Image Research Online

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The Best Places to Look
for Historical Images Online

More and more archives are digitizing their collections, and that makes the world of photo researching completely different than it was just a few years ago. For most projects, you can do the bulk of your research online. For others, you may be able to find what archives you need to visit by doing online research. The commentary below on downloaded images reflects how a "test image" that we saved directly from the site looked as a PowerPoint slide. Of course quality within any online collection can vary. Regarding use of downloaded images, generally for teachers the Fair Use rule applies. Fair use includes "the use of protected materials for non-commercial educational purposes, such as teaching, scholarship, research, criticism, commentary, and news reporting." Often the fair use rule DOES NOT apply to web site use. Doublecheck each individual site to find out if use on web-sites is allowed!!!!

Detail from a stereograph, ca. 1890. Austin/Thompson Collection.

National Collections


The American Memory Collection at the Library of Congress
This website is another excellent place to begin. A project of the Library of Congress, American Memory is helping smaller institutions around the country digitize elements of their collections. A few examples include The Chicago Daily News Collection, which comprises over 55,000 images of urban life captured on glass plate negatives between 1902 and 1933 by photographers employed by the Chicago Daily News, then one of Chicago's leading newspapers. The Chicago Historical Society encourages use of these images to the extent permitted under the fair use clause, but it does ask that a credit line be included with each image used. Excellent download quality. The Northern Great Plains 1880-1920 is a collection from the Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota State University contain 900 photographs of rural and small town life at the turn of the century includes the Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection and the F.A. Pazandak Photograph Collection. The Institute does not seem to follow Fair Use rules. Excellent download quality. South Texas Border Photographs, The Robert Runyon Collection This is a collection of over 8,000 items, is a unique visual resource documenting the Lower Rio Grande Valley during the early 1900s. All images in this collection may be used for educational and scholarly purposes, but they do ask that a credit line be included with each image used. Excellent download quality.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection This amazing public treasure trove includes collections such as the Farm Security Administration photographs, Matthew Brady’s images of the Civil War, and Ansel Adams photographic documentation of the Japanese internment at Manzanar. They’re almost all public domain images and many can be downloaded in high resolution jpegs or tiffs. Just remember that if the image has a blue border, it can be enlarged. If not, it is just a frustrating thumbnail! Almost all LOC images are in the public domain.

National Archives and Records Administration The National Archives search engine is called ARC and you can get very detailed in what types of searches you want to do. However, the site can be a bit glitchy, so be careful. The idea of thousands of images from government agencies may seems dull, but check out the EPA’s photographs of Texas towns from the 1970s or the Labor Bureau’s Lewis Hine images of child labor. All Archives images are in the public domain. Excellent download quality.

Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS) Image Gallery This database is difficult to navigate at first, but if you persevere it is worth it. Choose a format you want to explore (i.e. "photograph and negatives"); then choose a collections (i.e. "Photographs from National Anthropological Archives"); then click on "refine search" and add your key word to the "Title Keyword" box. Each Smithsonian archive follows the fair use rule, "Fair use of copyrighted material includes the use of protected materials for non_commercial educational purposes, such as teaching, scholarship, research, criticism, commentary, and news reporting." Excellent download quality. NEW!!!! on SIRIS is the Scurlock Studio Collection. Addison Scurlock and his two sons were major African American photographers in Washington D.C., and the Archives Center at the Smithsonian has now digitized over 2,000 of the photographs from that collection. They are an incredible resource and of excellent quality. Just click on Cross-Searching Center and type the name "Scurlock" into the search box.

Glenbow Museum Archives Photographs Catalogue (Canada) This site contains 80,000 historical photographs, illustrations, cartoons and posters documenting the people, landscape and development of the Canadian West from the 1870s to the 1970s. If you are using the images purely for personal purposes, such as for research, school projects, genealogies, or gifts, you do not need to ask for permission or pay a Usage Fee. If you plan to exhibit the images publicly in a museum or interpretive centre, on an interpretive sign or plaque, or as decoration in a school, hotel, restaurant or other public area, you do not need to ask for permission or pay a Usage Fee. We require, however, that the Glenbow Archives be visibly credited as the source of the image, and that the credit line include the image number of the photograph. Very good download quality.

