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Tilton, L., Arnold, T., Leonard, P. (2016). Photogrammar. In Digital Humanities 2016: Conference Abstracts. Jagiellonian University & Pedagogical University, Kraków, pp. 903-904.



The poster will focus on Photogrammar (photogrammar.yale.edu), a web-based platform for organizing, searching, and visualizing the 170,000 photographs from 1935 to 1945 in the United State’s Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information (FSA-OWI) Archive. Our poster session will include two parts – a physical poster and demonstrations of how to use Photogrammar. The goal is to highlight how we used digital humanities methods such as text, image and spatial analysis to increase discoverability of a photograph archive while also changing humanities scholarship related to the FSA-OWI.

For the poster, we will first outline how Photogrammar is changing scholarship in media studies, visual culture studies and 20th century United States cultural history. In order to build support for and to justify government programs during the Great Depression and World War II, the FSA-OWI set out to document America and the successful administration of government services. They produced some of the most iconic images of the era and employed prominent documentary photographers such as Arthur Rothstein, Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks, and Walker Evans, all of whom shaped the visual culture of the era both in its moment and in American memory. Unit photographers were sent across the country. The negatives were sent to Washington, DC. 170,000 negatives were collected and for decades, scholars have argued that FSA-­‐ OWI archive is a collection about rural poverty in the American south and Dust Bowl. Photogrammar shows that mapping the photographs challenges decades of scholarship on one of the most prominent visual culture archives in the United States.

The photographers took pictures across the nation, which leads to new questions about the breadth and depth of the archive and goals of the federal government during the era. Questions include why the United States federal government sought these images and how individual photographers’ ways of seeing impacted the archive. We will then turn to the methods used to reframe and visualize the photographs that are changing scholarship on and the discoverability of the FSA-­‐OWI collection. We will focus on three techniques: automated geo-referencing and CartoDB to map the photographs, TF-­‐IDF and cosine similarity to surface related photographs based on their captions, and facial recognition software to make the collection searchable by faces (OpenBR).

Along with the poster, we will offer demonstrations of the site. We will highlight the multitude of features on the site such as tracking photographers as they move across the country and how users can explore the collection through the archival system developed by Paul Vanderbilt in the 1940s to organize the collection. We will also share new Labs that are in development in order to receive feedback from the international DH community.

We are also excited to share with participants of DH2016 how we built Photogrammar and to speak with them about how they could apply these methods to their archives and humanities data. In addition, we are eager to learn from participants about additional techniques that might augment Photogrammar.