Finding Creative Commons Images for Scholarly Work

I recently heard a scholar complain about the lack of images of disability available online.  Working on 19th C Disability:  A Digital Reader, I’ve become a bit of an expert at sussing out nineteenth-century images that are available under a Creative Commons License.  I thought it might be helpful to post about them for those looking to include more images in their blog posts, teaching, or online projects.

1)  Wellcome Images.  Run by Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in London, this resource is just plain amazing, and my first stop for images of nineteenth-century disability.  Many of the images from their vast collection in the history of medicine are available under a Creative Commons License for pedagogical use, online resources, and even academic publications. This resource makes me wish I’d dealt more with visual culture in my book!  Think of all the free images!  Almost the only thing you can’t use these images for without paying is a commercial book or project.  Be a little patient with your search, and you will likely find what you are looking for.

2) National Portrait Gallery, UK.  This is usually my second stop, and also a wonderful resource.  If you work on any British writer or public figure, there’s probably an image there, or even more than one.  Their Creative Commons license is a little bit stricter than that of the Wellcome (you would need to pony up to include one of their images in a professional academic publication), but it’s still great for blogging, online work, and teaching.

3) Library of Congress.  My work focuses on British literature and culture, so this is usually one of my last stops, though of course it might be your first if you are an Americanist.  It has saved me with lovely 19th C images of places like San Remo, where many English invalids (or at least those who could afford it) spent their winters…

4) Wikimedia Commons.  All the images on Wikipedia are available for re-use under a Creative Commons License.  I think the metadata and quality of the files on these other resources is a little better, plus I like promoting libraries and galleries, so I tend to go here last, but boy is there a lot here.

The one thing I would say is be patient with your search.  Not everything is tagged with the first word you put into the search box (in my case usually “disability”), but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.  Tagging is expensive, and those who do the tagging aren’t mind readers!  But there is A LOT in these archives.  I try to make digging in them my task for those low energy times in the afternoon, when it’s quite pleasant to sit with a cup of tea and look at all the images.