Harvard also saw the potential of photography for scientific research, as stunningly exemplified in one of the first detailed daguerreotypes of the moon, taken in 1851, as well as in images capturing the emergence of modern anesthesia. An unfortunate misuse of photography is recalled in the now famous slave daguerreotypes commissioned by natural historian Louis Agassiz, who believed in the theory of separate human species.
The images represent the early history of photography and its use as a tool for documentation, scientific research, and artistic expression. A selection of daguerreotypes from the collections, some well known, others published for the first time, reveals the histories behind the images, stories which unveil in hauntingly beautiful detail the reflections of individuals who searched for purpose and promise in the new medium.
Melissa Banta is the Adler curatorial associate at the Weissman Preservation Center at Harvard University Library. She is coauthor of The Invention of Photography and Its Impact on Learning, A Timely Encounter: Nineteenth-Century Photographs of Japan, and From Site to Sight: Anthropology, Photography, and the Power of Imagery.