Mellon Grant To Support A Survey Of Yale’s Collections of Photographs

A $64,500 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Program for Museums and Art Conservation will enable Yale to conduct a survey of hundreds of collections of photographs dispersed throughout the University and to create a directory of its vast photographic collections.

At Yale, every academic department, museum, library, research center and professional school has its own cache of photographs and memorabilia, making a university-wide index of these collections a massive and complex undertaking.

The Mellon grant will support the first step, the survey phase, of a larger initiative to preserve, conserve, catalog, and digitize these disparate photographic collections. Sources range from the Babylonian Collection, the Benjamin Franklin Papers and the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies in SML to the Yale Peabody Museum’s Meteorite and Historical Scientific Instruments collections.

“The pictures are more than a record of the materials held in various collections — they document the events and fieldwork that have engaged members of the Yale and New Haven communities since the dawn of photography,” says Barbara Shailor, Deputy Provost for the Arts. The collections include archaeological expeditions, social occasions and overseas missions.

In addition to locating and identifying the photographs, the survey will include information about the physical condition of the collections and the storage facilities in which they are housed. Each department will retain ownership of its collection, but the survey is expected to help the University better assess the preservation needs and digitization opportunities of its vast photographic holdings and make the archives more accessible to researchers and the public.

“The directory of Yale’s diverse and abundant photograph collections will be an invaluable resource for scholarship and teaching. It will provide a guide to these unique records of the University that will aid researchers and students in every academic discipline from all over the globe,” adds Shailor.

While the digitization and conservation phases of the operation will employ the state-of- the-art technologies and spacious facilities at Yale’s new West Campus, the survey itself will be kicked off with a singularly low-tech event: a town hall-style meeting for department heads led by Shailor.

“At that meeting, invited guests will learn more about the project and the web-based questionnaire they will be asked to fill out,” reports Roberta Pilette, head of the Yale Library’s Preservation Department and a member of the project team.

The survey is expected to take approximately seven months to complete.

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