The Digitization of 18-AA

This summer, the Still Picture Branch and the Digitization Lab completed the digitization of the series 18-AA, “Airscapes” of American and Foreign Areas, 1917 – 1964. This series is exceptionally interesting. It includes aerial views of landscapes, towns, and cities in the United States as well as many foreign countries. The images, taken in the early to mid 20th Century, are black and white, and typically mounted on card stock along with typed captioning information. The digitization process captured these captions along with the images themselves, and are accessible online at the National Archives Catalog.

Originally the photos were presented in bound volumes, but for preservation and access reasons they have been removed and put into acid-free, archival folders and boxes. The series, however, maintains it’s original arrangement. As such, “notebooks” 1 through 164 (airscapes of the U.S) are arranged alphabetically by state, and then within each state by city/area. “Notebooks” 165 through 190 (airscapes of Foreign countries) are arranged alphabetically by country. Notebooks 191 through 203 (airscapes of natural disasters in the United States) are arranged alphabetically by state/river. And “notebooks” 204 through 229 (airscapes of landing fields in Alaska, Hawaii, and foreign countries) are arranged alphabetically by name of country.

In the catalog, this is reflected in the arrangement of the “File Units.” File units display in the catalog alphabetically by geographic location. Each file unit represents a physical folder and contains a group of photos specifically related to the geographic location selected. For example, to browse images of Washington, D.C., you would first navigate to the landing page for 18-AA: here. You would then select the link “1633 file unit(s) described in the catalog” which would take you: here. This page displays the file units. Using the page navigation arrows in the top right corner of the results, you would then click through until you found the Washington, D.C. images: here. There are 4 file units of Washington, D.C. photos in 18-AA, and from this page you can select which subject group interests you.

It is also possible to search within the series for “Washington, D.C.” by starting at the landing page for 18-AA: here; selecting “1633 file unit(s) described in the catalog” or “search within this series,” and typing “Washington, DC” into the search bar at the top. If using this method, please note the *:* that is provided in the search bar. This is very important; it tells the catalog to search only for Washington, D.C. files in the selected series – in this case, in 18-AA.

Photos from 18-AA were taken by the Aeronautical Division of the Signal Corps, the Air Service, the Air Corps, the Army Air Forces, and/or the USAF. Most of the photos were taken between 1923 and 1945. They are a fascinating look at the architecture, culture, and landscape of our past. The images were scanned at a high resolution and may be downloaded directly from our catalog. They are not subject to copyright. Researchers are encouraged to access and engage with these images. Please remember to cite them to the Still Picture Branch of the National Archives using the Local Identifier number, which is unique to each photograph and can be found in the National Archives Catalog below the image download button.

For more images from 18-AA, check out the blog post “Images of The Week: Airscapes,” by Billy Wade. Also remember to keep checking the National Archives Catalog for new and fascinating materials, and feel welcome to visit us in person at College Park, Maryland! We at NARA are constantly digitizing and uploading our nation’s records. They are our collective past, our present knowledge, and our future treasures. We are dedicated to sharing them with you, our public.

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