Classroom Teacher Features for Images

How to Look at a Photograph

Printable Classroom Posters with Discussion Questions
General Discussion Questions for Images



Jennie Camillo, age 8, cranberry picker, 1910.
Photo by Lewis Hine.
National Archives.

Academic, State and Local Collections


Arkansas History Commission Photographs
This site has a great many wonderful images but they do not display automatically. You have to click on "Details" and then on "A look inside: url" The Arkansas History Commission (AHC) holds visual materials for purposes of private study, research, and scholarship. Not all AHC images are in the public domain. The patron using AHC visuals (including digital images) does so with the agreement to having read its Copyright Notice and assumes all responsibility for any infringement of copyright held by others in the use of AHC visuals. The downloaded images are of very high quality. Even a zoomed in detail holds up fairly well.

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Digital Images Online Beinecke's Digital Images Online offers approximately 70,000 images of a wide range of materials from throughout the Beinecke Collections: photographs, manuscripts, correspondence, artwork, objects, illustrations, and selected pages from printed works. The majority of images are scans of original material in full 24-bit color. Approximately 1200 images are added every two weeks. About 20,000 images are scanned images from the Beinecke's Photonegative File, which contains negatives and color transparencies of images selected for reproduction or study by patrons over the last twenty years. Downloads should not be used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research. It is not necessary to seek the Library's permission to publish texts or images (unless the University is identified as the copyright holder.) The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library should, however, be cited as the source. Excellent download quality.

Connecticut History Online Images from the Connecticut Historical Society, the Connecticut State Library, the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut, Mystic Seaport, and the New Haven Colony Historical Society. Personal or educational use of all images found in CHO is permissible. Excellent download quality.

Cook Collection Photographs, "Through the Lens of Time" This is a wonderful collection of nearly 300 images of African Americans dating from the nineteenth and early twentieth century from the Cook Collection of Photographs at the Valentine Richmond History Center. The photos are by George S. Cook (1819-1902) and Huestes P. Cook (1868-1951) primarily of the Richmond and Central Virginia area. Fair use applies. Excellent download quality.

Denver Public Library The Library’s Western History/Genealogy Department is joined by the Colorado Historical Society on-line database. It contains some 100,000 images of Colorado and the American West. This is a larger collection of images than the Denver Public Library’s American Memory Collection. The Denver Public Library does not seem to use the Fair Use rule. It also asks that images not be downloaded from the site. Images must be purchased through the Photo Sales Department.


Florida Photographic Collection (State Archives of Florida) There are over 100,000 photographs on the website, and all are in the public domain. Excellent download quality.

Los Angeles Public Library Digital Images is an excellent collection. However, it allows downloads for personal use only. Database photos are copyrighted and "may not be used in any manner without the written permission of the Los Angeles Public Library." They do charge for "educational presentations." Excellent download quality.

Library of Virginia Photographic Collections This site is not easy to use, but there are a great many images from local Virginia library collections here. The site is unclear on whether it follows Fair Use. Excellent download quality.

LOUISiana Digital Library This broad database includes documents and images. The collections gathered here include The American Missionary Association collection at the Amistad Research Center as well as the Millspaugh Photograph Collection, and the Teaching American History Collection, among many others. Excellent download quality.

Native American family held at Fort Marion (also called Castilla San Marcos) Saint Augustine, Florida, 1875. Florida Photographic Collection, Florida State Archive.

Minnesota Historical Society, Visual Resources Database Click on "Collections," then "Photo & Art Database." This database contains 120,000 images. The historical society does not charge for personal or educational use. Very good download quality.

North Dakota Photo Archives This site does not have that many photos yet. What is there is from the collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. The images on this site may not be included in any publication, printed or online, without the written permission of the Society. Decent download quality.


Nebraska State Historical Society Photographs The Nebraska State Historical Society has collected over 1/2 million images, collection represents nearly every aspect of life in Nebraska and the Great Plains from the later 1800s to the near present. Unfortunately, this site does not have that many photos yet. The society allows use for personal, research, and nonprofit educational purposes only. Very good download quality.

OhioPix This is an image database created by the Ohio Historical Society's Archives/Library to provide online access to photographs, paintings, prints and objects from the Society's collections. The copyright page allows for free research use only, no publication, exhibition, or any other public purpose without permission. Adequate download quality.

