Historic Picture Postcards of the Americas

Project Summary

Submitted by Mary Clare Altenhofen of Fine Arts Library.

The Fine Arts Library would like to create access to the visual and textual content of our postcards of North, South, and Central America. The collection includes images of urban and rural architecture, material culture, landscape, industry, and leisure activities. The collection, numbering approximately 10,000 cards, covers the late 19th through mid 20th centuries.

Amount requested is $44,000-$52,000.

Expected Results with Partial Funding

The collection must be digitized before the addition of metadata or development of a user interface can take place. Thus, digitization alone, at a cost of $22,000-$25,000, would be a significant step forward.

Estimated Follow-on Activities and/or Costs

$625/year for hosting, maintenance, and support provided by CURIOSity and funded by Fine Arts Library collections funds. (Annual DRS costs of approximately $538. HCL has previously covered HD costs for digital collections)

Benefit to Harvard Scholars and Patrons

Picture postcards in a variety of photographic and printing processes are rich sources of information on the history and visual representation of sites, towns, cities, cultures, landscapes, and social interaction. The production and dissemination of postcards grew enormously during the period this collection covers. Picture postcards provide a popular documentary record that is unique.

Ways the Project Supports Cross-Unit or Cross-Discipline Activities

Postcard images and the texts that often accompany them are thoroughly interdisciplinary in content and, once digitized, can easily be aggregated for research, course assignments, and virtual exhibitions.

Resources the Sponsoring Library Can Support or Will Need Support For

Preparation of the collection for digitization including a workable “accession” and handling system. The Fine Arts Library can also provide workspace and training for graduate students to create descriptive metadata and geo-referencing in spreadsheet format that can be batch-loaded in Shared Shelf.

Other Approaches to Achieving Goal or Result

Obtain donor or grant funding in the future.

Risks if Proposal Is Not Approved

This rich and unique collection remains “hidden.”

Additional Information

*[could not fit in budget line]

$22,000-$25,000 for digitization (recto & verso) through Imaging Services

$7,000 for UI development and long-term support and maintenance from CURIOSity/LTS

$15,000-$20,000 for graduate student assistants to create and enter metadata, including geo-referencing, in Shared Shelf each image.


We believe postcards are engaging and multi-layered objects that have particular appeal for undergraduates engaged in interdisciplinary research and projects.

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