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Link back to series home page.Graphic header: Explore Photographic Archives
The Burns Archive

Young Civil War Soldier with Partial Amputation of Hand, Washington D.C., 1865.
Photographer: R.B. Bontecou, M.D.
Courtesy The Burns Archive.

The Burns Archive includes an original set of photographs taken of wounded soldiers during the Civil War. In most photos taken of the wounded, they are posed casually and with an identification board. In this image, the photographer dressed the patient formally and posed his partially amputated hand across his chest. His wound makes it appear as if he were holding a gun.

Unique in its breadth and scope, The Burns Archive houses the nation's largest and most comprehensive collection of early medical photography (1840-1920), over 40,000 original medical photographs including daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes of the 1840-1860 era. The vast majority of the photographs depict patients with diseases long since conquered, and medical treatments, technologies and practices long since outmoded. The Collection also includes a range of original nineteenth century photos of physicians and patients in contemporary clinical settings, including many medical firsts and famous cases.

Although best known for its medical photographs, the Collection includes more than 500,000 other images. Almost every type of nineteenth century genre photograph is represented including African-American photographs, war images from the Crimean through WWII, Judaica, criminology, ethnology, and many other categories.


Photograph: Cutting a Jew^s Beard in Radom, Poland, October 1939.

Cutting a Jew's Beard in Radom, Poland,
October, 1939.

Photographer: unknown.
Courtesy The Burns Archive

The Burns Archive includes more than 10,000 Judaic related photographs including a large collection documenting common German soldiers' crimes against civilian populations. The soldiers' personal photographs, of which this is one, are not only personally incriminating documents, but witness to previously unregistered events.

The Burns Archive is different from most archives in that we are generally known for photographs of the dark side of life, medicine, war, death, slavery, ethnology, and post mortem/memorial images. We collect and specialize in rare historic and documentary images -- vernacular photography and photography of trades. Since childhood, I have been a collector and interested in history. I started to aggressively acquire historic photography in the mid-70s. It was like collecting impressionist paintings in the 1890s -- almost everything was available and at a reasonable price. The Burns Archive was established in 1980. Since the inception of the collection, our mission has been to disseminate and increase the appreciation of historic photography as document and art. Photographic archives are repositories of visual evidence. Photographs are documents that can be constantly reevaluated. They supplement written records and can often refute written descriptions of events. Photographs represent slices of real life, although imperfect slices.

Stanley B. Burns, M.D.,
Executive Director, The Burns Archive


Black man at whipping post,
Dover, Delaware, 1908
Photographer: unknown
Courtesy The Burns Archive


Women on strike
demanding shorter work
day, Chicago, 1911
Photographer: unknown
Courtesy The Burns Archive


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