Kitty Hawk, the original aeroplane built by the Wright Brothers. Courtesy NARA.


Archived exhibitions are no longer available for booking but are maintained as a virtual record of past Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) programs.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) surveyed the millions of photographs in its holdings to create an exhibition exploring the role of photography in our national life over the last century. Images chronicle events ranging from immigrants arriving at Ellis Island to Vietnam protests, from the Wright brothers’ first flight to footprints on the moon, from Omaha Beach to atomic bomb testing. Others reflect social changes that affected everyday life. Working with NARA, SITES developed a traveling version of this exhibition featuring 106 digitally produced prints.

Picturing the Century: One Hundred Years of Photography from the National Archives offers not only a significant overview of but also a unique perspective on the 20th century. The exhibition explores the powerful role the federal government played in the history of photography in the United States. It shows how, from the very beginning of the 1900s, federal agencies used images to document and establish the importance of their work. Congress created the National Archives in the mid-1930s, a period when documentary photography flourished and Life magazine began publication. Over the ensuing decades, the federal government increased the size and range of its photographic activities, bringing millions of photographic prints, negatives, and transparencies into the holdings of the National Archives.

The images in Picturing the Century were selected from 33 NARA facilities across the country and include agency photographs as well as photographs from private sources that were used by the government. Some images were designed to serve as dispassionate records; others sought to persuade.

NARA curator Bruce Bustard balances well-known photographs of significant events with less-familiar images that provide surprising glimpses into history. Organized chronologically, the exhibition often moves from the commonplace (rural mail delivery in 1930) to the extraordinary (a World War II Flying Fortress breaking up under fire). Six “portfolios” feature images by a single photographer—George Ackerman, Lewis Hine, Charles Fenno Jacobs, Dorothea Lange, Walter Lubken, and Danny Lyon—along with text outlining their involvement with the government.

Picturing the Century offers a breadth and perspective that marks the end of the 20th century in a singular manner. It provides host venues with multiple programming and outreach opportunities and introduces viewers to NARA’s rich photographic holdings. A companion book ( University of Washington Press) of the same title, written by curator Bruce Bustard, includes 157 images from the original exhibition.

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Exhibition Specifications

Contents 106 framed black-and-white and colorphotographs, text panels, labels

Companion book, PR materials

Participation Fee

$5,000 for an 8-week booking period


285 running feet (90 running meters)

Crates 4

350 kg (780 lb.)

Category History and Culture



Outgoing; host museum arranges shipping and pays carrier directly

SITES Contacts

Ed Liskey, 202.633.3142 (Scheduling)

Toured Through 2007
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Tour Itinerary

Dates   Host Institution Status
5/6/00 10/14/00 Center Stage Theatre, Mackinaw City, MI Booked
11/25/00 4/8/01 Museum of the Jimmy Carter Library, Atlanta, GA Booked
4/28/01 6/24/01 Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, Colorado Springs, CO Booked
7/14/01 9/9/01 North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, NC Booked
9/29/01 2/10/02 George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, College Station, TX Booked
3/2/02 4/28/02 Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, Hollywood, FL Booked
5/18/02 7/14/02 Museum of the South Dakota State Historical Society, Pierre, SD Booked
8/3/02 9/29/02 Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, VA Booked
10/19/02 5/18/03 The Blackhawk Museum, Danville, CA Booked
6/7/03 9/3/03 Family Museum of Arts and Science, Bettendorf, IA Booked
8/23/03 10/19/03 Dubuque Museum of Art, Dubuque, IA Booked
11/8/03 1/4/04 Museum of Aviation, Warner Robins, GA Booked
1/24/04 3/21/04 Joliet Area Historical Museum, Joliet, IL Booked
4/10/04 6/6/04 Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ Booked
6/26/04 8/22/04 Hoard Historical Museum, Ft. Atkinson, WI Booked
9/11/04 11/7/04 Payne Gallery, Bethlehem, PA Booked
11/27/04 1/23/05 Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Spokane, WA Booked
2/12/05 4/10/05 Inman E. Page Library, Lincoln University, Jefferson City, MO Booked
4/30/05 6/26/05 Tunica County Museum, Tunica, MS Booked
7/16/05 9/11/05 Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, Kennesaw, GA Booked
10/1/05 11/27/05 Museum of the Oregon Territory, Oregon City, OR Booked
12/17/05 2/12/06 The Lincoln Museum, Fort Wayne, IN Booked
3/4/06 4/30/06 Brigham City Museum-Gallery, Brigham, UT Booked
5/20/06 7/16/06 The Museum of Art and History at The McPherson Center, Santa Cruz, CA Booked
8/5/06 12/17/06 Museum of History and Industry, Seattle, WA Booked
1/6/07 4/29/07 Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, CA Booked
5/19/07 7/15/07 Sunrise Civic Center, Sunrise, FL Booked
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Related Publications

Picturing the Century: One Hundred Years of Photography from the National Archives; University of Washington Press/NARA; 1999; Soft Back; $24.95

Picturing the Century selects 157 photographs from one of the world's largest photographic archives - the vast collections of the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., regional records facilities, and Presidential libraries. The photographs depict momentous events, illustrate changes in American society, capture the hopes and fears of the American people. Interspersed through the book are portfolios of the work of eight distinguished photographers: Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Walter Lubken, Lewis Hine, George Ackerman, Charles Fenno Jacobs, Yoichi Okamoto, and Danny Lyon.

>> Order this book

 "In an exceptional manner, this book concisely captures the history of modern America while simultaneously showcasing the accomplishments of its most eminent 20th-century photographers." -- Choice, December 1999

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Press Release

None listed at this time. Please check back again.

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Exhibition Specifications

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Exhibition Images

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