My thesis explores the family album as an indivisible object within a museum’s collection. Family albums hold both private and public importance for their ability to share collective memories and are valuable resources for scholars and the general public. To realize the inherent value of albums, I argue that we need to treat them as singular objects. Most institutions – such as museums, libraries or archives – treat family albums merely as a group of individual images. In this thesis, I propose an alternative approach: viewing and digitizing the albums as whole objects that are inseparable, lest we distort the narrative shaped in the album. The digitization process advances three services: first, digitization increases access to the album; second, digitization often enables the public to see and understand the album as a whole, maintaining the vision that the album’s maker sought to construct; third, digitization helps preserve the albums. My thesis investigates best practices for family album digitization so that the public can see albums as whole objects. A case study will focus on the Evans family collection from the FamCam at the ROM (accession numbers: 2018.24.1-21), a family collection which comes from a Canadian family that lived in China from 1888, for nearly a 100 years.
Twenty-one family albums comprise the collection. The collection portrays the lives of a Western family in China, and provides insight into a century of photography and history. My thesis discusses the methodology, tools, and specific techniques for digitization, while highlighting the complexity of family albums. Though this digitization process may differ from the typical protocols for artifacts, the uniqueness of family albums necessitates genre-specific procedures. My thesis contributes to the emerging literature on family photography in public institutions, and develops an original method for preserving and archiving them digitally.