Online Archive of California (OAC)-Image Search The OAC is a digital information resource that facilitates and provides access to materials such as manuscripts, photographs, and works of art held in libraries, museums, archives, and other institutions across California, regarding images the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley is of particular importance. The site also states that it allows a "broad spectrum of users: students, teachers, and researchers of all levels." Excellent download quality.

Rochester Images (New York) This database of over 22,000 images contains some amazing photographs. It is drawn from collections of the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County Local History Division, the City of Rochester Municipal Archives and City Hall Photo Lab, the Rochester Museum & Science Center, the Town of Brighton Historian's Office, the Town of Perinton Historian's Office, the Village of East Rochester Historian's Office and the Village of Hilton Historian's Office. The images are for non-commercial, personal, educational, or research use only. Excellent download quality.

Schomburg Center (New York Public Library) In particular check out "Images of African Americans from the 19th Century" This is the first of a series of pictorial databases that will be mounted on this site as part of the "Digital Schomburg." Others will be added of 19th century continental Africans and African peoples in Central and South America and the Caribbean. These image databases are meant to complement and supplement the full text databases of writings by people of African descent which also are a part of the "Digital Schomburg," an electronic reference and research resource on African, African American and African Diasporan history and culture from the Schomburg Center. The website states that the images "are presented in the hope that they will at one and the same time address some of your viewing, research, education and study needs..." Very good download quality.

The Shores family, near Westerville, Custer County, Nebraska, 1887. Jerry Shores was one of a number of former slaves to settle in Custer County. Photo by Solomon D. Butcher. Nebraska State Historical Society.

Garment workers strike in Rochester, New York, 1913. Photo by Albert R. Stone. Rochester Museum & Science Center.

University of Virginia Special Collections Library
has two wonderful collections online: The Holsinger Studio Collection is mostly studio photographs from Charlottesville Virginia from the 1890s through 1920. There are 9,500 images including 500 portraits of African Americans. Excellent download quality. The Jackson Davis Collection of African American Educational Photographs contains over 6,000 photographs of African American schools, teachers and students throughout the Southeastern United States was intended to demonstrate the wretched conditions of African American schools in the south and to show how they could be improved. They provide a unique view of southern education during the first half of the twentieth century. Excellent download quality. UVA allows use of the images for research, teaching, and private study. "For these purposes, you may reproduce (print, make photocopies, or download) materials from this website without prior permission, on the condition that you provide proper attribution of the source in all copies (see below). Although we do not require you to contact us in advance for these purposes, we do appreciate hearing from teachers, students, and researchers who are using our resources in interesting ways" (send e-mail to Special Collections at

Virginia Tech ImageBase This database includes manuscripts and photographs held by the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, including the records of the Christiansburg Institute. Images are allowed for use in research, teaching, and private study, on the condition that you provide proper attribution of the source in all copies. Very good download quality.

Vanishing Georgia This digital collection comprises nearly 18,000 photographs from the Georgia Archives and documents more than 100 years of Georgia history and life. The site is not clear on Fair Use policies. Very good download quality.

University of Washington Digital Collections This site features photographs and documents from the University of Washington Libraries, University of Washington Faculty and Departments, and organizations that have participated in partner projects with the UW. Collections in the database include The Alaska and Western Canada collection, American Indians of the Pacific Northwest, and the Eric A. Hegg Photograph Collection of the Alaska and Klondike gold rushes, to name just a few. Fair use for personal study or research and for classroom teaching. For any other use, researchers must contact the repository that owns the image to obtain reproductions and to request permission to use the images. Each collection has specific copyright restrictions and usage rules. Excellent download quality.

Wisconsin Historical Images This site provides a rich pictorial view of Wisconsin and United States history. The collection consists of 19th and 20th century photographs, paintings, posters, advertising material, ephemera, and political cartoons. The images online represent only a fraction of the 3 million images in the Historical Society’s Archives. It appears that the archives does not allow fThe use policies are stated as "Use of the image in any public manner (publication, website, public display) requires written permission from the Archives." Excellent download quality.


