Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Nineteenth Century Version of eHarmony

From the Matrimony section, New York Herald, Sept. 25, 1863:

A YOUNG OFFICER, OF MODEST WORTH AND THE highest respectability, is desirous of opening a correspondence with a young lady of amiable disposition, cultivated mind and agreeable manners, with a view to matrimony. Address with sincerity and confidence, enclosing carte de visite, which will be returned if desired. Harry Walters, U.S.N., United States iron-clad Sangamon, Fortress Monroe, Va.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Visit to the Butler Civil War Round Table

I knew I was going to enjoy my visit to the Butler Civil War Round Table soon after arriving when one of its members, Dottie Cress, pulled a small album out of her bag and showed me some of the original cartes de visite and tintypes she has collected. Beautiful images all. She is on the hunt for original photographs of two of her ancestors who fought, James and Joseph Nunamaker of the Tenth Pennsylvania Reserve Infantry.

I also met Paul Means, a artist and photographer who specializes in painting murals. We had a great conversation about art and its impact on our lives.

Bill May, the leader of the group, wore a Santa hat and led us through a trivia contest, raffle and Christmas carol singalong. I've spoken before a number of round tables, but this is the first singing round table!

My presentation, Faces of War, has three parts: The history of early photography, a sampling of cartes de visite of Pennsylvania soldiers, and a collection of charts from my soldier database. Judging from the comments afterward, I was very pleased with its reception.

The presentation has been a work in progress this year. I have been honing it from event to event. I will continue to refine it for future engagements.

Perhaps my favorite moment of the evening was talking with a schoolteacher named Steve. He appreciated the cards I handed out. (Each member receives a card in the beginning of the presentation which features a soldier image, his name and hometown; after the presentation, each member receives another card with the soldier's story.) Steve would like to use to help his eighth graders relate to the Civil War through the stories of the soldiers who fought. I will make all the cards available to him.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Rare Artistic Pose of a Union Artillery Officer

Securing image scans and permissions, and researching and writing about African Americans who participated in the war is my top priority. However, I remain an avid collector of cartes de visite. A recent addition is this image of John Aiken Millard Jr., photographed in the studio of Pine & Bell of Troy, New York.

Millard's artistic pose in certainly unusual for the period. He reclines against a fabric and tassel covered box surrounded by the trappings of an officer: Binoculars and case, sword and scabbard. A leather bound journal lay open, leaning against his forage cap. On the page most visible to the camera appears to be writing. Upon closer examination, the "writing" is nothing more than wiggly lines added in ink by the photographer or an assistant. The presence of the book is perhaps symbolic of an man of letters. Millard's well-tailored uniform, cuff links, and lace handkerchief suggest he hails from a family of privilege and wealth.

The ink inscription in the upper left of the print area identify the sitter as "Lieut Millard 1 Reg Art'y A.P." He officially served as a second lieutenant in Battery H of the First New York Light Artillery, part of the the Army of the Potomac. On the right side of the image is stamped a large letter M, and is written the date, Nov. 29, 1864. Millard officially mustered in to the First a month later. He survived the war and left the army in June 1865.

Cartes de visite like this are rare. I am aware of only one other like it. Check out a larger version on Flickr.

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Monday, September 07, 2009

A Most Unusual Photo Album

First Lieutenant Theodore Francis Wright of Dorchester, Mass., was described as a student of a serious turn of mind and a dedicated diarist. In the spring of 1864 he wrote in his journal, "I have for some time been deliberating about leaving college to go to the war, and I have, at last, with the consent of my parents, determined to study for a commission in the colored troops."

