Contents of this article
Representing over 250 years of active collecting and curation, the British Museum Image Collection of prints and drawings (a subset of which is searchable through Connected Histories) is simply one of the most comprehensive collections of images on paper in the world. The catalogue of the British Museum, with associated images, covers the museum's full collection, including both works on paper and objects. The subset of the catalogue searchable through Connected Histories represents items on paper, relating to British subjects, 1500-1900, and includes material such as the Crace Collection.
The creation of a digital catalogue for the museum's collections began in 1979, for internal and onsite use; and followed the format of extant, paper-based finding aids. In 1999, as part of an update to the system, the catalogue was reformulated to conform to the internationally-recognised standard, SPECTRUM, as compiled by the Collections Trust. The process of adding digital images was begun in 2004, and the decision to place this material online was made in 2006. The web service was launched in 2007.
The images were scanned to the highest resolution available, and can be downloaded as Jpegs, with the longest edge at 2,500 pixels (which will appear at a maximum of 21 cm when printed at 300 dpi). Not all images in the collection have been colour-managed or cleaned.
Search is directed at the catalogue entry associated with each image.
Strengths and weaknesses
The British Museum Image Collection has tremendous strength in topographical prints, portraits and satires covering the whole period from 1500 to 1900; and includes examples of the work of Hogarth, Turner and Blake. It also incorporates the Crace Collection of maps and views of London. For a detailed history and description of the collection, see the British Museum: History of the Collection.
The collection provides direct access to a large volume of prints and drawings, searchable through extensive catalogue entries. However, not all of the catalogue entries relate to items that have been photographed.
About the project
The British Museum Image Collection has evolved from the internal digital catalogue originally begun in 1979. Its delivery and development form a part of the core function of the museum. Digital capture of the whole collection is ongoing.