I've looked into this quite a bit and found collections in the National Archives and various websites, but they are small and highlight the best photos. Do you really need to travel to archives or order collections to see photos? Especially now with such a internet based society, it seems important to have as many of these pictures online and easily accessible so that people don't forget.

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    There may have been millions of pictures taken but, like a million summer holiday snaps, most of them are of limited quality (both technically and historically). So digitizing them all would be expensive and of limited educational value. Add on the difficulty of handling 70 year old film stock and it's easy to see why only a limited amount of selected images have been published.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 0:11
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    Not everything is yet declassified, The reason for the Dieppe disaster was only recently been declassified. There are countless stories like this.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 1:49
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    @SteveBird I realize that there aren't that many fantastic photos of the war, but I feel like a large part of the connection people feel to the past are some of those quick, half second snapshots. Only seeing the same couple hundred famous photos over and over again makes it feel dramatized and almost unrealistic. It seems like it would be worth the effort to digitize and publicize as many as possible.
    – matt_Vera
    Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 1:58
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 13:16
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    @MarkC.Wallace It is hard to find in terms of the content to availability ratio. There were dozens of photographers, historians, and reporters during Operation Torch at the onset of America's involvement in World War Two, and combined they surely took hours of video and thousands of pictures of the beaches, soldiers, and day to day activities. When you look online, however, there are only a couple hundred photos easily accessible.
    – matt_Vera
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 23:12

2 Answers 2


Ok, we're an "internet based society" now, but we weren't then. How does all that physical media from before the Internet get onto the Internet? Somebody has to scan them, and catalog them, and store them. And then who pays to keep it there?

High quality digital archiving is slow, expensive, and labor intensive. Most museums have an enormous backlog of items to examine and display, and very little money to do it.

Before you can create a digital archive, you need to go through the normal steps for archiving media.

  • Get your hands on the media.
  • