This photograph is a piece of history that needs to be shared, which is why I am happy to have completed this restoration during Black History Month (just).
I was inspired to undertake the digital restoration work when I saw a copy of this daguerreotype reproduced online stamped “copyright” — even though it is clearly in the public domain. While the publishers of Envisioning Emancipation are within their rights to copyright their publication, they should not claim copyright on individual photographs from the public domain. Since the copyright notice is only present on the images reproduced in the online version of The Daily Mail, I am inclined to think the British tabloid added the copyright notice in a misguided attempt to “protect” the book.
Either way, it is bad enough that an important historic woman like Sarah McGill Russwurm has nearly been lost in the mists of history, without compounding the error by locking the only extant image of her behind copyright.
This photograph of Sarah Russwurm is based on the daguerreotype portrait by Augustus Washington, African American Daguerreotypist circa 1854, of an Unidentified woman, probably a member of the Urias McGill family, three-quarter length portrait, facing front, holding daguerreotype case.
The original is held in the American Library of Congress which has made two photographic copies easily accessible in its online digital holdings. The black and white photograph (marked “1947″) is in very good shape, unlike the colour photograph, which shows marked deterioration. There are numbers at the top of the colour print which seem to indicate it was made in 1965. Ironically, the version of the photograph reproduced in Envisioning Emancipation was a a black and white rendering of the extensively damaged colour print. Careful examination of the partner daguerreotype, of Sarah’s younger brother, Urias McGill, show signs of having been tinted, so it is reasonable to suppose that the original daguerreotype of Sarah may have been tinted as well. If so, it might be worthwhile for the Library of Congress to take new colour photographs from the original daguerreotypes.
To create the image pictured here above I combined the the colour photograph’s frame with the black and white photo to create this digitally restored colour photograph of the framed daguerreotype. The Library of Congress notes that there are “No known restrictions on publication,” which confirms the original image is in the public domain. Even with the absurd copyright terms we are seeing these days, it is still reasonable to expect a daguerreotype taken in the 19th Century ought to be in the Public Domain by the 21st.
Whether or not this image actually is Sarah Russwurm, it is a historic record in the public domain that anyone should be able to use. Because I consider my digital work to be a restoration, so this work is also in the Public Domain, which means The Temple University Press is welcome to use my digital restoration in future reprints of the book. Anyone can click on my restoration above to download a large size, or you can purchase high quality photographic reprints of the original from the Library of Congress here.
The original daguerrotype made by Augustus Washington is housed in the Library of Congress. I have also published this photograph, along with what I know of Sarah Russwurm on my Russwurm Ancestry geneology blog.
This work is identified as a Public Domain work free of known copyright restrictions.
It is gratifying to see more and more wonderful digital Free Culture resources being made available. In the sidebar you’ll find my list of Free Culture resources I’ve been compiling as I come across them online.
Free culture is culture we can share without having to fear copyright law.
The free-est of the free are those creative works in the public domain. As copyright law has expanded the terms to ridiculous lengths, fewer works are entering the public domain.
The excellent OpenGLAM helps educate Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums about the importance of digital access, which has led to many institutions digitizing public domain works in their holdings and sharing them online. From my point of view, this will go a long way to discourage the nefarious practice of digital copyfraud.
These days, our newly made creative works are “protected” by copyright whether or not we want them to be. Creators who have come to realize the importance of sharing can work around this by releasing our works with a license to share. My favorite are Creative Commons licenses. All of my blogs are published with a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License except for the one with a CC0 public domain dedication. Athough two CC the licenses are not considered to be free:
- “No Derivatives” prevents us from making any changes… even color correction, cropping etc., and
- “Non Commercial” which prevents commercial use,
all of the other licenses are. Because they are standardized, they are easy to use because I don’t have to learn the terms of a new license every time.
There are a growing number of web platforms where people can find material with free culture licenses. If you want to make a video, or if you need illustrations for that presentation, or a cover for your novel, All the material on these sites are licensed, so people can decide which license will suit their needs. I’ve known about Flickr (for photos) and Jamendo (for music) for a long time, and these days even YouTube has given users the option of a free culture license. But by far the coolest addition to my list of free culture licensed material is the amazing Freesound project, an online sound effects library, where I found some all the terrific sound effects I needed for a small film I made last month.
There is a wealth of great material in my free culture list, and I will continue to add links as I find new resources. If you’ve got any I’ve missed, please let me know.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Free Culture, read Larry Lessigs terrific book Free Culture; you can buy a copy from your local book store, or legally download the PDF, or do both (like I did).
My younger brother, historian Lani Russwurm, began blogging “Past Tense…Vancouver Histories” in 2008. These days, his longer more in depth Vancouver history articles appear in his blog Past Tense on WordPress, while images and shorter stories are featured on his Past Tense Vancouver on Tumblr.
As if that wasn’t enough, Lani began contributing Vancouver Was Awesome stories to the popular Vancouver Is Awesome site a few years ago. It was that association led to the publication of Lani’s very first book, Vancouver Was Awesome: A Curious Pictorial History in November of this year.
Lani always did like the seaside, so it’s not at all surprising he wound up living in a city on the Pacific Ocean.
As a young man, Lani and our sister Liana emigrated to to the cosmopolitan city of Montréal; perhaps not the best choice for monlingual English speakers. A few years later he went west.
Vancouver is where my brother put down roots to raise his daughter, Sophia. He’s lived in the Down Town East Side ever since.
The youngest of seven kids, Lani was born at the Kitchener-Waterloo hospital (since renamed Grand River), but raised in a rural farm house just outside Elmira, in Southern Ontario.
Growing up in a family bursting with kids, books, music and art, our creative parents encouraged us all to express our creativity and follow our own dreams.
Lani’s interest in history and media may well have been sparked by the pop culture of our parent’s generation as well as our own. Our dad exposed us to vintage comic books, Big Little Books, radio plays, and movies of bygone years. All of the Russwurm siblings are creative in one or more areas; Lani’s include writing, digital imaging and photography.
Lani Russwurm Online
- Past Tense Vancouver on Tumblr
- Past Tense Vancouver on WordPress
- Vancouver Was Awesome blog
- Articles Lani wrote for the Tyee
- Lani’s Dissertation (Simon Fraser University) Constituting authority: Policing workers and the consolidation of police power in Vancouver, 1918-1939
- CitizenShift ~ Media For Social Change
“Vancouver Was Awesome”
You can order your copy of Vancouver Was Awesome: A Curious Pictorial History direct from Arsenal Pulp Press, through your local retailer, or from Amazon or iTunes. And you might still be able to order a signed copy direct from the Vancouver Is Awesome website. Even if I wasn’t Lani’s proud sister, I would tell you It is a great read, because it is, You’ll just have to see for yourself.