Access to historical photographs of Africa is essential to successful understanding of African life and culture. Collecting such photographs has always been an integral component of collection building for the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies at Northwestern University. But many collections of African photographs primarily document European life and work in Africa, and aspects of African life perceived as "exotic" by European photographers.
The Winterton Collection of East African Photographs, acquired by the Herskovits Library in December 2002, is distinctive for its comprehensiveness of scope and its emphasis on the more prosaic matters of daily African life and culture. Assembled over a 30-year period by British collector Humphrey Winterton, it is comprised of 7,610 images taken primarily in East Africa between about 1860 and 1960, organized in 75 separate albums, scrapbooks, or loose collections. The earliest photographs in the collection were taken in 1860 inside the Zanzibar slave market by the Scottish explorer James Augustus Grant, whose best-selling work A Walk across Africa was published in 1864. The latest were taken during the pre-independence election in Kenya and depict Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first president, addressing a campaign rally.
The Winterton Collection documents street scenes in emerging urban areas as well as the less-than-glamorous aspects of colonial life. It also chronicles remarkable changes to the East African landscape. It depicts the building of East Africa's railways, the growth of its urban centers, and the development of colonial administration. It preserves a record of rural life as well as of the travels and work of European colonial officials and private businessmen. There are outstanding examples of portraiture, especially from emerging commercial studios in Nairobi and Zanzibar. The Winterton Collection also constitutes an unsurpassed resource for the study of the history of photography in East Africa. An existing inventory to the collection enhances its accessibility.
Research and teaching about Africa has a long history at Northwestern, where the Program of African Studies, established in 1948, was the first of its kind at a major research institution in the United States. Since its arrival at Northwestern, the Winterton Collection has had a significant impact on both undergraduate teaching and on the research of graduate students and faculty. Images from the collection are used in classroom lectures and discussion, undergraduates are assigned research that makes use of them, and an art history seminar was focused solely on the Winterton Collection for an entire quarter. The photographs have also been used in documenting faculty research and graduate student dissertations. Beyond Northwestern, the collection has been used to document research in monographs, dissertations, and journal articles; accompany text in popular historical magazines; and provide images for a major motion picture and an educational DVD.
The initial Winterton Web site, created in 2004, has generated a great deal of interest in using the collection. This interest will expand greatly as a result of an Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership grant (2006-08), which makes possible the digitization, cataloging, and creation of an inventory that will be accessible through a new Web site.
Collection Profile: David Easterbrook
Overview: Russell Maylone and Jeffrey Garrett
Illustrations: Northwestern University Library