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Abdul-Hamid II Collection Photography Archive

Library of Congress
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Reviewed by:
Nancy L. Stockdale
University of Central Florida
February 2004

This impressive photography collection contains 1,819 photographs from the Ottoman Empire. Dated from approximately 1880 to 1893, the images—which originated from 51 large-format albums—depict scenes within the borders of modern Turkey, as well as Ottoman holdings in Greater Syria, Greece, and modern Iraq.

The photos in this collection were originally presented to the Library of Congress by Sultan Abdul-Hamid II in 1894. He gave a near-duplicate set of the albums to the British Museum. Most of the photos promote the Empire’s modernization, with institutions such as schools, hospitals, military barracks, medical and law schools, and fire departments featuring prominently. The Sultan included images of his residences, horses, and yachts, as well as famous landmarks such as mosques, churches, museums, and palaces from the Ottoman and Byzantine eras. There are images about subjects as diverse as education for the disabled in late 19th-century Istanbul, ancient murals from Byzantine landmarks, and images of orchards in southern Anatolia.

Most of the photos in the collection are signed by some of the most prominent Ottoman photographers of the day, including Phébus, Abdullah Frères, Ali Riza Pasa, and Sébah & Joaillier. Photographers from the Imperial School of Engineering also contributed to the albums. By featuring these prominent photographers, the archive stands as an excellent source for reconstructing commercial photography in the late Ottoman era as well.

The images are well displayed on dedicated pages, and are available as thumbnails Web-ready JPEG files, and uncompressed archival TIFF files. Full archival citation information is displayed, as well as clear information about how to purchase copies of some images.

The primary drawback of this website is its organization. There is no comprehensive index of subjects linked to the home page. An exterior search engine (such as Google) reveals a broad subject index, but there is no link from the main page to direct visitors there. This page will lead viewers to a comprehensive index, but without this knowledge, those looking for specific images or topics must rely on the Library of Congress search engine featured on the home page. Because of this flaw, viewers may find what they are looking for but miss related topics.

Despite this flaw, this collection is a rich resource. The photographs give viewers an excellent sense of the modernizing projects the Empire focused upon during its final decades, as well as the way that Abdul-Hamid II wanted Americans to view his empire.

World history teachers will find many images that may inspire lessons. For example, images of school children from the empire will allow teachers to make parallels between their own students and those of the Ottoman Empire; images of modern transportation and production methods may lead to illustrative discussions about industrialization; and images of the palaces and other possessions of the Sultans juxtaposed with more “common” scenes of everyday life, may lead to vibrant comparisons between royalty and commoners in the Turkish dominions.

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