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.