Vol. X, No. 3

Winter, 1998

Digitizing Lantern Slides from Bryn Mawr College's Slide Library

In the archaeology slide collection at Bryn Mawr College are many lantern slides, large format black-and-white images taken from the end of the nineteenth century through the years before the Second World War. The ubiquity of the 35 mm. slide - and the Carousel projector - has made it rare for anyone to try to use those slides; the difficulty of supplying and maintaining projectors has reduced usage even more. It is now so difficult to use them that they are no longer even housed with the 35 mm. slides.

Many of those images, however, are of remarkable quality and are important resources. In some cases, the images are of sites or monuments no longer extant; in others, the images are of early stages of excavations or of landscapes obscured by modern development; in still others they show monuments that have suffered from neglect, pollution, or warfare. Furthermore, the styles of some of the early photographs of objects sometimes affected scholarship of those objects.

For all these reasons the images should be preserved and made available for students and scholars today. They could be preserved either by copying them on 35 mm. film or by digitizing them at very high resolution, in which case lower-resolution images could be placed on a server for use on the Web. Copying the images on 35 mm. film is easier and less expensive, but it would benefit only the students and faculty at Bryn Mawr College. Digitizing them and making them available on the Web, on the other hand, would benefit students and scholars anywhere. (The images in question are either out of copyright or are copyrighted by the College; placing them on the Web is, therefore, not a legal problem.)

CSA is beginning a pilot project, in cooperation with Bryn Mawr College, to digitize a between three and four hundred of these images and to make them available on the Web. At the same time, some of the images to be digitized will be copied with 35 mm. film and placed in the slide collection. Current planning is for two Web versions of the images (plus thumbnails for previewing), a small 640 x 480 image and a larger 1024 x 768 image. In some cases, details will also be made from the lantern slides.

The slides will be digitized by Luna Imaging, a California firm that specializes in high-quality scanning. The company will deliver the digitized images on CDs, in PhotoCD format, and each CD will be duplicated at the CSA office, with one duplicate stored off-site and a second retained by the College. When necessary, the images will be transferred to other media or migrated to new file formats, but the digitized images will be retained in PhotoCD format for the foreseeable future. The stored images will not only serve as archival originals but will also serve as sources for new copies to be made when required.

Although the lantern slides are not color images in the first instance, many of them have a sepia tone. Therefore, they will be scanned in color and presented as color images.

The images will reside on a server available for access from Bryn Mawr College, the tri-college community (Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore colleges), and the Internet generally. No restrictions will be placed on their non-commercial use.

A retrieval system will be constructed to guide users to the images they seek, but the complexity of that access system has not been determined. It will depend, at least in part, on the level of use of the images.

This pilot project has been funded by a generous donor who wishes to remain anonymous. CSA and Bryn Mawr College are very grateful.

At the conclusion of this pilot project, there will be a corpus of digital images available for use on the World Wide Web. This corpus will provide a core around which may be constructed a much more full and complete image library for archaeology.

For other Newsletter articles concerning the use of electronic media in the humanities or CSA projects, consult the Subject index.

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