We are thrilled to announce the completion of our collaborative, multi-phased, project to enhance access to the Princeton Posters Collection!
The National Museum of American History’s Princeton University Posters Collection—of more than 18,000 posters from the late nineteenth century through World War II—was donated to the Smithsonian by Princeton University Library in the 1960s. One of the largest and most complete collections of war posters ever produced, it includes recruitment and propaganda posters from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, France, and more. Also included are non-government produced posters reflecting pre-war as well as wartime patriotic, anti-German, and pro-refugee sentiments. The breadth of public and charitable agencies, images, and slogans represented in the collection make it valuable not only as single items, but as a comprehensive expression of the support and sentiment for war in the first half of the twentieth century.
For decades, this rich collection was largely inaccessible to researchers inside and outside the Smithsonian. Thanks to 21st-century technology, an innovative and collaborative project plan, and the power of the volunpeer community, though, we've changed all that! Now, all the posters, and their historical information (like who created them and when), are available online. So, how did we do it?
Staff from the Digitization Program Office’s Mass Digitization (Mass Digi) team, the National Museum of American History, and the Transcription Center worked together to digitize over 10,000 Princeton Posters’ catalog sheets and import them into the Transcription Center as new projects. Created in the 1990’s, these sheets contain information on when each poster was produced, what issuing organization created it, what language or languages it is written in, the content and topic of the poster, and more. Over a few months, 381 volunpeers transcribed all the data on each catalog sheet, recording this important information in record time. Alongside this work, the Mass Digi team collaborated with NMAH’s Archives Center, Division of Political History, and Division of Armed Forces History to digitize all of the posters themselves (totaling more than 18,000).
**Side note: Want to see behind the scenes with the mass digi team? Check out this awesome video below from the Digitization Program Office. And while you're at it, watch this conversation with NMAH Archivist, Craig Orr, on the history behind the Princeton Posters and catalog sheets (below).**
Once all digitization and transcriptions were complete, transcribed data was matched with corresponding poster images, and new catalog records (and a full finding aid for the collection!) were created. This tremendous work by staff and volunpeers means that all of the posters—including advertisements for war bonds; military and civil service recruitment posters; images and slogans supporting refugees, servicemen, and women in the war effort; propaganda posters for or against various countries, policies, and actions (like behaving like a lobster….yes, we really did say lobster), and more—are now viewable, and keyword searchable, online!
Want to explore the collection yourself? You can search all the images and volunpeer-created (!) catalog records in our online database, Collections Search Center, here; or you can browse the collection in its new finding aid on the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives. A huge thank you to everyone inside and outside the Smithsonian who helped make this project a success! We really do learn - and win - together.