The Image of the Black in Western Art (IBWA) collection originates from an archive of the same name at the W. E. B. Du Bois Research Institute at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard University. The selection of more than 24,000 images in the Artstor Digital Library provides a broad cross-section of the IBWA archive and includes western works of art of diverse types, origins and periods that feature depictions 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). It is the nation’s oldest study center dedicated to the history, culture, and social institutions of Africans and African Americans and provides resources for research projects, fellowships and programs for emerging and established scholars, under the direction of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University.

Among the Institute’s research initiatives, the IBWA archive is 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 in all media. Established in 1960 by Jean and Dominique de Menil in Houston, the project was initially focused on the production of a 4-volume book series, The Image of the Black in Western Art that reproduced a subset of the images in the archive. In 1994, the project moved to Harvard, where the Harvard University Press and the Institute have since re-published the original series along with 5 additional volumes. Over time access to the archive has expanded to outside researchers, as it had hitherto only been available to those scholars working on the volumes. Further, the availability of much of the imagery from the archive through Artstor greatly increases the reach of this important material. According to Professor 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.”

This statement is provided by the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University: Our policy at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research is never to hide or excise the facts of history, ugly and brutal as those facts may be. Only by the frank recognition of the errors of the past can we fully assess the pernicious role played by racism in a social and moral context. The Image of the Black in Western Art archive provides a unique opportunity to assess the potency of negative racial views through their visual dissemination.