European Visual Archive
European Commission, European Union
West Chester University
These 18,000 historical photographs, from the London Metropolitan Archives and the Stadsarchief Antwerpen (State Archives of Antwerp), date from 1840 to the present. Serious design flaws make navigating this website and finding images difficult, but it has the potential to be an invaluable resource for historians, students, and teachers. This project successfully preserved, through digitization, thousands of photographs, but it has not yet made them easily available to users.
The creators of this site could have learned much from a perusal of existing websites of libraries and archives, especially the Library of Congress and the Bibliothèque National de France, for creating user-friendly search functions and organization. Currently, this database has none of those features: searching and indexing are not reliable. A search on “Parliament,” for example, returns 25 images. Several are relevant and helpful, such as the Richard the Lion-hearted statue and a view of London from Victoria Tower. The results, however, also include unrelated images of men’s and women’s restrooms, girls playing cricket, and several views of a 1913 Kentish Town County Secondary School.
And as if these results were not frustrating enough, hitting the (Netscape Navigator) “back” button forces the user to reload the image from post data (this is not a problem when using Internet Explorer). Using the “Advanced Search” option is similarly unhelpful. It allows for a search by language, collection (London or Antwerp), date of photograph, photographer, and geographic location, but this is most helpful for users who already have specific information. Images enlarge from thumbnail to partial screen, but cannot be enlarged further. Images also contain watermark information, although a clean, higher quality version may be purchased.
If the creators of this site initiate modifications to better index and organize the collection, enhance the ability to browse images by broad categories (such as park, building type, bridge, recreation, and date), and generally make the site more user friendly, this could become a tremendous resource. Until then, the European Visual Archive is most helpful for researchers with specific goals.