Wright (pictured here, standing on the right, in his uniform) received a commission as first lieutenant. He explained his first assignment:
"My assignment to the 108th U. S. Colored Infantry organizing at Louisville, Kentucky, came June 14th, 1864, and I was ordered to report immediately. Attached to 'F' Company, Captain John H. Lee of New York, I spent one month at Louisville, the month of August at Maysville, Ky., aiding the enlistment of negroes; September at Muldraughs Hill, Ky., guarding from guerillas the Louisville and Nashville R. R., enjoying military life exceedingly. About October first the entire regiment, under command of Lieutenant Colonel John J. Bishop of Indiana, started for Rock Island Barracks, Illinois, where we spent the long and very severe winter, guarding rebel prisoners. The men improved scanty moments of leisure to learn to read and write, while I studied over my old classics."
In March 1865, 1st Lt. Wright and his company stepped into a Rock Island photographer's studio. Each man had their carte de visite portrait taken. Wright penned a brief note on the back of each image. On the reverse side of Kendrick Allen's carte, Wright wrote, "Now Serg't and an excellent one, and commands dedication." Allen made the army his career after the war as a Buffalo Soldier. Wright wrote honest appraisals of his men: On the back of the carte de visite of Pvt. Alfred Thompson is written "Second rate man."

Wright placed the entire collection of company cartes into a photograph album and presented it to his mother, Sarah Augusta (Hunt) Wright.

Wright (1845-1907) went on to study theology and earn two degrees from Harvard University. He is best remembered for his contributions as a pastor and author. Yet the photograph album he presented to his mother, filled with brief, honest remembrances of a company of African Americans who fought for freedom, is among the most unique of all Civil War photograph collections. The album is part of the Randolph Linsly Simpson African-American Collection, James Weldon Johnson Collection in the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

USCT Soldier Surfaces at Richmond Show

I had not been to the North South Trader's Show in Richmond for some years. My gut told me to make the trip yesterday and am glad I did. About a quarter of the way through the show I walked by C.J. Delery's table (he operates The Historical Shop, and I have a fond memory of a Pennsylvania show some years ago at which I of purchased a pristine group of officer cartes de visite, all members of the Fifty-third Massachusetts Infantry). Delery asked if he could help. I told him about my latest project and he pointed me in the direction of Howard Norton's table.

Within a few minutes I was at Howard's table looking at a quarter plate tintype of Pvt. William Wright of the 114th U.S. Colored Infantry. An airtight identification by way of a piece of paper attached to the back of the metal plate, inscribed in period pen.

To be certain that Wright was a member of the regiment, I whipped out my laptop only to find there was no wireless access in the building. So, I called up Anne at home and joked that I was stuck at the Civil War show and required immediate table-side assistance from "AnneStar." She logged on to our home computer and I guided her through the American Civil War Research Database operated by Historical Data Systems. In minutes she verified that Wright did indeed serve in the 114th. I left with the image, a detail pictured here.

Howard and I talked for awhile after completing the purchase. Turns out he had come into possession of this photograph six weeks ago after buying a group of images from a Missouri collector. Howard is a long-time dealer, and I've seen him at a number of shows. His soft Southern accent reflects his Mississippi roots and birth in Arkansas. He is sixty-eight years old. His father, a Spanish American War veteran, was the same age when Howard was born. We finished our conversation reflecting on our shared joy of Civil War photography. "The ability to see the face of a soldier, then read about his life and what happened to him in the war is a powerful thing and it puts me in a different place" I explained to Howard, who nodded his head in agreement. He knew exactly what I meant, "I know, I know. You're There. It takes you There."

Howard Norton said it better than I could.

You're There.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Frederick Douglass' Photograph Album

Today I had the opportunity to see Frederick Douglass' personal photograph album, part of the collection of Howard University's prints and photographs holdings at the Moorland Spingarn Research Center. The album holds four images per page (front and back) and contains a number of cartes de visite, including a portrait of Douglass' son Sgt. Maj. Lewis H. Douglass, who served in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. His image and story will be included in my book. The album binding is loose, and a number of pages are empty. Nevertheless, it belonged to Frederick Douglass, and I felt privileged to see it up close, thanks to Joellen El Bashir, Curator of Manuscripts. She was extremely helpful and made my visit a success.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

New Jersey Soldier

I started to research the life and military service of Pvt. Benjamin Benson, Company C, Twentieth U.S. Colored Infantry. Benson was born a free man in Bergen County, New Jersey, where he resided all his life — with the exception of his two years in the army. Benson's New Jersey connection was a pleasant surprise, for we both were born in the Garden State.

