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Next to the book and pamphlet collection, perhaps the most significant collection is the photographic archive. The archive consists of over 12,000 images, falling into three major categories:  the Southern Photographer, 1860-1910, the American Civil War, and general Southern photography, with an emphasis on Alabama. The collection relating to Southern photographers and their studios may be the most comprehensive in private hands. Covering primarily the period of the carte-de-visite and cabinet card, the direction here is the building of a research archive documenting the work format, work period and work place of Southern photographers from Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas, as well as Kentucky, Missouri and West Virginia. This part of the collection is composed of approximately 4,000 images, documenting about 2,500 different studios. Adding to the research value of this archive is a collection of photographic reference materials, including books, articles and biographical sketches of Southern photographers. This archive is augmented with a small collection of daguerreotypes and ambrotypes.
The Civil War archive comprises a number of cartes-de-visite, stereographs and some larger format albumin photographs of various subjects. The cartes are of important Civil War personalities, outdoor scenes and lower rank officers and men of both armies. A number of the cartes of generals and politicians are signed. This archive is also augmented by a substantial number of reference books and data on Civil War photographers. High spots include a set of Alexander Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War, published in Washington, D. C. in 1866. Less than twenty sets of this two-volume work survive today. The collection contains four signed cartes-de-visite of Robert E. Lee as well as some extremely rare carte-de-visite format photographs of the execution of the Lincoln assassination conspirators.
The general Southern photography archive contains a significant number of unpublished Alabama photographs, reaching into the 1960s. Important groups within this archive include photographs documenting the operations of the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company near Birmingham, civil rights activities in Georgia and Alabama and a personal archive maintained by Mrs. Jennie C. Lee, a director of the choir at Tuskegee Institute.
Photographs by Robin McDonald