Photograph copyright © 2009 - David Plowden - all rights reserved
ABOUT THE RAILROAD HERITAGE.ORG® WEB PORTAL
The Center for Railroad Photography & Art preserves North America's Railroad Heritage through publications, conferences, an awards program, and now by digitizing, describing and archiving railroad images online, using a descriptive system (Dublin Core) devised by librarians for photographs and art. The goal of this collection is to build a repository that is national in scope and representative of the history and culture of railroading in the context of American history, railroad technology, and art.
The portal shows significant images of railroading in America and helps viewers learn about the creation of these images. Major funding comes from the North American Railway Foundation (NARF), of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and private gifts from corporations and individuals. The Center staff -- John Gruber, Scott Lothes, and Jack Holzhueter -- maintain this site.
The site portrays the broad impact that railroads and railroading have had on American history and life for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and into the twenty-first. It is intended to help viewers understand how railroad-related images contribute to the nation's visual culture. The site's history-in-a-nutshell feature provides a shortcut to comprehending railroad history and its place in American history.
The Center for Railroad Photography & Art, a nonprofit arts organization founded in 1997, is committed to the preservation and presentation of railroad art and photography. From its office in Madison, Wisconsin, it produces exhibitions, publications, conferences, a website (www.railphoto-art.org) and a photography contest to further its mission. Rather than maintain its own museum space, the Center works with other institutions and individuals to present exceptional railroad images to the public.
What is a web portal?
A web portal is a website that provides access to several different collections of information, in this case collections of railroad art and photography. (For a more expanded definition, see the Wikipedia entry on web portals.)
In what ways will the collection be organized?
The Center sees online technologies as a major tool for the railroad and railroad arts communities to come together through the common cause of preserving and presenting railroad imagery. Web portals shorten the distance between individual users and the images they seek. Currently, the entries are described in ways suggested by the Dublin Core system, with modifications. This cataloging system is evolving over time.
What collections will be featured?
The program is focusing on railroad images from the Center's and its current partners' collections, which total about 15,000 potential images. In addition, a select pool of outstanding images will be included from sites across the country. Over time, as resources permit, the portal will bring additional collections online, creating a community of content providers.
How can I contribute the best images in my collections?
Private collectors already are participating. You can, too, by getting in touch with the Center. Eventually, the portal will feature a utility that will allow individuals and institutions to preserve their collections digitally and make them viewable to the general public, without having to give up ownership of their material.
What are the benefits to this program?
First, the program creates a permanent record of images of railroading.
Second, these images are cataloged and contextualized. Often, historical railroad photographs, prints, and posters come to the Center without information about who created them, when were they created, or why or for whom they were created. The Center's network of scholars, artists, historians, and museum curators work together to select and caption images, doing the research to describe them fully and accurately.
Third, the portal team is developing a set of professional standards appropriate for describing the visual of records of railroads and railroading. These standards (search terms, keywords, etc.) will allow people to search and retrieve images easily. The portal thus provides a cultural resource for many different audiences, including the general public, enthusiasts, and scholars.
How do you decide what to call railroads?
Many railroads' names varied considerably over time. The Center uses the Encyclopedia of North American Railroads (Indiana University Press, 2007) as its first source, and the Official Guide of the Railways for companies not listed in the encyclopedia. The Center also uses the encyclopedia as a general reference, and selectively consults sources that appear on the Internet as additional resources.
Developing collaborations to preserve and present our railroad heritage
Along with making its own collections available, the Center for Railroad Photography & Art is promoting railroadheritage.org so that it becomes a site that the larger community of museums, historical societies, and individual collectors can contribute to and reciprocally benefit from.
Hundreds of thousands of railroad-related photographs, prints, paintings, and other images exist in private and personal collections. Some are critical snapshots of our past, and many risk being lost or destroyed. Most collectors (private and institutional) are struggling with the burden of finding ways to preserve their treasures. Also, many of our railroaders, and the railroad traditions they were part of, are disappearing because of age, making it increasing difficult to obtain first-hand descriptions of railroading's persons, places, things, and activities.
We need your support to make this endeavor a reality. Please support our efforts through gifts and/or partnering with our team in processing collections. See our Support page for more details.
We welcome and appreciate your interest in this program, and we encourage your comments, questions and suggestions.
Center for Railroad Photography & Art
1914 Monroe Street, P.O. Box 259330
Madison, WI 53725-9330