Understanding Past Environments through Historical Photographs


David Brownstein from the Department of Geography at UBC has posted an excellent interview with Jill Delaney from the Library and Archives of Canada about the use of historical photography in scholarly research. Dr. Delaney is involved in the Mountain Legacy Project, an interdisciplinary repeat photography and archival research project that examines landscape and ecological change in the mountain ranges of Western Canada.

This kind of project highlights the significance of historical photographs to scholarly research in the humanities and sciences. It is one of best examples of the intersection between environmental history research and scientific research. Historical photographs, as demonstrated in repeat photography, can provide invaluable information to both humanists and scientists about ecological change that might not otherwise be known through other research methods. It underlines the limits of scientific research methodologies and the broader significance of historical research methodologies to understanding past environments. Professor Eric Higgs, one of the project leaders, recently published an essay detailing some of this work in repeat photography in Culturing Wilderness in Jasper National Park: Studies in Two Centuries of Human History in the Upper Athabasca River Watershed.

Dr. Delaney’s reflections on the importance of historical photography and the challenges of maintaining such archival collections are insightful and certainly worth a read.

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