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Irreplaceable Historic Photography

The American Geographical Society (AGS) was formed in the early 1850s to promote the collection of geographical information and to establish and maintain a library with a collection of maps, charts, photographs and instruments. The photography collection is the product of world renowned explorers and geographers who were members of the AGS of New York.

In 2010, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) generously awarded the AGS Library a preservation grant to save 70,920 nitrate negatives: Saving and Sharing the AGS Library's Historic Nitrate Negative Images. Cellulose nitrate film, a volatile and flammable material, was an important innovation in the field of amateur photography and was popular for well over half a century after its introduction in 1889. Many historic negatives housed in the AGS Library in this format were deteriorating and in need of immediate attention.

In 2012, the AGS Library was again awarded a grant to save, preserve, and make accessible online, safety film negatives of approximately 35,000 still images from the Harrison Forman and Clarence W. Sorensen collections: Saving and Sharing the AGS Library's Historic Film Collections II – Monochrome Acetate Negatives and Motion Picture Film. The project includes digitizing and making available online, approximately 25,000 feet of unique and historic motion picture films in 16mm and 35mm formats from the Harrison Forman, Clarence W. Sorensen, Walter Wood, and William O. Field collections.

These photographers' collections document a global range of peoples, cultures, built environments, landscapes and natural resources that will culminate in a collection of over 50,000 images available online.


The National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.