Image of the Black in Western Art (Harvard University)

The Image of the Black in Western Art collection comes from an archive of the same name at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, the nation's oldest research center dedicated to the study of the history, culture, and social institutions of Africans and African Americans. Founded in 1975, the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute was named after the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University (1896), and now serves as the site for research projects, fellowships for emerging and established scholars, publications, lectures, conferences, and working groups. One of institute's research initiatives is the Image of the Black in Western Art Research Project and Photo Archive, a systematic investigation of how people of African descent have been perceived and represented in Western art. Spanning nearly 5000 years, the archive contains photographs of approximately 30,000 works of art, representing all media. Established in 1960 by Jean and Dominique de Menil, the project was initially focused on the production of a prize-winning, 4-volume series, The Image of the Black in Western Art (1976-), which reproduced a sub-set of the images in the archive. In 1994, the project moved to Harvard, where the final volume of the series is being prepared. Since moving to the institute, access to the photographs has expanded to outside researchers, as the archive had hitherto only been available to those scholars working on the volumes.

Through a partnership with Artstor, the institute will further expand access to the archive through the digitization and distribution of its approximately 30,000 images in the Artstor Digital Library. In reaching this agreement, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities, Chair of the Department of African and African American Studies, and Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University, expressed enthusiasm for collaborating with Artstor to use digital technologies to make this scholarly resource more broadly available for non-commercial, scholarly, and educational purposes. According to Prof. Gates: "The Image of the Black Archive has been known too little for too long. We at the Du Bois Institute are delighted to work with Artstor to make this essential archive more widely available to scholars and students in the arts, humanities, and social sciences." James Shulman, President of Artstor, observed that "The Image of the Black Archive contains thousands of images that could not be made available in the splendid published volumes devoted to this important subject. This research project embodies an unusually thoughtful approach to interdisciplinary visual research. This collaboration should therefore produce an exceptionally significant resource for scholars, teachers and students in a wide range of fields. Artstor is delighted to be able to play a part in making it available for scholarly and educational purposes."

While the Image of the Black in Western Art collection is still in progress, initial batches of images have already been released in the Artstor Digital Library. More than half of the projected total, over 24,000 images, is currently available in Artstor, providing examples of the representation of black people in Western art, from pre-history to the present. Further releases will be forthcoming throughout 2007 and 2008.