be the same kind of document it was before 2001. it took me a long time to reckon with the shifting meanings of unchanging photograph. for years, i worked on a collection of the mexican-american war between 1847 and the rediscovery in 1981.
the world's first photographs of war, and arguably the earliest examples of photojournalism in the world, they are astonishing artifacts, each in the phrase of the age, a mirror with a memory. this plate was there, on a saltillo street more than 170 years ago, when light bounced off and left a lasting impression on the sensitized surface. it offers an extraordinary kind of evidence. but in 1847, nobody cared. i finally had to reckon with these daguerreotypes in time, rather than through time, personalg my own interest in them, because despite their astonishing detail , these daguerreotypes could not convey the kind of narrative drama they expected from visual images. the small daycare type of the
bleak gravesite of henry clay jr., killed at the battle of buena vista, could not compete in either narrative detail or visual appeal with something like this hand colored lithograph of his death. the print artist here had tools akin to those that historians have. the print artist could look back with hindsight to compress time , invent drama, and focus on a decisive moment to depict a noble and patriotic death. he could use printed words at the bottom to describe with precision the content of his image. the daguerreotype could do none of this. these long, unseen daguerreotypes lead us to larger stories about the early reception of photography in the ways in which american struggled to understand this new medium. but if photographs can help us embraceamericans' slope
of the medium, they could also help us track when the attitude changed. in 1867, alexander gardner titled this photograph westward the course of empire. a decision that points not just to the ubiquity of the phrase, but to the ways in which americans could now read the meaning of a locomotive pointed west at the far end of a newly laid track. in the 20 years since the mexican-american war, the increasing number of photographs in the united states, spurred by the invention of a negative technology that allowed for the production of multiple paper prints, had familiarized americans with these sorts of images. most photographs in the late 19th century west could not invoke the obvious metaphorical vocabulary of gardner's railroad scene. but in the late 1850's, as
photographers began producing paper prints, they began using words to direct viewers' readings of their pictures. timothy o'sullivan's photograph blanca range, arizona, might seem to be a little bit more of a scenic view. but the caption explains the picture offers proof that white people can now enter the area because hostile apaches have been banished from their former home. words and images together convey the point. the most important aspect of the picture is what you don't see. these photographic captions mark an innovation that is rarely studied. even by historians who favor literary evidence over the visual. but they remind us, when we look at 19th century photographs as
primary sources for our work, we must look at the image and assess the materiality of the photograph. but we also need to read. now, historians often encounter photographs in places we call archives. the very term archive is a slippery one. we might usefully imagine a distinction between the archive and the archives. the former, the archive, is described by french theorists as -- french theorists, has more metaphorical meanings. the second refers to the brick and mortar places where they are described and stored. as philosophers have referred to 's as the power relations described in the archive, we might also be attentive to the ways in which power relationships are inscribed in the brick-and-mortar archives as well. the physical institutions that house large collections of historical photographs of the american west preserve the power
inequities inherent in the collections they acquire. these are inequities that mirror those of western american life, including those between people with money and cameras and those without, and those between people who can refuse to be photographed and those who cannot. a vast category that might include those in reservations, prisons, detention centers, and even children. photography is often called the democratic art. but just as not everyone had the wherewithal to make a photograph, not every person or place received the same kind of photographic attention. economic interest dictated that mid-19th century california would be better documented than the new mexico territory. small towns better documented than more rural spaces of indian territory. people with fixed residences pictured more than migrant workers. government interests also shape the photographic record of the 19th century west.
photographers headed to the great federal surveys of the 1860's and 1870's and documented transportation routes and natural resources in service to the expansionist policies of state. in washington, d.c., studio photographers who made portraits of visiting indian leaders produced pictures that would be used to support the government's assimilationist policies. collections of photographs thus contain particular structural biases before they enter the brick-and-mortar archives that collect materials. in these archives, whether they are academic, public, or commercial operations, additional decisions get made about access, cataloging, and preservation that further shape the possibility for an historian's work. the digital turn, the digital turn presents two broad and enormous challenges for historians who would use photographs. on the one hand, the question of
how to think about born digital photographs, a term used in opposition to analog photographs, which are produced with chemical processes and possess a physical and material form. on the other, there is the question of how to figure out digital archives. both those composed entirely of digital materials and those created as older materials are converted to digital formats. born digital photographs constitute virtually all of the photographs being made today. people made an estimated 1.2 trillion digital photographs in 2017. one researcher estimates that every two minutes, we take as many photographs as the whole of humanity in the 19th century. this is way too many pictures for a researcher to reckon with in any meaningful way.
even with help from artificial intelligence, whose programmed interests are not the same as ours, it is hard to imagine how to make effective use of such an enormous collection of digital images, or assess the integrity of any individual image. we are in the midst of a tectonic shift here, and it is hard to say how the emerging skepticism about the veracity of digital images will retroactively alter our faith in historical photographs. even familiar photographs can be rendered intellectually unrecognizable in digital iterations. the gardener photograph i am writing about exists in several different digital archives, sometimes adequately identified and sometimes not. in one commercial archive, the name is completely erased, replaced with a credit line that
simply tracks the corporate corporate ownership of this image. the website provides no location for the original. it provides intellectual access to the picture with decidedly unuseful subject headings as teenager, group of men, land. [laughter] prof. sandweiss: and it offers to sell you a copy of the picture, whose original is uncopyrighted, for $499. the integrity of a digital image presents one challenge. digitized archives tend to erase all records of their own construction. archive, a patient through boxespile and presume they have covered it all. but users of a digital archive,
a digitized archive, are hard-pressed to understand the relationship between what is online and what is in the real or figurative storage boxes. online archives function as met tanymns, stand-ins for the physical archives. the relationship is rarely clear. the digitization of old photographs, of course, has its virtues. it provides greater access to materials, minimizes the wear and tear on fragile pictures, and promotes new ways of working with digital records. often, at least in academic and institutional archives, the digital archives include enough metadata to let one make smart use of a digitized photograph. commercial archives generally include less data. they focus on the image while ignoring the materiality of photographic print.
