Spotlight: OWU Connection

The OWU Library Special Collections houses a small archive of photos of the American Southwest. Many of these were taken by photographers who would have been contemporaries of William Henry Jackson. Subjects in these photos range from landscapes to views of mining operations, railroad construction, and portraits of Native Americans—all of which were interconnected as the United States developed in the 19th and 20th centuries. An OWU Connection project in relation to these images began in 2010 when Photography Professor Jeff Nilan and Archivist Bernard Derr received a grant from the Mellon Foundation to the Five Colleges of Ohio to digitize the collection.

As an extension of the digitization project, Nilan and Derr developed a Theory to Practice Grant in 2013 to travel with OWU Fine Arts students to the sites in these historic images. What followed was a two-week-long process of discovery, where students and faculty located and documented the sites as they appear today (as in the well-known Rephotographic Survey Project of 1977–79). The opportunity allowed students to reflect on the changes brought to the land by American settlers and consider how those impacts persist. This trip also served as a scouting expedition for a Photography Travel Learning Class in 2015. The Travel Learning course used the sites in the archival images to structure the travel component of the class. Students were encouraged to make their own interpretations of the places along the route. 

The images at the top of this page are a selection of the historic photographs housed in OWU Special Collections. The images at the bottom of the page were taken by students and faculty as part of the 2013 and 2015 projects. A digital archive of the historic and 2013 images can be found on the library website by clicking this link.

Spotlight: OWU Connection