The Alabama Department of Archives and History has millions of photographs in its collections, spanning from as early as 1840 to the modern day. Whether researching your ancestry or a specific person, place, or subject, a photograph can be an exciting discovery. To celebrate National Photography Month this May, the Alabama Department of Archives and History is providing a bird’s eye view of our photograph collections, answering some frequently asked questions, and sharing some photographic jewels.
Many photos in the ADAH collections have been digitized and made available through our Digital Collections portal (digital.archives.alabama.gov). The Digital Collections contain not only digitized archival materials from the ADAH but also materials from Alabama Mosaic, a network of archival repositories throughout the state. With online access anywhere and at any time, the Digital Collections are a great place to start a search; however, since the online collection represents a small portion of the ADAH’s physical holdings, the way to find most photos is to visit the ADAH Research Room.
The collections below contain a mixture of photographs from the physical holdings and the Digital Collections. Most of these collections have finding aids within the ADAH catalog which can help researchers locate photographs which may not be digitized. To access these undigitized photos, researchers can submit a Digitization and Reproduction Order Form. Reproduction fees vary depending on the requested format and intended use; more information on file formats, fees, and payment options is available on this webpage.
Alabama Photographs and Pictures Collection
The Alabama Photographs and Pictures Collection brings together in one place digitized photographs from several collections in the ADAH archives (with the exception of the Jim Peppler Southern Courier Photograph Collection and the Alabama Media Group Collection, due to the large size of these collections). These photos cover a wide range of topics, places, and individuals from throughout the state’s history.
Jim Peppler Southern Courier Photograph Collection
The Jim Peppler Southern Courier Photograph Collection includes over 11,000 photo negatives taken by James H. “Jim” Peppler, who worked as staff photographer for the newspaper The Southern Courier from 1965 until 1968. Headquartered in Montgomery, The Southern Courier aimed to implant reporters within local communities in order to provide intimate and detailed coverage of social conditions and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama and the southern United States. Peppler captured pictures of everyday life at homes, schools, offices, and social settings, as well as momentous events and influential individuals of the 1960s. All negatives in the collection have been digitized and categorized by topic in the Digital Collections.
Alabama Media Group Collection
The Alabama Media Group (AMG) donated its collection of historical photographic negatives to the ADAH in December 2016. The AMG Collection contains over three million negatives taken by photographers working for The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times, and Mobile’s Press-Register between the 1920s and the early 2000s, but the majority of the negatives date from the 1960s to the 1990s.
In the physical collections, the negatives are stored in sleeves with handwritten or typed notes, each representing a photojournalism assignment. The initial phase of the digitization project involves scanning these sleeves and transcribing the notes to provide a searchable index for researchers. With this long-term initiative, select negatives have been digitized and new material is added each month; currently, however, the sleeves make up most of the digitized material.
If you find a sleeve you are interested in, first click on the “Sleeve Number” within the item description to see if any negatives in the sleeve have been scanned. If the negatives have not been digitized, researchers can submit a Digitization and Reproduction Order Form through the ADAH website. If no sleeves relate to your research topic, ADAH archivists are available to conduct research on your behalf for a small fee ($10 for Alabama residents and $25 for non-residents). Submit a research request via the ADAH website or by mail.
John Engelhardt Scott Negative Collection, 1941-1989
The John Engelhardt Scott Negative Collection includes over 78,000 negatives created by John Scott, father-in-law of current ADAH Assistant Director and Archives Division Head, Mary Jo Scott! John Scott operated a commercial and advertising photography business in Montgomery from 1947 until the 1980s. The negatives document Montgomery business’s facilities (both inside and out), aerial views, portraits of individuals and families, events, organizations, schools, and churches. Over 8,000 images have been digitized and are available online. The ADAH catalog contains finding aids for both the prints and negatives. These finding aids provide a brief description for every item in the collection (such as the name of the person, place, or event portrayed) along with a date, box number, file number, and negative number.
