Double Take: Making Visual Connections in the National Archives Catalog

This post was written by Daniel Dancis. Daniel is a Textual Records Archivist who blogs at The Text Message.

Do you remember the card game “memory,” also known as “concentration”? It involves setting up a deck of cards face side down and each player turning over two cards per turn. If the two cards turned over are a match, they are removed from the playing area. If they do not match, they are turned back over and play continues. The objective is to collect the most matching pairs until all cards are off the table. The game involves remembering the faces of down-facing cards.  

In a similar fashion, searching in the National Archives Catalog can turn up identical, near-identical, or closely related items that will make you feel like you just won a hand in “memory.” While this can be done just for sport, it can also provide insight into how we see and understand pieces from the past. Take for example the following two versions of a World War I era poster designed by Charles E. Chambers for the United States Food Administration:

Food Will Win the War (English), (Local ID: 4-P-60, NAID: 512499) and
Food Will Win the War (Yiddish), (Local ID: 4-P-102, NAID: 512541)

The poster was printed in several languages, including Yiddish (right) and Italian. It targeted immigrants, combining patriotic symbols to urge the conservation of wheat. See Food Will Win the War (DOCSTeach) for more information. 

Moving forward in time, consider the following two posters from World War II, of a mother and child, illustrated by Xavier Gonzalez. The artwork is the same, the slogans are different.  

Next of Kin Has Been Notified, Your Work Will Save Lives (Local ID: 44-PA-1403, NAID: 512541) and Buying a Bond is no Sacrifice (Local ID: 44-PA-535, NAID: 514014).

Another wartime poster that was repurposed appears below with artwork by the noted artist Käthe Kollwitz. In this example the matching images were separated by a span of two decades. The original lithograph dates from 1924, but the poster with the text added is of World War II vintage. The National Archives only has the poster in its collection. Copies of the lithograph are in art museums around the world. This is an instance where making a “memory” match is not confined to the holdings within a single institution. (see “World War I Through the Eyes of Käthe Kollwitz: One Hundred Years Later” Dallas Museum of Art Uncrated, May 7, 2014)

Ask the women and children whom Hitler is starving whether rationing is too great a sacrifice.
(Local ID: 44-PA-384, NAID: 513836)

Of course, when speaking of reusing an image from an earlier period, one thinks of the most famous of all American wartime posters, James Montgomery Flagg’s Uncle Sam in “I Want You For The U.S. Army Enlist Now” Local ID: 44-PA-71 (NAID 513533), which first appeared in 1917 but made a comeback during the second world war.  

And speaking of Uncle Sam, there is also the curious case of two images that feature an identically posed Uncle Sam (see below) that were made for the Security of War Information campaign in 1942-1943. In this instance, an early version by Robert Sloan was made but ultimately rejected and the project was eventually assigned to Leon Helguera who delivered the finished product. See The Uncle Sam “Hush” Poster and the One That Never Was for the full story. 

Uncle Sam (Information on the back: Pd for. Not used. Rejected.) [Robert S. Sloan], (Local ID: 208-AOP-36-38, NAID: 7387462) by Robert Sloan and I’m Counting on You! (Local ID: 44-PA-373, NAID: 513825) by Leon Helguera.

However, Sloan’s Uncle Sam makes a second known appearance in the National Archives Catalog and lives to see another day in the photograph below alongside a playful employee.  

Joseph Vaughan with Artwork for World War II Poster, (Local ID: 64-NA-457, NAID: 4477176)

A game of “Archives Memory” does not have to be limited solely to finding near-perfect matches. Working with related material can also produce a winning combination. On the left we have the image “Kay Brewington Examining a Petition Wheel” and on the right, we have the petition itself. This unusual document is known fondly as the “Bicycle Petition” and prompted the creation and funding of an office to conduct road research. The office would later become the Federal Highway Administration.  

Photograph of Kay Brewington Examining a Petition Wheel, (Local ID: 64-NA-1-166, NAID: 3493221) and Petition for the Establishment of a Roads Department, Referred to the Committee on Interstate Commerce (NAID 2600933), from the series: Committee Papers, 1889 – 1946, Record Group 46: Records of the U.S. Senate.

Bonus Round

Examining items closely can yield further exciting results. The archaeological term in situ, from Latin, refers to finding an artifact in its original location. In “Archives Memory,” discovering an image in situ provides context and insight that is greater than the sum of its parts. Consider this example of a poster hidden in plain sight within a photograph from 1918:

The photograph is from War Relief – Jewish Welfare Board (Local Identifier: 165-WW-563A-57, NAID 45561089), and the poster is Weapons For Liberty. USA Bonds. Third Liberty Loan Campaign. Boy Scouts of America. Be Prepared. (Local ID: 4-P-160, NAID: 512598), by artist J. C. Leyendecker.

 Your Turn

Not only is it fun to search for matches, you can make your discoveries lasting by tagging, transcribing, or commenting on them. By doing so you help make content more discoverable online. Visit NARA’s Citizen Archivist Website to get started. The images featured in this post are from the record series listed below. Open these entries to see what you can find!

World War I Posters, 1917 – 1919, Local ID: 4-P (NAID 512439). Record Group 4: Records of the U.S. Food Administration. 

World War II Posters, 1942 – 1945, Local ID: 44-PA (NAID 513498). Record Group 44: Records of the Office of Government Reports.

Original Artwork for World War II Posters, 1942 – 1945, Local ID: 208-AOP (NAID 2842724). Record Group 208: Records of the Office of War Information.

Historic Photograph File of National Archives Events and Personnel, 1935 – 1975, Local ID: 64-NA (NAID 518146). Record Group 64: Records of the National Archives and Records Administration.

American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, 1917 – 1918, Local ID: 165-WW (NAID 533461). Record Group 165: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs.

One thought on “Double Take: Making Visual Connections in the National Archives Catalog

Comments are closed.