Taking Care
of History

by Alison Beck

Dirck Halstead, Senior White House photographer for Time magazine has retired and moved to Austin, Texas. He has joined the faculty at the University of Texas School of Journalism and will teach advanced photojournalism this fall. The archive of his life work is located at the Center for American History where he has been named a distinguished Fellow. As a steward of his photographic archive, he invited me to write a monthly column for the Digital Journalist about the Center's collections.

For the past fifteen years the Center for American History at the University of Texas has developed its photographic resources through the generous donations of a number of outstanding photojournalists including Russell Lee, David Hume Kennerly, Diana Walker, Margaret Sandahl Thomas, Bruce Roberts, R.C. Hickman, Shel Hershorn, Wally McNamee, and Flip Schulke. Among our most prestigious donors is Dirck Halstead, editor and publisher of the Digital Journalist. The photographs in these archives are highly regarded as visual evidence of events, places, and people that have shaped and defined the American experience. They preserve a rich social and cultural record that supports the study and interpretation of history along with books, maps, manuscripts, newspapers, and other sources. Photographs enrich the written record, frequently containing information in a visual form unavailable elsewhere.

Although photographs by themselves are important, they have greater research value within their archival context. The ability to view a body of work allows the researcher to make comparisons, study changes over time, interpret the photographer's intentions and make judgments about the images. The archives of photojournalists at the Center for American History are extensive and include work from every phase of their careers. These collections include prints and negatives, slides, digital images, contact sheets, tear sheets, and publications in which their photos appeared.

These archives of photojournalists are an integral component of the Center's American News Media History Archive which includes the news clipping and research morgues of the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune and the [Hearst] New York Journal-American; the papers of Walter Cronkite (UPI and CBS), Robert Trout (CBS, NBC and ABC), Sig Mickelson (CBS), Joseph Wershba (CBS), and Jesse Holman Jones (Houston Chronicle publisher). The Media Archives supports the curriculum of the University's College of Communication by providing educational and research opportunities for students, faculty, visiting scholars, industry professionals as well as the general public. A list of the news media holdings can be found at: Media Archives at the Center for American History.

Collections donated to the Center for American History are housed in acid-free enclosures and boxes which are then stored in environmentally controlled stacks to foster their preservation. Following arrangement and cataloging, descriptions are posted on the Center's website.These actions make the collection accessible to researchers, 6,500 of whom come to the Center annually.

Some of the photojournalists whose collections are at the Center have retained the copyrights to their photographic images even though the prints, negatives, tear sheets, etc. become the physical property of the University. When researchers request reproductions of images, they are put in touch with the photographer who decides whether to allow the photo to be published and whether or not a fee will be charged.

We work with our photojournalists to announce the availability of their collections for research through press releases, exhibits, and publications. Recently the Center launched a new book series at the University of Texas Press called "Focus on American History." This series is part of the Center's mission to support research and education by sponsoring publications relating to its collections on the history of media, including broadcast news, photojournalism, and newspaper history. Through grant funding, some digitization of photograph collections has been done. More work in this area is being planned.

In the future issues of the Digital Journalist, this column will be looking at the state of visual archiving and how important it is to both the photographer and history.

© Alison Beck
Contributing Columnist

Alison Beck is Associate Director at the University of Texas Center for American History. She heads the Research & Collections Division, which is comprised of the Archives and Manuscripts, the Library, and the Reference Units. She plans and manages projects to preserve and provide access to the Center's extensive collections of photographs, publications, manuscripts, newspapers, and sound recordings. These projects include digital initiatives. Ms. Beck oversees publishing of the Center's website.

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