NEH Grant Project: Saving and Sharing the AGS Library’s Historic Nitrate Negative Images

American Geographical Society Library – Photo Archive
Saving and Sharing the AGSL’s Historic Images

Irreplaceable Historic Photography

pe009011kr000402The American Geographical Society (AGS) was formed in the early 1850s to promote the collection of geographical information and to establish and maintain a library with a collection of maps, charts, photographs and instruments. The photography collection is the product of world renowned explorers and geographers who were members of the AGS of New York.

In 2010, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) generously awarded the AGS Library a preservation grant to save 70,920 nitrate negatives: Saving and Sharing the AGS Library’s Historic Nitrate Negative Images. Cellulose nitrate film, a volatile and flammable material, was an important innovation in the field of amateur photography and was popular for well over half a century after its introduction in 1889. Many historic negatives housed in the AGS Library in this format were deteriorating and in need of immediate attention.

In 2012, the AGS Library was again awarded a grant to save, preserve, and make accessible online, safety film negatives of approximately 35,000 still images from the Harrison Forman and Clarence W. Sorensen collections: Saving and Sharing the AGS Library’s Historic Film Collections II – Monochrome Acetate Negatives and Motion Picture Film. The project includes digitizing and making available online, approximately 25,000 feet of unique and historic motion picture films in 16mm and 35mm formats from the Harrison Forman, Clarence W. Sorensen, Walter Wood, and William O. Field collections.

These photographers’ collections document a global range of peoples, cultures, built environments, landscapes and natural resources that will culminate in a collection of over 50,000 images available online.


The National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.

George Borup

This digital collection presents 102 images of George Borup’s expedition to the Arctic with Commander Robert E. Peary in 1908-1909 and other surveying trips, taken most likely in preparation for the expedition. George Borup was a young graduate of Yale who made his first, and only, expedition with Peary to the Arctic. Borup took many photographs, on film and glass plate, to document the expedition. The nitrate film negatives are housed at the American Geographical Society Library and were scanned as part of the 2010-2012 NEH Grant Project to digitize the library’s collection of nitrate negatives. Additional glass negatives can be found in the collection of the American Geographical Society Library.

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Isaiah Bowman

Isaiah Bowman (1878-1950) was the Director of the American Geographical Society from 1915 to 1935, the leader of Woodrow Wilson’s post-WWI think tank, the “Inquiry”, and later, the president of Johns Hopkins University.

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Frederick G. Clapp

Frederick Gardner Clapp (1879-1944) was a pioneer petroleum geologist who worked predominantly as a consulting geologist specializing in oil and gas.

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Theodoor deBooy

Theodoor deBooy (1882-1919) was a noted archaeologist and geographical researcher who explored the unknown region of the Perija Mountains in eastern Venezuela.

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Helmut de Terra

Helmut de Terra (1900-1981) was a geologist, explorer, archaeologist, and anthropologist.

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William O. Field

William O. Field (1904-1994) was a geographer and pioneer glaciologist and is widely recognized as the “father of glaciology”.

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Alfred T. Flint

Alfred T. Flint (1891-1954) was a lawyer in Wisconsin and an adventurer with an interest in nature, history, and archaeology.

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Alexander Forbes

Alexander Forbes was a leader in photogrammetry for the United States Navy. In his work for the U.S. government, Forbes engaged in mapping Labrador, Northern Quebec, and Frobisher Bay of Baffin Island.

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Harrison Forman

Harrison Forman (1904-1978), a native of Milwaukee, was an adventurous photojournalist and explorer often called the “Modern Marco Polo”.

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Bert Krawczyk

Bert Krawczyk (1922-1998) was a young photographer and artist who was stationed in India and then assigned to the Hunan (Yunnan) Province of China in 1942 through 1945, during World War II. Many of his photographs portray rural life, and are particularly valuable due to the detailed annotations he made regarding the people and culture of the region.

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Mary Meader

Mary Meader (1916-2008) was an adventurous aerial photographer who flew with Dr. Richard Upjohn Light (a geographer and pilot, and her husband at the time) over the continents of South America and Africa. Some of the first aerial photographs of the pyramids in Egypt are present in this collection.

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Anna Estelle Paddock

This digital collection presents approximately 130 images and documents from Anna Estelle (“Stella”) Paddock’s (Jan 18, 1874 – Dec. 31, 1940) work for the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in China from 1905-1913. Upon her return to the United States in 1913, she resided in New York City and continued to work for the YWCA as Publicity Director, authored many articles and a book, “Overtaking the Centuries: Modern Women of Five Nations,” and gave lectures on her work with the YWCA. The negatives are housed at the American Geographical Society Library and were scanned as part of the 2010-2012 NEH Grant Project to digitize the Library’s collection of nitrate negatives.

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Robert L. Pendleton

Robert Larimore Pendleton (1890-1957) was pioneer in soil science of the tropics. He traveled to many tropical areas of the world but settled in Thailand for most of his life. His photos provide insights into the societies, built environments, and agriculture of the places he visited and lived.

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Robert S. Platt

Robert S. Platt was a prominent geographer from the University of Chicago who traveled and took photographs of people and places throughout the world. Platt was noted for his research of the regional relationships between people and land in Latin America, which led to a new way of looking at humans’ organization of space.

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Mary Jo Read

Mary Jo Read (1911-1998) was the first woman to be granted her Ph.D. in Geography from UW-Madison in 1942. She taught at UW-Milwaukee from 1940 to 1965, serving as the chair from 1958-1963. This collection represents her travels to China with her family when she was young.

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Clarence Woodrow Sorensen

Clarence Woodrow Sorensen was a CBS staff foreign correspondence who traveled through thirty-five countries during his professional career. His work took him to Germany where he reported on Hitler’s rise to power. He lived in the Near East and covered thousands of desert miles, studied lost Arab cities and surveyed military highways to name just a few of his accomplishments. For his achievements in exploration he was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London.

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