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West Virginia Historical Photographs are Online

Posted by btoren@wvu-ad.wvu.edu.
December 5th, 2005

By WILLIAM JARRETT
For the Wheeling Sunday News-Register

MORGANTOWN — As the years pass, the condition of memorable pictures in the West Virginia Regional History Collection has declined.

That's why Regional History Collection Curator and Director John Cuthbert and his staff decided to make the historic pictures available online through a digital photograph database called West Virginia History OnView. The Regional History Collection is located in West Virginia University's Wise Library.

flooded street photo
Main Street in Wheeling, West Virginia is underwater becasue of the huge flood of 1936.
Photo provided by the West Virginia Regional History Collection

The database will consist of the collection of West Virginia and regional historic photographs dating from the mid 19th century to the early 20th century. The photographs vary from scenes of the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers to events such as the great Wheeling flood of 1936.

The database was launched during WVU's Mountaineer Week from Oct. 30 to Nov. 6, but Cuthbert said the database has been in working order since February.

"We didn't want to make it public until we scanned and uploaded enough images onto the database for everyone to see," Cuthbert said.

So far, the database contains 25,000 images scanned and uploaded onto the Web site, including 30 of Wheeling and 26 of Moundsville. Cuthbert said that more photos will be added over time but they are not looking to do the entire collection, which consists of more than 150,000 images.

"The West Virginia Collection has the finest collection of historical photographs relating to West Virginia in existence, WVRHC Curator John Cuthbert said. "We are now making the best of them available for viewing by anyone with Internet access.

The popular collection is used regularly by students and faculty at WVU and other institutions, researchers, historians, and members of the media. Pictures found often end up in term papers, classroom presentations, newspaper and magazine articles, and documentaries.

However, finding that one sought-after photograph has traditionally required a hefty investment of time, thought, and patience. The creation of the databases should alleviate much of the common frustrations.

First, Internet access brings convenience. Rather than making a trip to Morgantown, a researcher can simply search the database from the comfort of home or office.

The greatest advance, however, is the enhanced search capabilities. The new database incorporates detailed cataloging and descriptive information for each image, which will enable users to perform instantaneous searches on any word or combination of words.

Ken Fones-Wolf, an associate professor of history at WVU, has high expectations for the image database.

"Looking at the visual images of Wheeling over time, you really get a sense of under-lying changes that are going on — the way in which the town is growing, the way in which the town is changing. You can see evidence of the arrival of industry and immigrants, Fones-Wolf said. "You can read about it, but photographs really drive home those changes."

The work behind the data-base was made possible by the Regional History Collection and Wise Library staff as well as the students who put in the time to scan and upload all the images so far within the database.

Fones-Wolf also said he is looking forward to using the database in his future teachings and projects.

"In the past, it was difficult to have access to the photo-graphs from short hours to the procedures of getting the photo-graphs from the files. Now, I can easily get it from my laptop in my office any time of the day I want it," Fones-Wolf said.

He mentioned that the photo-graphs displayed online are also useful to high school students working on history projects or research papers.

"People can access the photographs from anywhere and it is much easier to get a hold of them. Also, there is a preservation side to this database that we can all appreciate," Cuthbert said.

While the Regional Historiy Collection in Wise Library has traditionally served mostly academics, historians, and writers, Cuthbert anticipates a rush of citizens simply interested in their own heritage taking advantage of the new database. And he expects them to be pleased with what they find.

"It won't matter where you are in West Virginia, there is going to be something on our site that's going to resonate with everybody personally," Cuthbert said.

To access the West Virginia History OnView, check out the Web site at http://www.libraries.wvu.edu/wvconline/digitalcollections.html.

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