The Power of Old Images to the New Generation

Images are powerful.  This is especially true of old photographs, which connect modern-day people with individuals from the past.  These images often come from the collections of archives and individuals, and help share cultural values and human memories that would otherwise be kept hidden within boxes and folders.

My inspiration for writing this blog post came from an album of images on Imgur, a social media site designed solely for the sharing of images.  Now a part of the image-sharing substructure of the popular website Reddit, Imgur specializes in the funny and the creative.  However, a post sharing a historical image or set of images will go viral on the site.  These posts often provide context for the image’s history, and garner a lot of interest from the community.

A mugshot from the archive of the Sydney Police Department, as found on Imgur.

A mugshot from the archive of the Sydney Police Department, as found on Imgur.

The topics of the images vary from the funny to the criminal.  The album previously mentioned as the inspiration for this post is full of mug shots of criminals taken in the 1920’s.  These images originated from the online archive of the Sydney Police Department in Australia.  Other popular posts on Imgur include images of Bonny and Clyde’s shot-up getaway car, a Russian soldier playing a piano in Chechnya, and an album of photographs of unusual weapons from history.  The obsession of Imgurians (users of Imgur) for history even led to the creation of vintage-style advertisements for popular websites, such as YouTube and Facebook.

A vintage-style ad for Imgur

A vintage-style ad for Imgur.

Imgur and Reddit, not surprisingly, are most popular among college student and 20-somethings, which is arguably the most important generation when it comes to the future of the Internet and digital technologies.  This generation is clearly interested in history, especially cultural history, as can be seen in the resurgence of popularity in 1920’s dress and the emergence of Electroswing, a musical style combining big band, swing, jazz, and blues music with an electronic or house music style.  The interest of this era’s youth is obviously reflected, therefore, in their primary mode of communication: social media.  This is where archives step into a picture.

Many archives have started making forays into select social media sites.  Twitter is popular among both archives institutions and archivists, and often facilitate the sharing of images and stories.  However, the majority of archives using Twitter do so in order to attract a different generation, those in their 30’s to 40’s.  Either that, or they focus only on the weighty subjects of archival science, in which most individuals outside of the profession do not hold an innate interest.  Some archives also have accounts on Facebook and, rarely, YouTube.

The Pinterest page of the National Archives

The Pinterest page of the National Archives.

However, very few archives take advantage of image-sharing websites, such as Imgur or Pinterest.  These social media outlets are truly an untapped resource for archives, as they allow institutions to connect with an interested target audience that is interested solely in image sharing.  Although such sites are not traditional in their format, they provide archives with yet another way to reach the public and share their information.

Archives of all sizes are beginning to successfully enter the world of social media, dramatically increasing their visibility and public usefulness.  By expanding this web activity into the world of image-sharing websites, archival institutions can greatly increase public visibility while reaching a target audience that will carry the torch of history for years to come.

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4 thoughts on “The Power of Old Images to the New Generation

    • Great question! Right now, we are in a situation where a lot of websites are simply not preserved properly by their producers. Although indexing and caching is a common practice for search engines such as Google or Bing, most of the information captured using these methods is overwritten periodically. Currently, the most extensive internet archiving project (of which I am aware) is the Wayback Machine, run by the Internet Archive. By capturing websites over time, the software enables researchers to study changes in websites over time. You can see an example of the software, capturing the White House web page, here.

      Unfortunately, not everything can be kept, and debate abounds within the community about how to properly determine what should and should not be retained. This is one of the many challenges information professionals face every day, and is the subject of a lot of debate. Generally, an organization will have a policy for the retention and disposition of records, which helps. In short, it’s tough, but it’s what info pros deal with every day!

  1. Just before I read your blog post I was actually on Reddit and came across and AMA of two guys who are digitizing some of the materials in the Smithsonian so they can be saved and interacted with online. Here is the link for that, http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1qp2t0/were_digitizing_the_smithsonians_treasures_in_3d/ . Definitely seems very relevant after our class visit to the archives, and this post. I can’t imagine the work that goes into scanning even a small portion of the objects in the Smithsonian. I really enjoyed your post, and the use of photos and links, keep it up!

  2. Pingback: ArchivesMouse Participates in Crowdsourcing Discussion | Archives Mouse

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