Special Collections Students at Work: The Baltimore News American Photo Archives

The University of Maryland’s Special Collections & University Archives houses a particularly interesting and highly utilized acquisition in the Baltimore News American collection. Acquired 30 years ago when the News American stopped its presses for the last time, the collection contains subject and biographical photos used in the Baltimore News American family of newspapers from 1904 through 1986. The fully processed section of the collection spans close to 1600 boxes and over 660 linear feet. And that doesn’t even consider the oversize materials and extensive unprocessed boxes which bring the total number of images to possibly over 1.5 million. The numbers are certainly impressive, but you cannot get a scope for how big the collection is until you see entire walls in our archive stacks solely dedicated to the photographs.

BNAboxes_brightMaking this collection more accessible is the work of many hands, including volunteers and student employees. The work often begins by pulling a number of photos, organized in folders, from one of our unprocessed boxes. We collect information from both the folders and the images including the subject, first and last name, number of photos, and relevant dates [when the photographs were taken, or when the images were published in the newspaper]. All the while, the photos are moved into better, safer acid-free folders and boxes and entered into a database of processed images. Also, given the number of people who have processed this gargantuan collection, we take the time to proofread each other’s data entry work.

When I first started working at Hornbake Library’s Special Collections, the collection appeared pretty similarly to the way they look today, with hundreds and hundreds of boxes blanketing entire walls and tons of unprocessed boxes housed up on the fourth floor. As of May 2017, we’ve added at least 70 boxes to the processed collection containing subject and biographical photos in addition to countless oversize images.

When assigned to help process this collection, it seemed as if many of the ‘famous’ biographical photos had already been processed and the remainder were images of lesser known people. However, even these locally-significant photos, which range throughout most of the 20th century, are amazing in their own right. Generally going in alphabetical order, we looked at photos of people from countless career fields, subject matters, and walks of life. Any one box that we processed features images of people ranging from politicians to actors and actresses to athletes to local Baltimoreans and Marylanders. Just to exemplify the scope of images within the BNA collection, the last box I worked on contained both photos of former National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy and members of a Carroll County pigeon racing club.

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The images and their relevant newspaper clippings also reveal different aspects about the state of news at the time. Besides touching on major events of the 20th century, the images offer a glimpse into the print newspaper’s focus on political affairs, local society, pop culture, and entertainment. In all, I’ve loved my time spent at SCUA and on the BNA collection and hope that future processors and researchers will enjoy it as much as I did.

While the aforementioned database for the processed part of the collection (so far 450,000 images) is available to patrons in the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library, interested researchers are urged to contact Elizabeth Novara (enovara@umd.edu), Historical Manuscripts Curator in Special Collections, prior to visiting. Access to the collection may entail a special search. Photoduplication is permitted except for items judged too fragile by staff. All copies are only made in accordance with the “fair use” provisions of U.S. copyright law; however, permission to publish material under copyright must be obtained from the holder of the copyright.


Willem Kalbach (University of Maryland, Class of 2017), Special Collections Student Assistant. Willem Kalbach is a senior History and American Studies major at the University of Maryland. He works in the State of Maryland and Historical Collections unit at UMD’s Special Collections and University Archives.

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