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Historical and Cultural Images Library

There are many photos and image collections available on the Internet that are of historical and/or cultural interest. Here are the best of these collections. Images in these collections are free, but you will want to read the fine print and do your legal research before you use any of these images in your published or commercial work:

The Library of Congress American Memory Photos, Prints

The American Memory website, created and maintained by The Library of Congress, provides free and open access to selected digitized resources. Their digitized searchable and browsable collection thousands upon thousands of photographs and prints provides a visual record of American history and creativity. Their search function offers list and thumbnail gallery views. If you want to use these photographs and prints in your own published and/or commercial projects, be sure to research the terms of use associated with each image. The website provides copyright information for each image, if available.

The Library of Congress' photostream at Flickr

The Library of Congress has placed a selection of their photos on the popular photo management and sharing website, Flickr. These photos have no known copyright restrictions. The Library of Congress uploaded these photos with minimal identifying information, so the public is encouraged to tag and comment on these photos.

Picturing the Century - One Hundred Years of Photography from the National Archives

Picturing the Century is an online exhibit of galleries consisting of photos that tell the story of the 20th century. These photos are gleaned from the collections of the National Archives. The National Archives is a federal agency and in general, materials produced by Federal agencies are considered to be without copyright and in the public domain. However, not all photos on their website are in the public domain, as some were obtained from other organizations.


Thousands of photos and images covering just about any imaginable topic can be found on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons. Wikipedia is a well known open source encyclopedia. Countless thousands of images accompany articles. Most of these images which can be shared, because they are in the public domain or licensed under a Creative Commons or similar license. If you want to use an image accompanying an article, click on the image for copyright information.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons is a repository for the images that accompany Wikipedia articles. The Wikimedia Commons website offers the ability to browse various categories or to search using keywords. Copyright information is provided for each image.

LIFE photo archive hosted by Google

Google and Time, Inc., the parent company of defunct LIFE magazine, are working together to put LIFE's vast photo archive online. These photos date from the 1800's to the current century and document world events and the lives of celebrities and ordinary people. This archive can be accessed using Google Image Search. Once there, you can enter your chosen keyword(s) along with "source:life" in the search box. Time, Inc., retains the copyright for these images, but they are free to use for personal and research purposes.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Digital Library

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides free access to their searchable photo archive of wildlife, plants, U.S. Wildlife Refuges and other scenery. These photos are in the public domain and can be used freely for most any purpose. You can also use Google as an alternative means to access their library by including "" as keyword in Google's search box.

Reference and outline maps of the United States at provides various outline and reference maps of the United States. There are maps of the United States as a whole, and maps for each state. Outline maps are easily customizable for your own purposes. Reference maps include features such as boundaries, cities, counties, capitals, interstate and other major highways, rivers and lakes, and terrain. These maps are in the public domain and may be used for most any purpose. There is also a lot more to, including maps that tell stories of America's people, heritage, resources and trends of American life, so you may want to check out other pages of this website.

I'm always on the lookout for great historical and cultural image resources. If you know of any websites that should be included in this list, please e-mail us.


GIMP - The GNU Image Manipulation Program

You've found a great photo or image, but now you may want to touch it up a bit. A great tool for that is GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), a free software raster graphics editor. With this software, you can adjust color, brightness and contrast of images. You can also sharpen images and transform them with a variety of special effects. GIMP helps you to resize and cut an image down to the portion that you want to use. GIMP also has many other features that make it as useful and powerful as other popular graphics editors such as Adobe Photoshop. The difference with GIMP is that it is free and developed and maintained by volunteers. You can go to the GIMP website to download and install your own copy.


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