Quick Facts

  • Approximately 2 million pages
  • Cross-searchable with other Nineteenth Century Collections Online archives


TIME PERIOD: 1800-1899


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The invention of photography represented a turning point in 19th century culture and visual experience. For the first time, there was a means to capture an accurate and true portrayal of the people, places and events that would shape history. As a complement to studies of history, culture, media and many other disciplines, Photography: The World Through the Lens provides the visual evidence to support and supplement written sources.

Photography: The World Through the Lens assembles collections of photographs, photograph albums, photographically-illustrated books and texts on the early history of photography from libraries and archives from across the globe. Some images are well-known while many have rarely been viewed. The 19th century was about family and society, invention and scientific discovery, exploration and colonization, urban versus rural life, work, leisure and travel – all this is captured in photographs. This engaging resource serves multiple disciplines and supports a range of research and study topics.

Photography: The World Through the Lens delivers around 2million photographs from Britain, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. Key areas of research covered include:

  • Exploration and travel
  • Empire, colonization, and life in colonized regions
  • Topography and archaeology
  • Daily life in 19th century in countries across the globe
  • People and portraiture
  • Science, medicine, and criminology
  • Photography as reproduction of art works
  • Key events and wars

Nineteenth Century Collections Online is the most ambitious scholarly digitization and publication program ever undertaken, providing full-text, fully searchable content from a wide range of primary sources. Selected with the guidance of an international team of expert advisors, these primary sources are invaluable for a wide range of academic disciplines and areas of study, providing never before possible research opportunities for one of the most studied historical periods. 


Significance: Photography was one of the fundamental 19th-century inventions that changed the way people viewed the world. It served as a tool for many other professions, from medicine to publishing, and it democratized knowledge, used by professionals as well as the general public. Considered visual evidence or truth, photos served 19th century endeavors such as colonialism, anthropology, science, and more.

Structure: Photography: The World Through the Lens is available on Gale’s cutting-edge research platform. This state-of-the-art platform was developed using our flexible Agile approach,  incorporating user testing and feedback throughout the process to ensure that we are providing the features that scholars require — such as detailed subject indexing and metadata, textual analysis tools, personalized user accounts, and more — for research in the digital age. 

Source: Content was sourced from The National Archives, Kew, The British Library, Royal Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum, The National Portrait Gallery, Library of Congress, and other prestigious partners.

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