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Around the World in the 1890s: Photographs from the World's Transportation Commission, 1894-1896

Library of Congress, American Memory
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Reviewed by:
Robert DeCaroli
George Mason University
August 2003

This site features photographs from the World’s Transportation Commission (1894-1896). More specifically, the site provides high-quality images of more than 900 photographs taken by the American photographer William Henry Jackson (1843-1942). The title of the site implies that images from all over the world are included, but the site only presents images Jackson took on his two-year trip abroad. For this reason, the photographs in the collection are limited to South Asia, East Asia (including some Russian materials), North Africa, and Southeast Asia. The bulk of the collection concentrates on South Asia.

The purpose of Jackson’s trip was to document traditional forms of transportation as well as newer developments. The images, however, cover a wide variety of subjects and are not limited to forms of transportation. Images that do highlight modes of travel often incorporate the local environment and people into the composition.

This site is remarkably easy to navigate thanks to an excellent search engine. The “Browse by Subject” option is very helpful for those who are not familiar with the contents of the collection. This option takes the visitor to an impressive list of hundreds of possible subjects in the photographs. Everything from images of elephants to weaving can be easily accessed in this manner.

Although these photographs are immediately useful to any discussion of 19th-century travel, they also provide an important look at the nature of colonialism and industrialization in many of the regions to which Jackson traveled. For additional information on how to teach with these images and how to responsibly utilize the full range of evidence they present, I strongly suggest following the “Collection Connections” link to the section on “Critical Thinking Exercises.” This portion of the site provides a clear and well-organized series of five questions (including some images) that invite the visitor to discover important sources for evidence that might not be apparent to the casual viewer. This section is appropriate for both students and teachers and provides an excellent introduction on how to use photographs as primary evidence for history.

Most of the information that accompanies the images includes a few hypertext links to related material from the collection. The site also features an outline of the biography of the photographer William Henry Jackson.

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