De Montfort University has created an extensive corpus of digital resources for researchers of 19th century photography working from primary materials such as exhibition catalogues and letters. Access to primary resources is essential for future progress in photographic history. However these resources are often ephemeral, fragile, widely dispersed, poorly documented and difficult to access, although of enormous scope. These on-line resources have been developed specifically to facilitate research in the history of photography.

Photographs, Colonial Legacy and Museums in Contemporary European Culture (PhotoCLEC)

PhotoCLEC website  

PhotoCLEC explores the different ways in which photographs from the colonial past have been used by museums, as spaces of public history, to communicate and interpret the colonial past in a postcolonial and multicultural Europe.

Photographs are probably the most ubiquitous and far reaching records of the colonial past. They trace the experiences of a vast range of people touched by European colonial expansion and domination, both colonised and colonialisers.

How is this record understood in public histories? What is its role in the way contemporary European cultures configure their pasts for the benefit of their futures?

Intended for curators, heritage managers, teachers and students, this web resource has been built in response to the concerns of curators, debates about difficult histories in museums, the role of photographs in the museum space, and especially key questions about the representation of the colonial past in museums as vectors of public history. The resource offers a unique comparative character that is the result of a collaborative research project, led by DMU,  in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands and Norway, all of which have very different colonial histories and post-colonial engagements.

Photographic Exhibitions in Britain, 1839 - 1865 (PEIB)

Professor Roger Taylor and Professor Stephen Brown

Funder: AHRB (Arts and Humanities research Board, now the Arts and Humanities Research Council)

This is a research database containing individual records for over 20 000 photographic exhibits drawn from forty exhibition catalogues published between 1839 - 1865. The records can be searched by exhibition title, photographer name, photographic process, original sale price and by free text.

It was originally created by Professor Roger Taylor and published under the same title in printed book form by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 2002. In 2004 with support from the AHRB it was converted to an online digital database by Professor Stephen Brown, Dr Kelley Wilder, David. Gerrard, Robb. Ross and Howard Freeman.

PEIB website

Exhibitions of the Royal Photographic Society 1870 - 1915 (ERPS) 

Professor Stephen Brow

Funder: AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council)

This is a research database of over 45000 records from the annual exhibition catalogues of the Photographic Society, London, published between 1870 and 1915. It contains: detailed records of all the exhibits, plus information about exhibitors, judges, hanging and selecting committee members, photographs and companies; reproductions of all the catalogue pages; all the pictures of the photographs that were printed in the catalogues, plus some contemporary illustrations from the annual publication Photograms of the Year; reviews of the exhibitions from the annual publication Photograms of the Year; tools for refining, printing and exporting your search results.

It was created by Professor Stephen Brown, Robb. Ross, Howard Freeman and Dave Everitt,

ERPS website

The Correspondence of William Henry Fox Talbot (Talbot correspondence)

Professor Larry Schaaf and Professor Stephen Brow

Funders: AHRB (Arts and Humanities research Board, now the Arts and Humanities Research Council) and the British Academy

The Correspondence of William Henry Fox Talbot Project is a comprehensive online database of over 10,000 letters to and from Talbot (1800-1877), the Wiltshire polymath best known for his invention of photography.  Transcriptions of the letters can be searched by date, correspondent and free text.

The conception and editorial foundations of the project took place at the University of Glasgow between 1999 and 2004 under the direction of Professor Larry Schaaf. In 2004 the database was transferred to De Montfort University where it was rebuilt under the direction of Professor Stephen Brown, with the assistance of David Gerrard and Howard Freeman.

Talbot correspondence website 

The journal of Amélina Petit de Billier (Amelina)

Professor Stephen Brown

Funder: De Montfort University

Amélina is thought to have been born in Paris in 1800, but she died at Lacock Abbey, the home of William Henry Fox Talbot, in 1876 where her journal was preserved. It was transcribed and translated for the Fox Talbot Museum with the permission of the owners of the journal, Janet Burnett-Brown and Petronella Burnett-Brown of Lacock Abbey.