I look forward to learning more about Benson and the Twentieth, a regiment formed in early 1864 and deployed to Louisiana, Texas and Tennessee.

Benson's portrait photograph is one of two identified African American cartes de visite shared by Don Wisoski, author of The Opportunity Is At Hand: Oneida County, New York, Colored Soldiers in the Civil War. I've enjoyed getting to know Don. His cheery, upbeat attitude and passion for Civil War photography has made for several enjoyable conversations, and a new friendship.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Big Day at Gettysburg Show

Today I attended the Gettysburg Show with Anne. We left early to make the ten o'clock opening, armed with business cards, books and my trusty laptop computer and scanner. Turned out to be a great day of progress for the African American soldier book.

Thanks to Ronn Palm and Paul Rusinoff, I had the opportunity to meet Tim Kernan, who generously allowed me to scan a pair of spectacular quarter-plate tintypes of brothers who served in the First Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry (African Descent), later designated as the Sixtieth U.S. Colored Troops. I look forward to learning about them, and am happy to make the acquaintance of Tim, a good guy who shares my interest in making these stories available to a wide audience.

The third image comes from the holdings of dealer and historian Henry Deeks, who inspired me to research and write about Civil War soldiers. The carte de visite of Lewis A. Fuller, reproduced here, is the first identified African American soldier in my collection.

Anne and I left the show with three new additions for the book and celebrated with a lunch at Dino's. Definitely a day to remember.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Two Views of Capt. Barnes

I recently added a carte de visite of Capt. Dennis Edwin Barnes (left) of the Ninety-third New York Infantry to my collection and am extremely pleased to have it.

I owned a carte of Barnes once before, and those familiar with the Daniel Lorello thefts know that I later returned the image to the state of New York. That image is shown here to the right. It is very likely both were made during the same sitting.

During the course of my research and the writing of his profile, I came to admire the story of his life as a successful peacetime businessman and mourn his tragic death during the Battle of the Wilderness.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Mystery of William Hydorn Jr.

This Civil War era carte de visite, identified in period pen as William Hydorn Jr., has been in my possession for years. The inscription does not include the unit in which he served. I've never been able to link him to a military organization. His name (using this spelling or variations) does not appear on any federal rolls, and is curiously absent from databases online and at the National Archives. I've speculated that he may have served under an alias, or perhaps his record is misfiled, mislaid, or listed under an alternative spelling with which I am not familiar.

Recently I posted this image on Flickr, hoping to make a connection. Late last week, Sam Small of The Horse Soldier in Gettysburg contacted me. He had recently purchased a Union captain's coat and a sword. He had the saber professionally cleaned, which revealed an inscription: William Heydorne. Eventually his online search results led to my Flickr posting.

Turns out the sword is an exact match with the one held by the soldier in this image, and the rather narrow shoulder straps on the uniform coat in Sam Small's possession also line up with the coat worn by this officer.

Since then, I have been obsessed with discovering this man's military service record. Yesterday I made the first connection that aligns the information on this carte with a record: Capt. William Hydorn, Company F. Ninety-seventh Regiment, Tenth Brigade, Third Division, New York National Guard. His rank dates to Dec. 24, 1864. His residence is Grafton. This information from the Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of New York (1866, Vol. 1).

This is a promising lead, and I am currently seeking more information.

My working theory is that this is William Willard Hydorn Jr. (1837-1874) of Grafton, N.Y., who served in the Ninety-seventh New York State National Guard. Commanded by Col. Schuyler Greenman, the 500-man regiment served the state from late 1864 until it disbanded in 1868. The unit never mustered for federal service.

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

MI Publishes Confederate Faces Review

Military Images publisher David Neville reviewed Faces of the Confederacy in the latest issue of the magazine (May/June 2008). This excerpt captures the essence of his words:

"These stories are not the often told ones of famous Confederate leaders like General Lee, Stonewall Jackson, or J.E.B. Stuart, but of enlisted men and lower ranking officers, whose life stories deserve to be heard by this generation of American history and Civil War readers."

The complete comments are available in the Confederate Reviews section of my web site.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Current Soldiers Under Research

I have expanded my Flickr account to include a new collection, Current soldiers under research. The soldier cartes de visite here are intended to appear in a future "Faces of War" column in the Civil War News.

My motivation for adding this collection is based on the success I've had with postings on The Civil War Message Board Portal and GenForum. Both sites attract authorities and others knowledgeable in the Civil War and genealogy.

This Flickr collection seeks to tap into those with knowledge of Civil War photography. I am hopeful that it will generate additional details about the lives and military service of these men, and perhaps other wartime and post-war photographs.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

The Technology Generation

Living in a world of innovative technical solutions. Pushing the envelope of science and discovery. Participating in the democratization of the visual medium.

These phrases bring to mind the current generation of young men and women in our work force. Born in the mid-eighties, they were the first to grow up with personal computers. Today, they are among the early adopters of the latest digital technologies and are quick to play in emerging platforms.

Reminds me of another group of individuals: The Civil War generation. The young men who volunteered to serve in the Union and Confederate armies were the first to grow up with photography. These are the same young men whose childhood likenesses were captured by daguerreotypists in the early forties. It is no surprise that these are the same soldiers who marched to their hometown photographer’s studio in droves and sat for their carte de visite portrait.

The Internet generation will come of age in the next decade. Perhaps they will share a common thread with the first generation to grow up with a newspaper, some 350 years ago.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

CWBA Blog Review

Andrew Wagenhoffer of the Civil War Books and Authors blog reviewed Faces of the Confederacy. An excerpt:

"The overall presentation of this volume is first-rate. The full-page CDV images are crisp reproductions, and the full cloth binding and heavy, glossy paper make for a distinctly attractive and weighty volume. The book has the heft of a much larger tome. Faces of the Confederacy will appeal to serious photography enthusiasts and collectors, as well as those readers captivated by the personal stories of Civil War soldiers."

Read the full review.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Officer Identified

I've had this carte de visite in my collection for years. The only clues to the identities of the subjects: A modern pencil inscription noting that it had been removed from an album of soldiers belonging to the 135th U.S. Colored Infantry, and the photographer's name, J.C. Elrod of Louisville, Ky.

Recently I began working on an article for a future issue of Military Images magazine. The working title, "Comrades in Arms," headlines a survey of a dozen cartes de visite of soldiers posed in groups of two to six. The image of this pair of officers from the 135th was on my list of photos to definitely include: The quality and contrast of the print is excellent, age toning minimal, and the casual pose of the men is uncommon.

In preparation for writing the caption, I researched the 135th and found that its brief term of enlistment (March to October 1865) began in North Carolina and ended in Louisville, Ky., where this image was taken by the photographer Elrod. This detail fit nicely with the modern pencil note on the back of the mount.

Next, I searched the USAMHI Old Civil War Photos Database. The results included three men from the 135th, all officers. I requested photocopies of the images. Reference Historian Art Bergeron responded promptly, and I received the copies in yesterday's mail. One of the images, a bust view of 1st Lt. and Adjutant Horace S. Bradley, is without a doubt the same individual seated on the left of my carte de visite. The facial features and mustache are identical, and both wear the same close-fitting hat, patterned tie, dark military vest, and leather straps.

Preliminary research reveals that Pennsylvania-born Horace Seymore Bradley (1833-1892) served in the Fifteenth Illinois Infantry before joining the 135th. His brother-in-law, John Edgar Gurley, served as the colonel of the 135th.

I would like to identify the man seated next to Bradley. My first thought was that it may be Col. Gurley. However, this man wears the shoulder straps of a captain. Gurley was originally a captain in the Thirty-third Wisconsin Infantry, but by the time of this sitting would surely have worn the shoulder straps and uniform coat with two columns of brass buttons that befit his rank. Check out the image on Flickr. Perhaps you know who he is.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Tinted Cartes de Visite

Late last year I purchased a nicely tinted carte de visite of a long-haired woman dressed in bloomers, identified only as "Nellie." This wonderful photograph prompted me to think about other tinted images in my collection, and I began searching for other colored cartes. In the end, I found a variety of images.

