Introduction: Visual Collections as Historical Evidence

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [Tulane University]On: 09 October 2014, At: 21:02Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK</p><p>Visual Resources: An InternationalJournal of DocumentationPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:</p><p>Introduction: Visual Collections asHistorical EvidenceKaty LaytonJonesPublished online: 18 Mar 2010.</p><p>To cite this article: Katy LaytonJones (2008) Introduction: Visual Collections as HistoricalEvidence, Visual Resources: An International Journal of Documentation, 24:2, 105-107, DOI:10.1080/01973760802042606</p><p>To link to this article:</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (theContent) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor &amp; Francis,our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as tothe accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinionsand views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor &amp; Francis. The accuracy of the Contentshould not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sourcesof information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims,proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever orhowsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arisingout of the use of the Content.</p><p>This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &amp;Conditions of access and use can be found at</p><p></p></li><li><p>Introduction: Visual Collections as Historical</p><p>Evidence</p><p>Katy Layton-Jones</p><p>This special issue of Visual Resources is offered as a response to the changing status of visualcollections as historical evidence and explores the potential challenges and opportunitiesfacing those who use these often undervalued resources. The intention is to make asubstantial contribution to emerging debates surrounding the potential uses and accessibilityof visual collections for the purposes of historical research. It also aims to redress the currentimbalance between visual sources and more traditional documentary, statistical and verbalevidence as employed by academic historians.</p><p>Keywords: Visual Collections; Imagination; Cultural History; Digitization; Illustration;Cataloging; Access</p><p>Visual material has long been treated as a secondary consideration, a luxury that</p><p>embellishes rather than underpins historical arguments. In 1988, Roy Porter</p><p>challenged the academic community to engage with visual material on a more</p><p>sophisticated level and develop the framework necessary to interpret the significance</p><p>of visual signs.1 Yet, twenty years later, Porters challenge remains unmet, and</p><p>documentary, verbal and numerical evidence continues to enjoy superior status in the</p><p>established fields of economic, social and political history. The range of subjects and</p><p>audiences for historical research has broadened over recent decades. However, the</p><p>role of visual material continues to be primarily illustrative. In an age defined by the</p><p>diversity and sophistication of its visual culture, a superficial engagement with visual</p><p>collections is no longer defensible.</p><p>Previously, one of the greatest inhibitors of visual scholarship was the</p><p>inaccessibility of many collections, particularly where the material was poorly</p><p>cataloged or considered too fragile to handle or photograph. Where photographic</p><p>reproduction was possible, the cost of high-quality imagery made the dissemination</p><p>of such material prohibitively expensive. Hard-copy catalogs were costly, as well as</p><p>complicated to compile, and seldom incorporated any visual imagery. These issues</p><p>combined to ensure that even those who sought to enrich their research with visual</p><p>material found the initial task of identification and location disheartening and</p><p>unfruitful. Consequently, many collections of ephemeral or fragile visual material</p><p>have, for decades, passed under the radar of academic history. In recent years, the</p><p>issue of identification and accessibility has been tackled and, in some instances,</p><p>conquered by the arrival of electronic cataloging, online access and digital publishing.</p><p>Visual Resources, Volume 24, Number 2, June 2008</p><p>ISSN 01973762 # 2008 Taylor &amp; Francis</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Tul</p><p>ane </p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity] </p><p>at 2</p><p>1:02</p><p> 09 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>With digitization, the problems of identification and access can be overcome, but</p><p>only through ongoing cooperation between the academic community, archivists and</p><p>museum professionals.</p><p>The outlook for such a collaborative approach is good. In recent years, the</p><p>academic community has witnessed the expansion of cultural history, a sub-</p><p>discipline that enables an interdisciplinary approach and so permits a heavier reliance</p><p>upon visual evidence than that tolerated in the more traditional historical disciplines.