Her surviving journal comprises fifteen worn notebooks (over 3000 pages), covering from 1820 to 1835. Although the surviving journal ends in 1835, she re-read it in 1870, adding some comments, and making many deletions. 

The website includes historical context, facsimiles of the diary pages (mainly written in French) and translations. It was created by Professor Stephen Brown and Tarjana Yagnik.

Amelina website

Roger Fenton's Crimean Letter Books (Fenton  letterbooks)

Professor Stephen Brown

Funder: De Montfort University

This website publishes faithful reproductions and transcripts of letters sent originally by Roger Fenton and subsequently copied out by family and friends during his "Photographic Trip to the Crimea" in 1855. The Crimean War, which lasted from 1853 to 1856, was fought mainly on the Crimean Peninsula and it was the first war to be covered systematically by photographers and newspaper reporters. During his 4 month trip, Roger Fenton took 360 photographs, including the famous "valley of the shadow of death" picture, and wrote numerous letters home. Twenty five of these letters have survived in the form of two letter books, one is Annie Grace Fenton's letter book held at the National Media Museum, Bradford and another is Joseph Fenton's letter book held at the Harry Ransom Research Center,at the University of Texas, Austin.

The website is a result of a collaborative project initiated by De Montfort University, using the two surviving letter books in the collections of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center and the National Media Museum. This is the first occasion that all the surviving letters have been published together in full.

Visitors to the web site can select a letterbook and then view the letters, comparing different versions of the same letter, or comparing the handwritten version with its transcript. There are also links to Fenton's photographs of places, people and events described in the letters.

The web site was created by Professor Stephen Brown and Tarjana Yagnik and the facsimile page scans were kindly provided by the National Media Museum and the Harry Ransom Research Center.

Fenton letterbooks website

Members of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS members)

Professor Stephen Brown

Funder: De Montfort University

This is a searchable database of over 2400 members of the Photographic Society [of London] which became the Photographic Society of Great Britain in 1874 and then the Royal Photographic Society in 1894. It contains the most complete record of members extant, their addresses, membership category and, for some, any official position held. It covers the years 1853–1901.

The web site was created by Professor Stephen Brown and Tarjana Yagnik, based on a database originated by Dr Michael Pritchard and elaborated by Howard Freeman.

RPS Members website


Professor Stephen Brown
Funder: AHRC

The increased availability of online collections and searchable metadata creates enormous potential for using information about objects from one data set to enrich records in others. In the case of photographic history, different institutions sometimes hold similar or even the same objects because photographs were easily reproduced and copied photographically. Searching for connections across diverse institutional collections is possible, however, drawing together such information is a time-consuming and complex task for researchers as the volume of online information increases. Much of the data lies beyond the reach of Web search engines because it resides in databases and is presented dynamically to the Web only in response to a particular query, and collection metadata schemas give only limited access to the information that resides in such collections, making comparisons between them difficult. Furthermore, collection records tend to be messy, incomplete, imprecise and even incorrect which puts them beyond the reach of simple computational data mining methods.

The FuzzyPhoto project developed an advanced computational approach combining Probabilistic Record Linkage with fuzzy clustering for identifying  potential matches between  the records in the catalogues of the Royal Photographic Society annual exhibitions and those of major museums, libraries and archives, allowing images of some of the exhibits to be seen for the first time in around 120 years. In addition FuzzyPhoto has identified matches between records, even where these do not match exhibits in the RPS exhibitions. So, for example, photographs in the Musée d’Orsay have been matched with similar items in the British Library, and items from the National Media Museum collection have been linked to photographs in the Library of Congress. As a result of this project, when visitors to the Royal Photographic Society annual exhibitions web site view  an individual exhibit record they are offered a selection of hyperlinks to potentially related records from other collections.

This research was supported by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council [Research Grant AH/J004367/1]. Thanks are also due to Birmingham City Library; the British Library; Musée du Louvre; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Musée d’Orsay; the National Archives; the National Media Museum; National Museums Scotland; St Andrews University; and the V&A for their generous support.

FuzzyPhoto website

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