Library of Congress Posts 700 Civil War Photos to Flickr

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The Library of Congress has released 700 portraits of Americans taken during the Civil War. They were a gift of the Liljenquist Family Collection and most of the people who appear in them are unidentified. In fact, through Flickr commons, the Library is hoping to tap the collective knowledge of the crowd to find out more about the people in these images.

While the photos themselves are beautiful, I think they also highlight a structural change at some of our nation's biggest institutions. The digital age continues to refashion what we want and expect from our cultural preservationists. The vaults at places like the Library of Congress and Smithsonian have long contained far more than could be displayed or appreciated in physical space. Curators cut a narrow path through all that information; they told tell stories. That part of the job hasn't gone away, but now we also want to be able to tell our own stories.

Cultural preservation institutions now have to enable a much broader group of individuals to use their collections, not just professionals and dedicated researchers. And I love that the Library of Congress and other repositories of knowledge are beginning to open their archives to us digital travelers.

In the selection of photos above, we retained the original captions from the Library of Congress archive.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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