A public digital photo archive of Iowa’s history will be introduced at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 25, at Rod Library on the University of Northern Iowa campus.

According to the University of Northern Iowa, this digital archive, called FORTEPAN Iowa, is the first of its kind in Iowa and the United States, and is unique in that it features curated photos taken by ordinary Iowans during the 20th century.

FORTEPAN Iowa is the first international sister site to the Hungarian FORTEPAN project, founded in 2009. The name FORTEPAN comes from the name of a well-known Hungarian photographic film that was made from 1922 to 2007. András Török, a representative of the original FORTEPAN project in Hungary, will speak at the opening reception.

Bettina Fabos, associate professor of communication studies, first developed the idea for the Iowa project after meeting with FORTEPAN directors in Hungary during her Fulbright fellowship there in 2013.

“This has been such a rewarding archive to establish,” said Fabos. “We are so proud UNI will be the home site of the very first FORTEPAN state project in the U.S. This will be an unparalleled resource for Iowa history and digital literacy curricula across the state and reaffirms UNI as a leader in digital creativity and education.”

Other UNI faculty involved in the project include Leisl Carr Childers, assistant professor of history; Sergey Golitsynskiy, assistant professor of communication studies; and Noah Doely, assistant professor of art.

FORTEPAN Iowa will display thousands of photographs along a sliding interactive timeline and invite visitors to horizontally scroll through highly curated, well-documented photographs digitized at tremendously high resolution.

Many of the photographs have been obtained with the assistance of students in UNI’s interactive digital studies program. The photos represent the broad span of the 20th century and contain images of everyday life from across Iowa, including recreation, family gatherings, fairs and festivals, political events, agricultural activities, business and innovation, and education. The archive avoids the typical “great men” version of history, and instead presents Iowa history democratically, from a grassroots perspective.

Because the photographs of FORTEPAN Iowa will be available for free public download and carry a Creative Commons license, the open-source platform will inspire visitors to engage digitally with the high-quality images – a rare opportunity in a heavily copyrighted age, and a significant contribution to the digital humanities, history education and digital literacy.

Unlike other photo archives that arrange images according to collection donor or subject matter, the FORTEPAN interface conveys history chronologically, so it will be easily searchable. The project has been funded in part by a UNI Capacity Building grant and a Humanities Iowa grant.

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