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Digitizing history

HSU and Yale work with photos of local historian

The Enterprise and another sailboat at dock in Requa. Courtesy Palmquist Collection, Humboldt State University Library
The Enterprise and another sailboat at dock in Requa. Courtesy Palmquist Collection, Humboldt State University Library
Humboldt State University is teaming up with Yale University to digitize a local historian’s photos, including many images of Del Norte County.

Hundreds of historic photographs collected by late HSU photographer Peter Palmquist will be available online for students, researchers and historians later this year, thanks to a partnership between the HSU Library and Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

There are 700 images taken by various photographers capturing the landscape and people of Northern California during the mid-20th century. They will be available on the HSU Library’s website in August.

“This is a great partnership between the HSU Library and Yale that meets the HSU Library’s mission of increasing access to resources, while supporting scholarship worldwide,” HSU Library Dean Teresa Grenot said in a press release.

The images are part of the Beinecke’s Peter E. Palmquist Collection, a massive compendium of photographs, manuscripts, books and daguerreotypes that Palmquist — the university’s photographer from 1961 to 1989 — collected from 1971 until 2001.

Palmquist amassed an extensive collection that includes hundreds of thousands of items of significant research value to historians. His interests were broad and included photographic history and techniques; women in photography; the American West and Native American history.

He also amassed the largest collection of images by A.W. Ericson, a regional photographer active from 1880 to 1920 who documented Native American culture and the region’s logging, fishing and shipbuilding industries.

“This is a gentleman who published over 40 books, over 200 articles and was a self-trained historian of photography,” said archivist Matthew Mason. “He collected for less than three decades and in that time, was able to amass a rich collection and create a great historical resource.”

Considered the area’s most prolific researcher of historic photography, Palmquist sold his collection to Yale University in 2001, citing the institution’s extensive cataloging resources. About 5,000 study prints and negatives were donated to HSU Library Special Collections after his death. About 3,300 of those can be researched online through the Humboldt Room Photograph Collections Database.

In 2010, HSU Library Archivist Edie Butler travelled to Yale on a Tracy Fund grant through the Humboldt Area Foundation to assess how HSU’s collection overlapped with Yale’s.

In the process, she gathered valuable historical data to supplement the information in HSU’s collection. Butler also identified several clusters of images to digitize, based on their presumed research value to local historians. She will return to Yale this spring to complete the selection.

Later this year, the images will be scanned by the Beinecke Library, cataloged by HSU and hosted either through HSU or Yale’s website. The Beinecke scanning technology will allow researchers to view the images at a high resolution for historic photos.

Palmquist grew up near Ferndale, where he taught himself photography. He attended HSU, then known as Humboldt State College, from 1961 to 1965 and became the official university photographer while he was still a student. He also taught photography and photographic history.

In addition to the Palmquist Collection, HSU Library Special Collections hosts several other online photography collections. Last month, the  Library digitized the Schoenrock Collection, an archive of 104 images taken on and around the Yurok Indian Reservation from 1890 to 1925.


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