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NYPL // Public Domain

11 Highlights From the New York Public Library’s New Public Domain Collections

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NYPL // Public Domain

Today, the New York Public Library released more than 180,000 images in the library’s collection, making high-resolution scans available to the public for free. The digitized collections now available in high resolution include papers from James Madison and Walt Whitman, photographs from New Deal artist programs, city plans for Washington D.C., scans of The Green Book (a guidebook to African-American-friendly establishments published until the 1960s), and manuscripts of the Japanese classic The Tale of Genji

In addition to plenty of historic photographs and documents relating to New York City and the United States at large, the collection contains an exhaustive amount of broader historical resources, such as images of the Russian Imperial family and the German Reich. Here are 11 of the hidden treasures: 

1. HENRY DAVID THOREAU’S 1846 PENCILED MAP OF WALDEN POND: 

Henry David Thoreau via NYPL // Public Domain

Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau moved into the house he built near Walden Pond in 1945. This is one of his hand-drawn maps of the area.

2. DEPRESSION-ERA PHOTOS FROM ARTISTS LIKE WALKER EVANS AND DOROTHEA LANGE:

Image Credit: Dorothea Lange via NYPL // Public Domain

Dorothea Lange’s Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California, one of the images created for the New Deal’s Farm Security Administration, became an iconic image of the Great Depression. 

3. LEWIS HINE’S PHOTOGRAPHY OF TENEMENT LIVING IN THE EARLY 1900s: 

Living rooms of a tenement family near Hull House, Chicago, 1910.” Image Credit: Lewis Wickes Hine via NYPL // Public Domain

Hine photographed tenement conditions on the Lower East Side in New York and near Hull House in Chicago. The NYPL collection also contains his photographs from Ellis Island. 

4. STEREOSCOPIC IMAGES OF THE KLONDIKE GOLD RUSH:

“Women prospectors on their way to Klondyke [Klondike].” Image Credit: B.W. Kilburn via NYPL // Public Domain

Starting in 1896, thousands of people flocked to the Yukon to try to strike gold. Not all of them were the male prospectors we often imagine, as this 1898 image shows. 

5. MAPS OF THE EARLY UNITED STATES:

“Map of the Indian Territory, Northern Texas and New Mexico.”Image Credit: Sidney E. Morse via NYPL // Public Domain 

The digital collections include a large selection of historic atlases and maps dating back as far as the 1500s. This one shows Indian territories around the Rocky Mountains, as well as the boundaries of Texas and New Mexico, as they stood in 1842. 

6. AN ENDLESS ARRAY OF CIGARETTE CARDS:

Image Credit: NYPL // Public Domain

In the mid-19th century, tobacco companies included illustrated collector’s cards with their products that depicted everything from Aesop’s fables to contemporary starlets. The one above features Lynn Gilbert, a film star considered one of “Today’s Beauties” by the Abdulla & Co. tobacco company. 

7. NAZI PROPAGANDA PHOTOS FROM WWII: 

Besides the people's gas mask, there are also gas defenses created for German children.” Image Credit: Heinrich Hoffman via NYPL // Public Domain

Propaganda photos from the studio of Adolf Hitler’s personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, were collected in four separate albums, one published each year from 1939 through 1942. The library found an incomplete set of these images in their archives a few years ago, and sorted, translated, and captioned them. This photograph depicts how children can be protected from poisonous gases aside from traditional masks. 

8. PORTRAITS OF EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY

Image Credit: NYPL // Public Domain

The library has several photos of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. Here she is with her husband, Eugen Jan Boissevain, in the 1920s. 

9. CIVIL WAR PHOTOGRAPHS:

Rebel works in front of Atlanta, Ga. No. 2.” Image Credit: George N. Barnard via NYPL // Public Domain

This image of Civil War Atlanta comes from an 1866 book of the images of official military photographer George Barnard. He photographed General William Tecumseh Sherman’s campaigns in the South, including the infamous March to the Sea and destructive passage through the Carolinas. 

10. A FIRST DRAFT OF UNCLE TOM’S CABIN

Image Credit: Harriet Beecher Stowe via NYPL // Public Domain

The library holds part of a handwritten first draft of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel. This page is from the first chapter. 

