Over the years, a few of our 852 RARE posts have focused on parts of the collection that present unanswered questions such as the identity of an individual or date and creator of an image. In 2008, we wrote about a carte de visite of an unidentified African American man in the Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. visual materials collection. Then in 2012 we posted a photograph of HLS graduate students that included an unidentified child in the picture, whom we dubbed “the littlest graduate.” Most recently, we wondered about the origins and purpose of a 1977 student group titled “The Fainwood.”
Historical & Special Collections (HSC) is not alone when it comes to mysteries in its collection. The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (P & P) has a blog titled “Picture This.” In a number of posts they have highlighted mystery photographs that have been placed on the Library of Congress Flickr account along with a call to help identify them. Images have ranged from buildings, to gadgets, to travel views. Thanks to the help of Flickr users they were able to identify and more accurately describe quite a few of the formerly unidentified images.
It takes practice and skill to dissect an image and make meaning from it. This skill is commonly referred to as visual literacy. The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) defines visual literacy as: “a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media.” You can see visual literacy in action in the comments accompanying the P & P images in Flickr. Some of the observations and types of sources people drew upon are fascinating.
Sadly, we have not solved any of our previously chronicled mysteries and new mysteries present themselves all the time. As you can see below, we have a number of unidentified individuals in our collection of cabinet cards and cartes de visite.
This is your chance to help us and have some fun in the process. Tap into your inner Sherlock Holmes and put your skills of analysis to work! Send your discoveries or information that could aid in identification to firstname.lastname@example.org
For those interested in learning more about visual literacy, here are some resources:
Every Photo is a Story: Researching Photographs–Video Series and Exercises, Library of Congress
Visual Literacy Resources, Toledo Art Museum