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Prints and Photographs Division

Barbara Orbach Natanson*

arrow graphicINTRODUCTION
Scope of the Collections
Picture Processes: A Chronology
Researching Images





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The awakening. Hy Mayer. 1915 Feb. 20. Prints and Photographs Division.
bibliographic record

The holdings of the Prints and Photographs Division document people, events, trends, and artistic and technical creativity that helped to shape the history and culture of the United States.

As integral players in the country's history and culture, women, and issues affecting them, are evident everywhere in the division's collections. You find them among its:

  • documentary and art photographs
  • prints
  • cartoon and other drawings
  • posters
  • architecture, design, and engineering documentation
  • applied graphic art materials and ephemera such as sheet music, seed packets, and tobacco and patent medicine labels.

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On the beach, Avalon Bay, Catalina Island, Calif. Copyright 1906. Prints and Photographs Division.
bibliographic record

Researchers regularly tap the collections to illustrate publications or to supply visual content for documentary films, educational media projects, and electronic resources. Such projects take advantage of the sometimes dynamic, sometimes humorous, and frequently information-filled content of individual images. Our collecting strengths, however, also support areas of growing interest in historical scholarship, including the representation of women in the United States over time and the role American women have played in communicating about their world in visual terms.

This section offers:

  • A summary of the scope and major strengths of the Prints and Photographs holdings, which is partially explained by the sources from which the collections have been amassed.
  • A brief overview of the types of pictorial processes represented in the holdings and the terminology used here to refer to them.
  • Research tips for finding images in the Prints and Photographs Division and elsewhere in the Library of Congress and for interpreting the images, once they are found.
  • A brief discussion of one of the division's best-known images, “Migrant Mother”, which illustrates factors that can affect the creation and interpretation of an image or set of images.

*Authored the original chapter in American Women: A Library of Congress Guide for the Study of Women's History and Culture in the United States (Library of Congress, 2001), from which this online version is derived. Others who contributed to this effort are identified in the Acknowledgments.

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