Could a picture be worth more than a thousand words? For anyone trying to find an elusive photograph, illustration, or comic in a historic newspaper – the answer might be yes!
Searching for these types of images is dramatically easier thanks to digitization efforts, such as the National Digital Newspaper Program, which makes millions of pages of newspapers available through the Library of Congress’ website, Chronicling America. Sometimes luck is on your side and you find a photograph or illustration accompanying a major headline, such as this image. A simple keyword search for “President Wilson” found this intriguing illustration from the Washington Herald.
But what if you were actually searching for the artist, H.R. Manz? Using keyword searching, you probably would not find this particular illustration, as the only “text” that is seen and able to be searched from this page is the headline. The artists’ signature, as part of the illustration itself, does not appear in the text search. In fact, more often than not, keyword searches for historic political cartoons, photographs, or other image materials do not provide useful results! But if you browse issues of the Washington Herald, you’ll see that many issues from 1913 included H.R. Manz illustrations – such as his series “Nation’s Men of Affairs in Cartoon.”
Sometimes browsing is still the best way (at the moment) to find images that don’t have headlines or captions, or that might be new to you. To help with this, the Library of Congress has launched Beyond Words, a website that invites the public to identify cartoons, illustrations, and photographs in historic newspapers and provide captions that will turn images into searchable data. The Library is making this data available in the form of a gallery of images that can be browsed or searched as well as a downloadable JSON file, which we hope educators, researchers, and artists will explore and use!