and they push historians back to thinking about photographs as mere illustrations, and make it difficult to engage them as physical objects or as primary sources that in and of themselves raise historical questions. commercial archives also exercise invisible forms of censorship. i have been watching what happens since bill gates sold his image licensing company to visual china group in january 2016. the images of the tiananmen square protests were once readily accessible. now, although the chinese corporation that bought them has an american outlet, they are not. it is a valuable lesson. large commercial image archives reach viewers through mediated
search engines that are subject to censorship and control. and unlike the prospective researcher who might be turned away from a brick-and-mortar archive, online researchers might never know they are missing anything. historians tempted by the digital turn need to be wary. digital archives, especially commercial ones, can actually impede historical research. what kind of historical source is a pixelated image whose creator we can't identify, whose original form we cannot discern, whose integrity we can't confirm, and whose purpose we can't figure out? what kind of source is an archive whose scope we cannot determine, whose political and economic ambitions are concealed from view? the problems of digital images aside, there exists billions of photographs produced before the
invention of digital photography, with more made in the western united states than any scholar could examine in a lifetime. i cannot think of a comparable source for doing western american history, one so large and so little used. i fell into thinking about young -- thinking about photographs 40 years ago, more or less by chance. i have gone far and wide since then, but now i am back, and i have to say the field is as wide open as it was when i began. new historical concerns compel us to ask new questions of that enormous corpus of western photographs. our new questions invest old objects with new meanings. historical photographs can help us understand climate change, the mechanics of colonialism, the ins and outs of immigration policy, the policing of national borders, and the assimilationist projects of the federal
government. they can lead us deep into family histories and community stories, into legislative agendas and corporate policies. but historical photographs can also lead us back to trouble. the little stories that matter. and characters long forgotten. alexander gardner's photograph of seven people assembled at fort laramie on a mid-spring day in 1868 has led me to believe people to connected to the men we see here. and so i encountered an enslaved woman named hannah, who was whipped to death. hannah said life has led me to st. louis and the practice of slavery in the gateway city. i have met a young cheyenne ward of a colonel, and her brief life helped us understand a tangled web of anti-slavery activists and indian policy reformers. of course, i have been led to
sophie, whose first marriage to a white civil war veteran and second marriage to a mixed-race lakota man produced 13 children. and whose life helps us uncover the diminishing opportunities available to mixed-race families in the west as multiple color lines hardened in the wake of reconstructions collapse. photographs help us answer hard questions, but they also help us expand the types of characters who populate the west and make our stories richer and more inclusive. over the past few decades, i have had fun roaming the fields of western history and the west itself, and exploring the photographic archives. the big metaphorical ones and the brick and mortar ones, too. it can feel lonely out there. we need more historians to care about photographs. please, come join me.
i promise it is really a fun ride. thank you so much. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> american history tv is on social media. follow us at @cspanhistory. "american artifacts," history others he is added across the delaware river -- history enthusiasts gathered across the delaware river on christmas night in 1776.
we will see the eckman and talk to several prisons. -- we will see the reenactment and talk to several participants. >> what happened is one of the most unexpected and daring militaries of the american revolution. the story is the continental army, after having lost battle in new york and retreating across new jersey, came into bucks county in the beginning of december, 1776. they camped in several locations around this area, including the thompson delay house, which is also part of our park. things were pretty desperate at this point for washington. the continental army really needed a win. to make anour chance impact in this war.
the problems we have is our lisman are expiring. soldiers want to go home. i have just 10 short days in order to make this attack. we feel that with the weather behind us, we will be able to take the city of trenton, raise the morale of the troops, prove to congress that we are a viable army that they should support, and hopefully, hopefully in lisman's will rise -- enlistments will rise. colonel johnaying glover from marblehead, massachusetts. colonel glover was the commander of the 14th continental regiment, which is also known as marblehead mariners. it was glover's marblehead regiment. you could point to maybe a dozen events that changed the course of world history forever, and
one of them took place on this ground we are standing. my name is leon. i am portraying a member of colonel glover's marblehead ers. you should know where you have come. that way you know where you are going and you try not to repeat the same mistakes. when i was in school, i hated history, because it was always featuring what somebody else did, not what my people did. now i learned what i did not learn in high school or college history,l american all-inclusive american history. announcer: watch more of george
washington's 1776 crossing of the delaware re-enactment sunday on american history tv. next, on lectures in history, clemson university professor bradley thompson teaches a class about the preamble of the declaration of independence. examining it line by line, he talks about the self-evident truths enumerated by the founding fathers and explores what they may have intended by heir word choices. >> good afternoon, everybody. so for the last six weeks in this class, we've been examining the political thought of the imperial crisis. that is, we've been looking at the debates between british imperial officials and american wig patriots. and that debate has really in many ways come down to one