Researchers come to their topics in many ways. Some set out to test a theory, to revise the assertions of others, or to explore people, places, events or issues from new angles.
For others, topics surface from the primary sources themselves. One of my favorite stories in this regard is historian David McCullough’s account of how he came to write his first history, The Johnstown Flood (1968), after seeing pictures of the 1889 flood here in the Prints and Photographs Division. McCullough mentioned this in a presentation he gave at the Library in 2001 and has eloquently alluded to it since:
It was here in this building, in one of the collections in the 1960s, that I, a former English major, then working for the U.S. Information Agency, discovered the thrill, the pull of history quite by chance. And it changed my life, and I knew as soon as I got involved with the work that that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.” (David McCullough, Library of Congress Living Legends Ceremony, April 12, 2008)
Hoping to inspire curiosity and (who knows?), set the stage for life-changing discoveries, Prints and Photographs Division staff members pooled their collective knowledge in a new reference aid, “Collections Ripe for Research: A Sample from the Prints and Photographs Division.” We relished the opportunity to recommend collections and pictorial themes meriting research attention. Topics range from Civil War images to photographs from the Civil Rights era. Suggested collections run the gamut of formats we hold (photographs, postcards, product labels, posters, engineering drawings, and European historical prints known as “Bilderbogen”) and reflect perspectives from many parts of the world.
Naturally, with a collection that is just about to top 15 million items, the sampler represents merely the tip of the research-worthy iceberg. We hope the “Ripe for Research” sampler triggers new questions and launches others on the thrilling path David McCullough discovered through his encounters with Library of Congress collections.
- View the “Collections Ripe for Research” reference aid.
- View a list of recent dissertations and theses that have tapped Prints and Photographs Division Collections (and if you are aware of others, please let us know!)
- View David McCullough’s comments about his early work at the Library of Congress, made at an event commemorating John and Abigail Adams on April 24, 2001: Craig Doge, “Chronicling John and Abigail Adams,” Library of Congress Information Bulletin, June 2001 (//www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/0106/enduring.html).
- View a transcript of David McCullough’s remarks from the Library of Congress Living Legends Ceremony held April 12, 2008: Matt Raymond, “David McCullough’s Must-See Experience,” April 17th, 2008: //blogs.loc.gov/loc/2008/04/david-mcculloughs-must-see-experience/.