Native American



National Anthropological Archives Online Exhibits has three excellent exhibits of Native American Ledger Paintings and Winter Counts. Kiowa Drawings starts with an illustrated article. With in the article are links to three databases of images: Fort Marion Artists (excellent download quality), Anthropological Illustrations (adequate download quality, but not fabulously sharp), and the Silver Horn Target Record Book (excellent download quality). The Squint Eyes: Artist and Indian Scout exhibit also starts with an illustrated article that contains the database Drawings (adequate download quality, but not fabulously sharp). The NAA site states, "The texts and images on this Web site may be reproduced for non-commercial, educational and personal use only. Students, teachers, and individual users may download, print, photocopy, and distribute these materials for personal or classroom use without prior permission, provided that the files are not changed and the Smithsonian Institution copyright notice is included. The reproduction of images and texts on a Web site or CD-ROM is prohibited without written permission."

Professor Troy Johnson's web site at California State University-Long Beach has a number of excellent subpages with images of Native Americans. Scroll down the page and you will find Alcatraz Occupation in photographs, a fascinating and education series of images by photograher Ilka Hartmann of the occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969. Permission to use these images must be obtained from the photographer. Even further down the page is The Native American Experience which contains photographs, drawings, maps and short descriptions chroniclizing the experiences of the Native American population. These images date from the 1600s to the modern era. Some of the images are not contemporaneous, but all are credited and of a decent size. He has no section that deals with copyright and fair use. The downloaded images are high quality, but tend to pixilate if you want to focus in on a detail.Professor Johnson found these images from a variety of sources, so checking the originating institution's downloading policies is necessary. However, many are Library of Congress or National Archives, which are public domain, or the Smithsonian, which allows use for educational purposes.

For more links visit our Native American page


Other Sites of Interest


American Political History Images This is a small collection of over 500 public domain images and documents from American political history. Very good download quality.

Harpers Weekly Images Check out their Free Features: The American West; and Black America 1857-1874. Excellent download quality.

New Deal Network This site has a number of wonderful images from the Depression. Excellent download quality.


Online Exhibits

The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record
A wonderful exhibit with a number of excellent illustrations from the Library of Virginia. The images on this website are for educational and non-commercial purposes. They are provided for the personal use of students, teachers, scholars, and the general public. Excellent download quality.

African American Mosaic and the African American Odyssey are two exhibits from the Library of Congress collections. All the images here should be in the public domain unless otherwise noted. Excellent download quality.

Humanities Interactive This is a wonderful site from the Texas Council for the Humanities. It has a variety of excellent exhibitions including "Africa in the Americas" (under "The New World" collection heading.) The site’s permissions page is empty. Excellent download quality.

Echoes of Freedom: South Asian Pioneers in California, 1899-1965 All of the material in the exhibit not otherwise credited is drawn from the South Asians in North America collection, an archive of journals, books, manuscripts, photographs, letters, and other primary material documenting early South Asian immigration to North America. The collection is held at the Bancroft Library. Good download quality.


Anthony Burns escaped slavery. He was arrested and tried in Boston in 1854 and returned to slavery. Drawing by R. M. Edwards, 1855.
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The History Place: Child Labor in America 1908-1912 The Photographs of Lewis W. Hine A collection of Hines’ photographs organized by type of work. Private home/school non-commercial, non-Internet re-usage only. Excellent download quality.

The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco This is a general multi-media website utilizing text, graphics, and sounds. There are not that many images and no general image database, but the site does have an excellent collection of 1906 disaster pictures. Regarding copyright, the website states, "We are primarily a research and educational site for scholars, young and old." But they do require permission fees. Very good download quality.


National Gallery of Art-
Search the Collection This database contains text and/or data on all of the more than 108,000 objects in the National Gallery's collection. Images of more than 5,600 objects in the collection and approximately 11,800 related details are available. There is a "images only" option to limit your search to objects for which images are available. However, there is no "keyword" search only "Key Words in Title." Excellent download quality.

National Portrait Gallery The National Portrait Gallery has two major search engines. The NPG Portrait Search which includes 12,000 records from the collections of the National Portrait Gallery and the Catalog of American Portraits (CAP) Portrait Search which combines the NPG with nearly 70,000 records from the Catalog of American Portraits, a national survey of American portraits in public and private collections across the United States and abroad. Unfortunately, many of these portraits are not digitized and only display (and are downloadable) as thumbnails.

And if you're still looking . . .  

The Digital Librarian, Images The Digital Librarian has an impressive list of internet sites for research in a variety of fields. The image list includes a wonderful variety of both photographic and graphic archives from around the world. Many of the sites listed above can also be found on the digital librarian's list.