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When Narrative Fails: Context and Physical Evidence as Means of Understanding the Northwest Boundary Survey Photographs of 1857–1862

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The photographs of the Northwest Boundary Survey, taken chiefly in 1860–1861, present many of the problems commonly encountered in the study of nineteenth-century photography. These views documenting the international border between modern British Columbia and the American Pacific Northwest provide a useful case study in the close reading of physical attributes of photographs. They afford an opportunity to compare imagery and evidence across known sets, and to draw conclusions from sequencing, variant captioning, and other physical evidence. These details will help archivists and other collection managers make good decisions about depth of cataloging, digital imaging choices, and interfaces for online presentation of sets of nineteenth-century photographs.

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