British Library Flickr collection

When analysing the British Library Flickr collection it became apparent that most history textbooks and many academic histories use images to illustrate the history that they tell.[1] However, examining these books in our classes, it is interesting to see that we rarely spend time exploring the images in them, we are more likely to focus our attention instead on the written content. We do so because of the way that images are presented in many historical texts and also because of the way that historians are trained to view images as illustrations of written history rather than sources of history themselves. [2] Although these thoughts are becoming a thing of the past and what is furthermore interesting about the Flickr collection is the ways in which historians can find new ways of understanding the past.

When analysing Flickr, my team came up with three suggestions for its use. The most interesting one was the use of Typography, we can learn a lot about the context of the time through the use of typography in the images. The value this would have to historians is that they could programme the data and extract typography from certain eras in time to learn more about how they wrote. This perhaps is a long shot in terms of attracting a wide audience. But once again it comes down to finding the right historian who shares a similar interest in Historic typography. Moreover, the Flickr collection has thousands of images with letters in historic designs that indicates there is something for everyone if enough interest is generated around the topic of typography. Another interesting value Flickr can add is that text draws us into formal language which some may find harder to understand, also historic texts tends to be quite long to read and can deter audiences. Images however are static examples of moments in time; we as historians can observe moments of true history and take what evidence we can see from the images. For example, images from the Victorian era that show poor families households may have tea on the table. Tea was a luxurious item and very expensive in the Victorian era. So by seeing tea sets within poorer households we as historians can argue tea was open to many classes poor and rich during this era.

The analysis of images in comparison to text opens up new interesting ways in which we can analyse data. Even when taking images of graphs and quantified data, historians need these sets of data to support their thesis in any argument they make. The reason historians rely on graphical data, is that observing data in numerical form is sometimes simpler to understand the vast quantity of data that the historian wants to show the reader. Flickr has many of these examples of quantified data images. Which if a historian uses to their advantage can find many interesting statistics to aid their research knowledge and better their work. As stated by James Borchert, there is a ‘growing interest in new sources and methods, especially quantitative ones’.[3]

Anna Pegler-Gordon,‘Seeing Images in History’, Perspectives on History (February 2006).

(Accessed, 30th April 2015)

[2] IBID

[3] James, Borchert, Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History, Volume 15, Issue 2 (1982), P. 35



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