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.
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.
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.
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.