Alabama Folklife Collection
The Alabama Folklife Collection contains photos from the Archive of Alabama Folk Culture (AAFC) which were taken by field researchers at the Alabama Folklife Association and the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture. A selection of the photos are available in the Digital Collections. The photographs date from the 1980s to 2015 and capture Alabama folk festivals, music and performance (especially bluegrass and gospel music), art, and craftsmanship. The fieldwork slides are housed at the ADAH with an item listing available in the catalog. In the “Item” field, researchers can find the name of the subject and the location/date.
Alabama Writer’s Project Photograph Collection, 1901-1941
During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) funded the Federal Writers’ Project to provide employment for journalists, writers, and college instructors. This collection predominantly contains written material such as ex-slave tales and life histories composed between 1936 and 1940 but also contains photos and postcards taken or acquired for use in publications of the Alabama Writers’ Project. All 1,140 of these photos and postcards are viewable online in the Digital Collections. Photographed subjects include agriculture and daily life in schools, churches, colleges, and universities, as well as many prominent Alabamians.
Cased Photographs Collection, circa 1840-1913
Common in the mid- to late-19th century, cased photos are typically daguerreotypes or ambrotypes mounted in a shallow, hinged box. These images feature Alabama individuals, families, and Confederate States of America soldiers. While daguerrotypes and ambrotypes were more affordable than commissioning a portrait, they were still relatively expensive for their day. As a result, this collection predominantly features wealthy Alabamians of the era. The collection also includes many tintypes, a more affordable option, but still limited to those with access to the technology. All of the cased photos have been digitized and may be accessed here. The complete finding aid provides an extensive description of each photo, including the subject’s name and the date (if known), information about the subject, any inscriptions on the photo, the type of image, and the condition of the image and case.
Cartes-de-Visite Collection, circa 1860-1890
First introduced by the French photographer Andre Adolphe Eugene Disdéri in 1854, cartes de visite (calling cards) are photos mounted on individual cards about 2 x 4 inches in size. Until the 1880s, these cards were commonly exchanged in Europe and the United States. All 405 of the cartes-de-visite have been digitized and are accessible here. The complete finding aid is organized alphabetically by the subject’s surname and includes information such as birth and death dates, the subject’s title or occupation, individuals related to the subject, the name of the photographer, and any inscriptions on the item.
Common at most state and local archives, vertical files contain various documents and ephemera that have historic value but do not fit in any existing collection. The vertical files at the ADAH contain three collections: persons, places, and subjects. Most of the images in these collections date from the mid- to late-1800s to the early 1900s. The persons vertical file is an excellent resource for locating individuals, from ancestors to prominent Alabamians. The finding aid for the persons vertical file is organized alphabetically by surname, with information such as birth and death dates, titles or occupations, and places of residence. The places vertical file contains images of specific locations in Alabama, with a finding aid organized alphabetically by county. Under each county are listed cities, specific locations, or categories of places such as hospitals or schools. Lastly, the subjects vertical file contains images of unidentified people and locations. The finding aid is organized by general subjects which vary significantly, from animals, to flags, to textiles. Note that oversized items appear at the end of the finding aid and are organized alphabetically within each box.
Note: Researchers who wish to publish photos from the ADAH collections must submit a Use Agreement Form. Material from the Alabama Media Group (AMG) Collection requires the submission of an additional form. If the photographer is unknown, the ADAH recommends consulting a Fair Use Checklist (for example, from the American Library Association) before publishing or exhibiting the photos.
Society of American Archivists. “Carte-de-visite.” https://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms/c/carte-de-visite.
Society of American Archivists. “Cased Photographs.” https://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms/c/cased-photographs.
Langberg, Karen. Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes & Tintypes: The Rise of Early Photography.” Skinner, Inc. 18 October 2011. https://www.skinnerinc.com/news/blog/daguerreotypes-ambrotypes-tintypes-the-rise-of-early-photography/.