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Southern Spaces
A journal about real and imagined spaces and places of the US South and their global connections

Finding Media

Emory University
Published May 1, 2012

Finding media is a big issue for us here at Southern Spaces. We’re constantly searching for new photographers to highlight in our Featured Images section, and we’re often tasked with helping authors find usable photos, video, and audio clips. This is not always an uncomplicated task: discerning which media are in the public domain or eligible for fair use can seem daunting. (Though I highly recommend the Center for the Study of the Public Domain’s graphic novel Bound By Law for an entertaining explanation of fair use.)

We have a few favorite sites and search strategies for finding useable media:

  • Public Domain and US Government works: The term "public domain" can be a little tricky—there are a number of caveats and exceptions, but I’ve found this chart from Lolly Gasaway at the University of North Carolina to be especially helpful. One of the general rules is that work produced before 1923, like this image from Lewis Hine, is in the public domain. Fortunately for us, work produced by the US government is also in the public domain. This satellite image is from NASA, and we’ve used images from the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA. The Library of Congress has an extensive collection of prints, manuscripts, photographs, audio recordings, and film, and many—though not all—are digitized and available for public use.
  • Creative Commons: Creative Commons allows users to license their own work for public use as an alternative to ordinary copyright. Creators can choose a number of different licenses, specifying what kinds of uses are permitted. CC also offers a useful search function, allowing a user to find particular types of media that are available for modification, adaption, or commercial use. Wikimedia Commons is a great resource for Creative Commons-licensed work, including images, sound, and video. We often find new photographers on Flickr through the CC search, but it’s always a good idea to double-check with the author whenever possible. We found images from the 2011 Tuscaloosa, Alabama tornado by searching Flickr in this way.
  • Internet Archive: With a massive collection of digitized texts, music, film, and audio, can be a great resource for researchers. Some of this work is in the public domain, and the site also provides CC licenses for many of its pieces. Describing itself as a "digital library," the Internet Archive is a repository for media that can be difficult to find. When we were looking for a film clip that illustrated post-World War II attitudes towards Japan in the United States for Aiko Takeuchi-Demirci’s article, we came across a 1946 newsreel in the public domain.
  • Libraries and Archives: We approach repositories for permission to use their materials. Institutions may be willing to provide media if you simply ask. Emory’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library has helped us locate and digitize materials that would otherwise be difficult to find. We recently worked with the librarians at MARBL to locate drawings of the Scottsboro Boys for an article by Ellen Spears. Other libraries and archives have also been great resources; the Virginia Historical Society provided images of visitors to the site when we contacted them for William G. Thomas III’s piece about the VHS’s exhibition on the Civil War in Virginia. Libraries and archives may require payment for media reproduction, but we find that many are willing to assist researchers.
  • Self-Produced Work: Occasionally, we produce media ourselves. Almost all of the maps on the site are made by staff members, as well as many other pieces of media. For Joseph Crespino’s essay on the Strom Thurmond monument, we asked a friend of the staff in Columbia to take a picture of the statue. We encourage authors to produce their own media if possible.

How do you find media for publication?