The photograph pictured here is perhaps the boldest example, which, with the exception of the background, is fully tinted. On the other side of the scale, a federal officer poses in black and white, although the medal pinned to his uniform is colored in vivid red and blue. Check out the gallery of eight cartes that illustrate the full range of tinting.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Art of J.P. Ball

One of the speakers at the Daguerreian Society symposium, Theresa Leininger-Miller, presented a paper on James Presley Ball (1825-1904), a noted Cincinnati photographer of African American descent. At the end of the program, she made a plea for images by Ball. I took the opportunity to send her the carte de visite pictured here, along with this comment:

Ball's work is, in many respects, similar to many photographers of the time — with two exceptions: He clearly understood light, and used it to great advantage to create subtle contrast. Also, his portraits suggest an eye for composition. In the carte de visite of the unidentified infantryman, for example, the musket resting against the column creates a diagonal element that compliments the ever-so-slightly angled railing, curved drapery and chair, and creates balance between the strong vertical lines indicated by the column and figure. If you imagine the scene without the chair, and with the soldier grasping his musket (an approach most photographers might have taken), the image becomes less interesting. The lighting, from the subject's left, creates a fine contrast on his face. The light has also caused a glint on the bayonet and upper half of the musket, emphasizing the subject's military connection. In combination with the simple uniform coat, unadorned by decoration (save his corporal's stripes) or accoutrement, the image informs us in a nuanced way that this is an amateur soldier — a volunteer — rather than a professional soldier.

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Friday, October 31, 2008

CWPT and Education

Had lunch today with Dave Wiemer, a development associate at the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT). We swapped stories about our common interest and related topics. Of particular interest to me is the CWPT's commitment to education, evident in their History Center and Classroom effort. I gave Dave a copy of Union Faces, and also described to him the idea of using cartes de visite in schools (See related post). In short, a deck of cards — 30 soldier cartes de visite with the name of the soldier for the students, and 30 cards with their fate, either read or distributed by the teacher at the end of the lesson. He was quite enthusiastic, and I hope to pursue this soon.

Dave is a great guy! Easygoing and friendly, he is an excellent ambassador for the CWPT.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Prolific Dr. Bontecou

Dr. Reed Bontecou (1824-1907) left behind a massive amount of textual and visual material in his six decades as a physician, including five years as a surgeon in the Second New York Infantry and U.S. Volunteer Medical Staff. I have a folder on my desk bulging with documents, and file folder on my laptop desktop with numerous pdf files and a twenty page Word document of preliminary notes gathered over the past two years — the most time I've spent researching a single subject.

I've enjoyed every minute of the research, and it is with mixed emotions that I write his profile and bring this project to a close. Bontecou is a fasinating study. His name will likely ring a bell for those who have seen examples of the hundreds of pre- and post-operative photographs of wounded soldiers he ordered taken while chief of Harewood Hospital in Washington, D.C. "Bontecou is considered by photographic historians as probably the first to practice the application of photography to the field of military service," noted one biographer.

The time was spent tracking down various primary and secondary sources, and following several related stories. For example, to represent Bontecou's collection of images, I researched the life and military service of Pvt. Lewis Maston of the Second New York Cavalry. He came under Bontecou's care after suffering a wound at Five Forks that resulted in the amputation of his left leg at the knee. I also had to learn about the history of the formation of the Army Medical Museum. I am still in awe that, in the middle of a major war and national crisis of the first order, that the surgeon general would have the vision to establish a museum to improve soldier care and provide a base of materials from which doctors could study and learn and save lives.

I plan on publishing Bontecou's story in the January issue of Civil War News.

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Confederate Book Jacket Arrives

Senior Manuscript Editor Anne Whitmore sent me several jackets for Confederate Faces with a note that really brightened my day: "When these were sitting in my in-box, everyone who walked by stopped and said, 'Wow.' It's just as handsome, arresting, and haunting as the jacket for the Union volume — a tough standard to meet."

I salute the design team for coming through again! I am delighted with it. I took one of the jackets and wrapped it around a copy of Union Faces for this picture.

