Colorizing Civil War Photographs

This morning a post showed up on the C-19 Listserv for nineteenth-century Americanists that linked to a Daily Mail article on the efforts of two technicians to colorize Civil War era photographs.

You can read the article and see samples of their work here:

I have to admit that seeing these well-known photos in color was fascinating.  Especially interesting was the ability to see the color of the landscape (indicating season) and also the tint of the uniforms.  We talk so much about the “blue” and “grey” and yet most of the imagery we have of them is black and white.

But I am also wary of the notion of improving history through technological advances rather than simply using it to store documents in an alternate format for preservation purposes.  This is something that could potentially be a lot more damaging to the archive than Ted Turner’s ill-fated effort years ago to colorize classic cinema.


Postscript:  A Civil War scholar responding to the C-19 listserv post a few minutes ago reminded me in his comments that photographs were hand colored in the 19th century.  So again the technology is not the issue here.  It’s the motive.  Why color these photographs?

Have any scholars commented on the theoretical implications of color in historical documents? What is the real psychological difference between a document in color vs. one in black and white?

I know when I teach film in my literature courses, black and white films tend to be perceived by some students as boring and other as more authoritative (cinema rather than film).  I call it the “black and white” effect.  I wonder if this is true of print documents and photos?

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