Instagram Redux

The Society’s Graphic Arts collection is a wonderful place for browsing, looking for visual evidence of whatever topic you may be working on.  I have helped researchers hunt in the collection on such broad topics as death, food production, and dress, and as specific as orphaned children, methods of doing laundry, and book shop interiors.

As our visual materials cataloger Christine Graham Ward continues to move through the collection, creating individual records as she goes, more and more images are  opened up to this sort of browsing.  Maps and early music have occupied us most recently, but records for lithographs and engravings and cartoons are added nearly every week to our General Catalog.

In September, with the encouragement of our savvy photographer and our digital humanities curator, I started posting regularly to the Society’s Instagram account, easily finding graphic images relating to Halloween, the holidays, the weather, current events, etc.  I turned up an early selfie of a generous collector (above), images of nineteenth-century AAS employees at work (below), and a seemingly endless supply of fabulously printed broadsides, quirky ephemera, and evocative photographs.  My staff teases me about my addiction to the iPad—I carry it everywhere in case something interesting for Instagram pops up while I am pulling material for a reader, returning a loan, or writing a blog post.  And guess what…it nearly always does.

The Instagram account just reached 200 followers yesterday.  There are bibliophiles, of course, and library and museum folks.  Some former fellows have found us and a handful of staff, too.  But there are also graphic and type designers, artists, contemporary  photographers, even two tattoo artists (they love all the eagles)!  We have followers in New Zealand, Japan, Spain and  the U.K.  Neat, right?  I put up an image from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper showing Asian railroad workers (below), and it is seen in Japan immediately.

Now, I fully realize in the world of Instagram, 200 followers is not very many (my 15-year-old has dryly pointed out that there are cats who have more fans than we do), but overall the experiment with this visual forum has been encouraging.  In Worcester when I see a wonderful Civil War broadside screaming about treason, I can show it to whomever is in the reading room that day, or I can post it on the blog or our Facebook page for our core constituents. But with Instagram, it is like browsing with 200 people looking over my shoulder, all at once.  I am not sure where we are going with Instagram, but it sure is amazing to be browsing through AAS treasure along the way!

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Lauren Hewes

Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts, American Antiquarian Society

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