FYI: The rest of the book is due at the end of November.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Searching for Images for Next Volume

It has been more than a month since I received the issue of the Civil War News with the story about the Twenty-ninth Connecticut Colored Infantry, illustrated with a wonderful carte de visite of two sergeants from the regiment. The image motivated me to get serious about beginning the search for identified, wartime cartes of those who served in the U.S.C.T. Researching and writing about the African-American war experience is a natural next volume in this series.

Last week, I officially began by making contact with Harrison Mero of the Twenty-ninth descendant’s group. He was extremely helpful, offering to provide me with details about the two soldiers, and put out the word that I am looking for photographs. He also directed me to Yale University’s Beinecke Library, which owns the carte.

I am on the track of a few more images. Seventy-seven are required (to be consistent with Union and Confederate Faces).

If you can help, please contact me! My criteria is identified, wartime cartes de visite of African-American soldiers.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Alert Flickr Member Spots Officer

An alert Flickr member, bch10, saw my carte de visite of 1st Lt. Robert S. Robertson of the Ninety-third New York Infantry, and left a comment that included a link to a Library of Congress image of the regiment's officers and non-commissioned officers, noting that Robertson sat front and center.

I downloaded the high-resolution, archival version of the image from the LOC (use this link, then enter call number LC-B817- 7515) and enlarged it to see the detail. I instantly recognized two of the other officers in the group, sending shivers through me.

The second man seated to Robertson's left is Capt. Dennis Edwin Barnes of Company C, who died in action during the Battle of the Wilderness. His image is in my Photostream. The officer with the sideburns standing behind Robertson's right is 1st Lt. Waters Whipple Braman of Company H. Braman later became a captain, and served as an aide-de-camp to generals David Birney and Gershom Mott. Braman's photo is not in my Photostream, but is included in Union Faces.

Robert Stoddart Robertson left the Ninety-third to become an aide-de-camp to Brig. Gen. Nelson A. Miles in December 1863. Five months later, during the Wilderness Campaign, near Corbin’s Creek, a Confederate charge broke the Union line. Robertson rallied the men, turned back the enemy attackers, and later received the Medal of Honor for his actions. Three weeks later, at Totopotomoy Creek, while carrying orders to a front line position, he suffered a serious leg wound that ended his military service. After the war he settled in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and served as lieutenant governor from 1886-1888. His full profile will appear in an future issue of Civil War News.

A detail of the LOC image is shown here. Sepia-toned portraits from my collection overlay it. (Note: The Barnes image was part of my collection for a short time. Purchased on eBay from Daniel Lorello, it has since been returned to the state of New York).

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Cartes de Visite in Education

I received an email last night from a woman who has, over the past two years, been researching Civil War veterans with her maiden name. She is also planning to speak to her son's sixth grade class about the Civil War, and this is why she contacted me: Her idea is to give each child a reproduction of a carte de visite of an identified soldier at the beginning of the lesson, and, at the end of the lesson, reveal what became of each soldier. She wants to represent the death toll by having one of every four cartes a soldier who did not survive his war experience.

I am eager to help! I pointed her to my Flickr photostream, which currently numbers sixteen soldiers, and plan to email additional scans.

This is such an unique way to educate children about the Civil War, and I am excited to provide materials to make it happen. It reminds me of two museums in nearby Washington, D.C.: The Holocaust Memorial Museum, which provides visitors with a card that contains the name of a person at the beginning of the visit, and later reveals what happened to that individual, and the International Spy Museum, which allows you to pick a undercover identity, then provides you with basic facts, name, hometown, reason for your visit, which you have to remember while you tur the exhibit.

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

"The Art of the Carte" Photography Exhibit

"The Art of the Carte" has been enhanced with additional images and a new look. The exhibit has been expanded to eighty images, arranged in ten galleries grouped by subject. More cartes will be added in the future. This gallery celebrates the artists and their contribution to vernacular photography during the Civil War period.

The images are displayed in Tiltviewer, a 3D Flash viewing application by Airtight Interactive. Airtight makes a free version, but I used Tiltviewer-Pro, which allows for customization.

I chose Tiltviewer because it allows a user to preview thumbnails, enlarge them in a single click, then flip the image to read the caption. In short, the navigation is the content. Also, its intuitive interface and organic qualities are a big plus.

Take a look!

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