Directory of Yale Photographic Collections

Yale Photographic Collections The academic community at Yale and elsewhere has always recognized the documentary and evidentiary value of photography.  At Yale, photographs quickly became an essential resource for disciplines increasingly focused on the gathering and analysis of data based on observation, both cultural and scientific. Not surprisingly, given the depth and breadth of the University’s activities, the photograph collections have grown systematically over the past century and a half and in collections throughout the campus. A directory of these collections provides essential information for access and management.

In 2010, a survey supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation gave Yale the opportunity to get a comprehensive look at its photographic collections. As a result of the survey, it is possible to identify 82 separate collections, holding in excess of 3.8 million photographs that encompass broad geographical areas and illustrate an encyclopedic range of subjects in the arts, humanities and sciences, as well as the history of Yale University.

In 2009-2010 a cross-departmental project team undertook the first survey of the photographic collections at Yale. The team, consisting of participants from across Yale’s libraries and museums and assisted by two premier consultants in the field (Melissa Banta and Paul Messier), led the project which included conducting a survey designed to collect descriptive and preservation-related data for each collection, creating a database of general information regarding the condition and cataloguing state of these collections so that preservation and access priorities can be established. Based on the data from the survey, A Directory of Yale Photographic Collections was developed for public access and, for the first time, provides a guide across the breadth of photographic materials held in repositories at the University.

The directory is an important first step in shaping an identity for the University’s photograph resources as a whole. An understanding of the holdings across campus can guide curators as they consider directions for future collecting, while also opening up promising avenues for the creative use of these materials in existing programs by involving curators, undergraduate fellows, and post-docs in the development of photograph workshops, exhibitions, and publications.

ODAI (now YDC2) supported the project team and community that conducted the survey and worked with the consultants Messier to customize the tools and Banta to research the history of photographic collections at Yale. With the staff of the Peabody Museum, ODAI (now YDC2) developed the Directory and continues to support the underlying data for future updates.