Week threehist390notes on Historical Thinking, Roger Fenton, and Errol Morris
A Look at Digital Primary
Identification and analysis through the
Crimean War photographs of Roger
History 390-003, The Digital Past, Week Three, spring 2014, Lee Ann Cafferata, George Mason University
Roger Fenton Crimean War Collection
• 263 of Fenton’s photographs from the
Crimean war are digitized and on-line through
the Library of Congress:
• The Fenton Crimean War collection is
contextualized in the Library of Congress online catalog
• Roger Fenton’s letters from the Crimea are
digitized and on-line via De Montfort
University, Leicester, UK.
Who is Errol Morris?
• Documentary film maker
• Called a non-fiction artist, a few of his films
include the Academy-Award-winning, The Fog
of War (2003), the multiple-award-winning
The Thin Blue Line (1988, Netflix streaming),
Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, JFK
Why does Morris care?
• Fenton was one of the first war photographers
• The analysis of whether Fenton did or did not
stage the photographs influences our
interpretation of the war. How?
• This then, becomes a statement about the
validity of his accounts of the Crimean War—a
war that became unpopular and controversial
in Great Britain
How did Morris go about analyzing the
• Morris followed steps of the historical thinking
• He asked a question.
• The he turned to
• Close Reading
• Reading the Silences
What were the steps of the historical
• He consulted specialists to hear multiple
theories and the foundations of those theories
• He queried other primary sources.
• He contextualized the photographs in the
chronology (the time) of the war and the
geographic space of the historical narrative.
• He investigated the state of the technology of
photography during the Crimean War era-1854-56. (contextualized the technology)
• Morris conducted a close reading of the visual
content of the photographs
• He looked at the silences. What wasn’t there?
• Throughout his investigation, he corroborated
conclusions, including the opinions and biases
of other historical and forensic photography
The Grand Finale
• Morris turned to digital technology
• Forensic photographic analysis enabled Morris
to rule out categories of analysis and add
• In addition to scientific evidence, forensic
analysis cited the need to look at photographs
as both representational and as art and as the
reflection of the photographer’s objectives.