As the sort of person who got her Masters in history, I'm pretty passionate about the subject. Granted, the history I'm usually interested in is the sort of stuff that involves Neo-Classicism, Wellington, Napoleon, and the advent of the empire-waist dress and the business card, but still. Even I can appreciate something like my latest find on teh Interwebz: Shorpy.com.
Shorpy, named for teenage coal miner Shorpy Higginbotham, is a site full of old Library of Congress images. Photographs of varying types from between 1850 and 1950 have been and are being compiled: digitally remastered (wow, I feel like a DVD advert...) from the original negatives to show off what the pictures were really meant to look like.
TIME magazine even did an article on it in their Light Box section, which - with thanks to my sister - is how I found this gem in the first place. Having worked a lot with visual media in my dissertation, I was sort of glad I focussed on an era that was so firmly pre-photography. Like most of us, I tended to think of early photography as grainy, blurry, murky, and either horribly over-exposed or painfully under-exposed. But really, those sorts of condemnations are better laid at the feet of early developing rather than early photography. Whether more research could blame it on a less sophisticated technique or poorer quality equipment (which both tend to necessarily be the case when a technology is new) isn't really the point, but as Shorpy.com manages to prove with its HD restorations of old photographic negatives, the problem wasn't in taking the picture, it was in reproducing the image.
All the pictures I've grabbed here are from Shorpy.com, via the TIME article. I wish I could find the original developments of these so I could show off side-by-side comparisons, but I think that they speak for themselves. You just don't expect this sort of quality and clarity from historic photographs. Hopefully, as more old pictures get this sort of treatment, we can revise that bias and get - very literally - a better look at our own history.