Nineteenth Century Collections Online (NCCO): Photography: The World Through the Lens

Costume of Baksa Woman 1871 "Girl Taking a Photograph with a Kodak Brownie Camera." Photographs from the National Media Museum. Primary Source Media. Nineteenth Century Collections Online.
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More than 1.2 million
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Experience the nineteenth century through photographs that document world events or capture everyday life.

The invention of photography represented a turning point in nineteenth-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 found in libraries and archives across the globe. The nineteenth century was about changes in family and society, invention and scientific discovery, exploration and colonization, urban versus rural life, work, leisure and travel—all this is captured in photographs. Photography: The World Through the Lens delivers around 2 million 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 nineteenth 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 electronic scholarly archive 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.

Photography was one of the fundamental nineteenth-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 because it could used by professionals as well as the general public. Considered visual evidence or truth, photos served nineteenth-century endeavors such as colonialism, anthropology, science, and more.

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.

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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Subjects Covered
  • Asian Studies
  • Asian Studies/Civilization
  • Chinese Studies
  • Japanese Studies
  • South and Southeast Asian Studies
  • Black Studies
  • African American Studies
  • African Studies
  • English
  • European Studies
  • East European and Russian Studies
  • Medieval and Renaissance Studies
  • Western European Studies
  • Gender and Women's Studies
  • Hispanic / Latin America Studies
  • Middle Eastern Studies
  • Religion and Philosophy
  • Science and Technology
  • Social Studies
  • Liberal Studies
  • Humanities/Humanistic Studies
  • Social Sciences
  • Sociology
  • U.S. History
  • American Indian/Native American Studies
  • American/United States Studies/Civilization
Term Frequency

Researchers can now easily see the frequency of search terms within sets of content to begin identifying central themes and assessing how individuals, events, and ideas interacted and developed over time.

Term Clusters

By grouping commonly occurring themes, this tool reveals hidden connections to search terms — helping scholars shape their research and integrate diverse content with relevant information.


Integrate content from complementary primary source products in one intuitive environment to enable users to make never-before-possible research connections.

Reviews & Testimonials

“The ranges of sources of all this material boggled my mind. Yes, some of it is from mainstream publications, but so much of it was from rare, hard-to-find sources that I gained an appreciation for the time and effort it's taken to assemble these vast digitized collections.”

Library Journal

“The scope of this digitization project makes it a significant research resource for both scholars and undergraduates. There are several benefits to this scope: the sheer size of the collections; the geographic range including comparative materials from various cultures; and the variety of types of documents including a significant amount of unpublished material . . . . The new platform tools developed for NCCO are impressive and should be useful to scholars as well as students. These include the browse features for 'Exploring Collections,' the search within results features, text analysis tools, and sophisticated image viewing tools.”

eDesiderata, Center for Research Libraries

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