UNI brings historical photos to the public

This historical image 1920 shows Bill Rickels and Charles Jacobs on a tractor and grader constructing County Road X-44 outside Monticello. The photo is part of UNI’s Fortepan website collection of historical photos from around Iowa. The photo was submitted by Jeff Owen of Monticello. (Photo courtesy of Fortepan)
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     In an effort to bring about awareness regarding archived historical photos, a University of Northern Iowa group is bringing a large, display-sized historical photo to Anamosa.

     The UNI project, called Fortepan Iowa is a non-profit that started in 2015 with UNI professor Bettina Fabos, Ph.D. Fabos is a professor of Interactive Digital Studies and Visual Communication.

     The non-profit is tasked with providing the public with a digital photo archive. The website features curated, high-resolution photos “taken by ordinary Iowans” throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

     This is the first of its kind in the U.S. Fortepan Iowa is a sister site to the original archive started in 2010 in the country of Hungary, which features 100,000 historical photos.

     “Fortepan” is about involving the community in archiving and preserving historical photos. The photos in the UNI archive have been collected by families from across Iowa.

     “We seek to capture history from the ground up,” states the Fortepan site.

     Once the photos are scanned in at a high resolution they’re organized on a searchable timeline for historical context. Community members become engaged not only by contributing photos but through assisting in providing descriptions of the photos as well.

     Once the photos are uploaded, they become freely available for download by the public without fear of copyright infringement.

     Fortepan Iowa has acquired its photos not only from individuals across the state, but from libraries and historical societies.

     Photos have been and continued to be scanned into the system at UNI, as well as at satellite hubs throughout Iowa, including on at the public library in Anamosa. To date, the archive contains 15,000 images and growing.

     Fabos and one of her students worked with Steve Wendl at the Anamosa library when it came to acquiring and scanning historical photo collections the library had on hand. One of those photos shows two-dozen elephants walking down Main Street in Anamosa during a parade of some sort.

     Fortepan also contains many historical photos of Monticello, many donated by Jeff Owen of Monticello.

     UNI received grants from the Iowa Arts Council and Humanities Iowa to bring a photo exhibition and wheat pasting to Anamosa during the summer of 2020. Five large historical mural of Anamosa will be pasted on the side of downtown buildings for all to see. Just another way to bring about awareness of Fortepan.

     “The images will feature Anamosa residents,” said Fabos.

     The exact locations of the murals have not been revealed.

     In addition to the murals, UNI students associated with the project will also be traveling throughout Iowa hosting a lecture series about Fortepan. The speaking engagement will take place in the fall of 2020.

     Fortepan Iowa can be viewed at www.fortepan.us. Fabos said they will undergo a redesign in 2020. The site’s new features would include the ability to tag people in photos, a photo discussion forum, and high-functioning search capabilities.

     “The genius of the archive is that it situates images along a timeline rather than by individual donors so that you can go in and immediately start scrolling through to get a history lesson,” explained Fabos. “Every images is juxtaposed according to a time.

     “I also love how the archive privileges the history of every day life, not just people in power,” continued Fabos. “So I wanted to bring this framework to Iowa.”

     Fabos said the UNI group is hearing so many great stories about histories of small towns and cities in Iowa.


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