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Bringing Old Film, Images to Life

July 2, 2020

There’s a certain amount of nostalgia that can be provoked by a still image, that’s why so many people love browsing the Indiana Historical (IHS) digital image collections. But a historic moving image or film can augment that feeling of nostalgia. The combination of movement, sound (in some cases), and a range of expressions can awaken even more remembrance in the viewer.

The Indiana Historical Society recently received a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant to make hundreds of its old film reels available to the public through digitization and sharing via CONTENTdm and YouTube platforms. The IHS Moving Images Collection contains more than 250 moving images ranging from the 1910s-1970s. These films allow the viewer to be an eye witness to historic events such as WWI-era airplanes flying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1917, operations at L.S. Ayres flagship store in 1950, and a 1963 interview with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

These are just a few of the films available in the collection which covers subject such as: Indianapolis architecture and infrastructure, Indianapolis Water Company, L.S. Ayres and Company, Irwin-Sweeney-Miller family of Columbus, historic television interviews, sports, education and politics.

The mass digitization of moving images did present a learning curve for the IHS digitization team, but it was a challenge well worth accepting to make these priceless films accessible to the public. During the digitization process, the original film sometimes broke and had to be taped back together. We had to experiment with the digitized formats to make them most compatible with different web browsers, our content management system CONTENTdm and YouTube. Also, describing a film and identifying subjects and locations is a much longer process than describing a single photo. The end product is a rich and diverse collection of moving images that we hope to build on in the future.

One of my favorite moving images depicts children in a wading pool in the 1950s. This simple film of a classic summer pastime is part of the Indianapolis Waterworks Collection, 1870-2001.

The IHS Moving Images Collection is available on the IHS Digital Collection website and selections are also available on the IHS YouTube channel.

This collection was digitized with grant funding made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Indiana State Library.

Kathy Mulder works in Digital Collections at IHS. She first became interested in history while tagging along with her grandmother who was a docent in historic Madison, Indiana.

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