19 (legitimately!) astounding photos from the Museum of Natural History’s newly digitized archives


“South Rim, Grand Canyon, Arizona” (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

For over a century, the amazing photographs in the American Museum of Natural History’s vast archives were squirreled away in the fourth-floor research library of a museum in Manhattan’s upper West Side. But thanks to a large-scale digitization project begun in 2006, more than 7,000 images went online this week — and they’re just the start of an eclectic, legitimately wonder-inducing collection of 1 million photos the museum eventually wants to put online.

There are black-and-white images of a 19th-century New York, looking eerily empty and squat compared to the city of today. There are rare photos from an early expedition to the Bering Strait. There are stunning, technicolor lantern slides from sites all over the world, examples of a once-ubiquitous technique that fell out of vogue in the 1950s.


“Wild flowers, Glacier National Park, Montana” (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

“American Museum of Natural History exterior, view from roof of Dakota Apartments, 72nd Street and Central Park West, 1880” (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

“El Gobernader, Zion National Park, Utah” (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

“Woman and boy fishing from beach, Hilton Head, South Carolina, 1904″ (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

“Tring Reservoir, England” (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

“Fisherman and boy shoveling oysters, Hilton Head, South Carolina, 1904″ (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

“Mt. Fuji, person in boat in foreground, Japan” (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

“The Falcon beset, Peary Auxiliary Expedition, Inglefield Gulf, Greenland, 1894” (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

“Fish Hawk’s nest, Gardiners Island, New York” (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

“Crawford family in canoe at boat landing, The Everglades, Florida, 1910” (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

“Men working with piles of salt, Haywards, California, 1870” (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

“Man carrying lettuce, Sanford, Florida, 1910” (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

“Bloodroot flower” (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

“Rope Cypress, standing in canoe shooting bow and arrow, clouds above, The Everglades, Florida, 1910” (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

“View from Victor Rock, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon” (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

“Cerro Garcia, Mexico” (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

“The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah” (AMNH Digital Special Collections)

The coolest part of all this? It’s really only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. (Related: There are some interesting glacial surveys in the digitized archives, as well.) Not only has the natural history museum digitized less than 1 percent of its collection, but there are thousands of other collections around the world that are only beginning to bring their own holdings online. Remember the long-archived Andy Warhol computer art that was just rediscovered last week? Or all those historical cats, let loose on Twitter after decades of hiding in some dusty collection?

It’s proof positive that the Internet can still (!) be a source of wonder and novelty. As Tom Baione, the museum’s director of library services, told The New York Times, “through the magic of the Internet we’re able to serve the whole world.”


“Woman viewing Libra: The Scales” (AMNH Digital Special Collections)
Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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