11. 19TH CENTURY MEDICAL PHOTOS

Attitudes obtenues dans la catalepsie sous l'influence de diverses excitations.” Image Credit: Albert Londe via NYPL // Public Domain

This image from 1893, part of the library's collection of historic medical images, shows “attitudes obtained in catalepsy [a nervous condition] under the influence of various stimuli,” such as different chemicals like chloroform or camphor. 

Explore all the collections from the New York Public Library for yourself here. For archive lovers with an artistic inclination, NYPL Labs is launching a paid residency program for artists and designers interested in creating new works using the public domain collection and the NYPL's other digital materials. 

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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0
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Get Your GIFs Ready for This International Public Domain GIF-Making Competition
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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0

Excellent GIF-making skills can serve you beyond material for your clever tweets. Each year, a group of four digital libraries from across the world hosts GIF IT UP, a competition to find the best animated image sourced from public domain images from their archives.

The competition is sponsored by Europeana, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), New Zealand’s DigitalNZ, and the National Library of Australia’s Trove, all of which host millions of public domain works. The requirements are that the source material must be in the public domain, have a 'no known copyright restrictions' statement, or have a Creative Commons license that allows its reuse. The material must also come from one of the sponsored sources. Oh, and judging by the past winners, it helps if it’s a little whimsical.

The image above won the grand prize in 2015. And this was a runner-up in 2016:

via GIPHY

This year’s prizes haven’t been announced yet (although Europeana says there will be a new one for first-time GIF makers), but last year’s grand prize winner got their own Giphoscope, and runners-up got $20 gift cards. (Turns out, there’s not a lot of money in public domain art.)

Not an expert GIFer yet? You can always revisit the audio version of DPLA’s advanced GIF-making tutorial from last year.

The fourth-annual GIF IT UP contest opens to submissions October 1.

Update: GIF IT UP has announced that this year’s grand prize winner will receive an Electric Object, a digital art frame. The winner of the people’s choice category will get a Giphoscope, while runners-up for the general competition and the winner of the first-time GIF-maker category will get gift cards. There will also be special prizes for several themed categories, including transportation, holidays, Christmas cards, and animals.

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The Library of Congress Wants Your Help Identifying World War I-Era Political Cartoons
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Alex Wong/Getty Images

The U.S. government’s official library wants your help. And it involves cartoons.

The Library of Congress just debuted its new digital innovation lab, an initiative that aims to improve upon its massive archives and use them in creative ways. Its first project is Beyond Words, a digitization effort designed to make the research library’s historical newspaper collection more search-friendly. It aims to classify and tag historical images from World War I-era newspapers, identifying political cartoons, comics, illustrations, and photos within old news archives. The images come from newspapers included in Chronicling America, the library’s existing newspaper digitization project.

The tasks involved in Beyond Words are simple, even if you know nothing about the illustrations involved going into it. The Library of Congress just needs people to help mark all the illustrations and cartoons in the scanned newspaper pages, a task that only involves drawing boxes to differentiate the image from the articles around it.

Then there’s transcription, involving typing in the title of the image, the caption, the author, and whether it’s an editorial cartoon, an illustration, a photo, a map, or a comic. The library also needs people to verify the work of others, since it’s a crowd-sourced effort—you just need to make sure the images have been transcribed consistently and accurately.

A pop-up window below an early 20th century newspaper illustration prompts the user to pick the most accurate caption.

Screenshot via labs.loc.gov

The data will eventually be available for download by researchers, and you can explore the already-transcribed images on the Beyond Words site. Everything is in the public domain, so you can remix and use it however you want.

With the new labs.loc.gov, “we are inviting explorers to help crack open digital discoveries and share the collections in new and innovative ways,” Carla Hayden, the library’s head, said in a press release.

Other government archives regularly look to ordinary people to help with the monstrous task of digitizing and categorizing their collections. The National Archives and Records Administration, for instance, has recently crowd-sourced data entry and transcription for vintage photos of life on Native American reservations and declassified government documents to help make their collections more accessible online.

Want to contribute to the Library of Congress’s latest effort? Visit labs.loc.gov.

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