</p><p>Peer-reviewed journals and academic series have been established to serve the</p><p>increasing interest in cultural themes and innovative methodological approaches to</p><p>under-exploited material.2 Understandably, much of the research hitherto published</p><p>under the broad heading of cultural history focuses upon genres of visual imagery</p><p>closely associated with traditional verbal and printed evidence. Historical prints,</p><p>newspaper illustrations and caricatures have emerged as particularly popular spheres</p><p>of research as scholars seek to unite existing critiques of verbal printed material with</p><p>the illustrations that accompanied them.3 Yet, rather than enabling the integration of</p><p>visual imagery into the established canon of historical evidence, the creation of the</p><p>distinct field of cultural history has potentially distanced visual collections further</p><p>from mainstream historical research. For the most part, the academic community</p><p>remains suspicious of awarding visual material equal status to traditional text-based</p><p>evidence, preferring instead to concede that visual imagery is fundamentally more</p><p>fictionalized, and therefore less credible, than the written word. Rather than elevating</p><p>the status of visual collections, this concession merely serves to reinforce the</p><p>perceived fallibility of visual material as a reliable and fruitful historical source.</p><p>Many of the following articles were first delivered at a conference in October</p><p>2006 entitled Getting the Picture: Using Visual Collections as Historical Evidence,</p><p>organized by Craig Horner of the Peoples History Museum, Manchester, England,</p><p>with the assistance of David Stewart from the University of Central Lancashire,</p><p>Preston. The panels brought together academic historians, heritage professionals and</p><p>curators in an attempt to identify the strengths and weaknesses of existing models for</p><p>managing, cataloging, researching and citing visual collections. Throughout the</p><p>conference a number of questions recurred, each of which indicated potential</p><p>improvements to existing curatorial and research practices: How can the burgeoning</p><p>number of virtual collections be cited and accredited equal status to the physical</p><p>objects they replicate? To what extent should the class marks attributed to visual</p><p>collections be standardized across institutions to permit comprehensive and</p><p>intelligible referencing? How can the issues of agency be resolved for unattributed</p><p>ephemeral imagery? These questions represent merely a few of those explored in this</p><p>special issue and serve only to indicate the scale of the challenge facing curators,</p><p>archivists and historians of visual collections in the twenty-first century.</p><p>KATY LAYTON-JONES is a Research Associate at the University of Liverpool and</p><p>Honorary Research Fellow at the Centre for Urban History, University of Leicester.</p><p>Having completed a PhD in British history at the University of Cambridge, she is now</p><p>engaged on an ESRC-funded research project examining the historic significance of</p><p>106 Introduction</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Tul</p><p>ane </p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity] </p><p>at 2</p><p>1:02</p><p> 09 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>urban parks and open spaces. A visiting lecturer at City University, she has recently co-</p><p>edited New Perspectives in British Cultural History (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars</p><p>Publishing, 2007) and is the Reviews Editor for Urban History. Her forthcoming</p><p>publications include Places of Health and Amusement (Swindon: English Heritage, 2008);</p><p>and The Synthesis of Town and Trade: Visualising Provincial Urban Identity 1800</p><p>1851, Urban History 35, no. 1 (2008).</p><p>[1] Roy Porter, Seeing the Past, Past and Present 118 (1988): 186205.</p><p>[2] See Cultural and Social History; Visual Resources; Victorian Literature and Culture;</p><p>the Studies in Popular Culture series published by Manchester University Press;</p><p>and the Cambridge Social and Cultural Histories series introduced by Cambridge</p><p>University Press in 2004.</p><p>[3] Vic Gatrell, City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London (London:</p><p>Atlantic Books, 2006); and Cindy McCreery, The Satirical Gaze: Prints of Women in</p><p>Late Eighteeth-Century England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). [See Laura</p><p>Baudots review of Gatrell on pp. 2017 in this issue.]</p><p>Introduction 107</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Tul</p><p>ane </p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity] </p><p>at 2</p><p>1:02</p><p> 09 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li></ul>