Friday, March 4, 2011

Panorama Photographs at the UW Digital Collections (also, I hate Content DM)

The University of Washington Libraries Special Collections just released the Panorama Photographs Collection:

This database showcases over 90 panoramic photographs from the Special Collections Visual Materials Collection. Displayed with the ability to zoom into the smallest details of the photograph, this digital collection features such exemplary images such as Front St. in Dawson City around the time of the Klondike Gold Rush, sweeping city views of Seattle after the turn of the century and the memorable Mississippi flood of 1927.

Though it is a smallish collection at 90 images, it is worth highlighting for the unique quality of the photographs and for some of the special features of the exhibit. The collection includes an essay on the history of panoramic photography that explains not only how the pictures were taken (some special cameras produced images as long as 20 feet!) but also the categories of panoramic photos and the types of distortion that could be produced. There is also a link to a Library of Congress page about shooting a panoramic photograph with antique equipment.

The images themselves are fun to explore, despite the Content DM software used to present them. I liked the Bird's-eye view of Seward, Alaska, this hand-colored image of the Seattle waterfront, and the picture of Tallulah, Louisiana in the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. There is a wonderful level of detail in many of these century-old images. Take for example this photograph, of a crowd gathered in Auburn in 1919 for a ceremony to dedicate a monument commemorating some soldiers killed in 1855 while fighting Indians:

There are so many things to focus on here--the clothing of the spectators, the inscription on the monument ("In memory of Lieutenant Wm. A. Slaughter, Corporals Barry and Clarendon who were killed by Indians 125 feet east of this, December 4, 1855"), the gaggle of children out front, and the stoic old pioneers (including professional pioneer Ezra Meeker) posing so seriously next to the stone:

This is not the ZZ Top reunion
Also admirable is the quality of the metadata that the University of Washington has provided with each image. Under the "Historical Notes" heading is the following:

Engraved on memorial: In memory of Lieutenant Wm. A. Slaughter, Corporals Barry and Clarendon who were killed by Indians 125 feet east of this, December 4, 1855. A crowd of 200 attended the dedication of the monument erected by the Washington State Historical Society at the site north of Auburn, Washington. W.L. Blackwell, president of the Historical Society presided over the event. Rev. C. L. Andrews read a paper on William Slaughter and Frank Cole of Tacoma gave a talk on the history of monuments. Acting Governor Louis F. Hart accepted the monument on behalf of the state and L.C. Smith, County Commissioner accepted it on behalf of King County. Ezra Meeker gave some reminiscences of those days and told of his personal acquaintance with Lt. Slaughter.

The original name of the town of Auburn was Slaughter, in honor of Lieut. William A. Slaughter, who was killed by Indians nearby on December 4, 1855. In 1893, local objection to this name caused the state legislature to substitute the present one. It was named for Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain, from Oliver Goldsmith's poem, The Deserted Village. (Meany, p. 19).

Few archives have the resources to do this level of research on individual images, but for such a significant photograph it is worthwhile.

As wonderful as the photographs are, Content DM remains an abomination. To get a stable URL for the images you have to launch a separate pop-up window. Though you can pan and zoom each photo the navigation is clunky and jerky and it is hard to center your zoom just where you want. Much worse you cannot save the pictures to your hard drive. When you attempt to do so you get some sort of executable file that does not open in standard photo editing software. I had to use screen captures to get the images in this post. These are public records and should be freely available.

Aside from the software, the Panorama Photo collection is a model of digitization best practice as well as a great historical resource.


peacay said...

I guess I come at it from a different direction: I'm very comfortable with Contentdm because I've been using it for years. While I agree it's clunky and it makes downloading a bit difficult, for those of us with tenacity, it's really not *that* bad.

Email me and tell me what you want and I'll show you how to "work" the system, as it were.

Despite its faults, it is far superior and much more easily manipulated than many other hosting software.

The devil you know and all that.

Oh, by the way... I've often saved images with that .exe filename and they always open in my (Irfanview) image program. They don't execute and there's nothing nefarious about them. Try right clicking and 'open with' and see if you can't just force them to open with image software and have it rename it or the like. Alternatively, just rename that image when you save it so it doesn't have the .exe suffix.

As I say, I can show you very easily and specifically how you can get what you want: but it's not something I bruit about in public too much.

John Russell said...

The downloading image problem isn't ContentDM, it's UW deciding not to let you download. Other ContentDM collections have a download option (or at least Oregon's do; e.g., here:,52 - it's above the tool bar "add to favorites : reference url : download").

Larry Cebula said...

Thanks for the clarification, John, I did not know that.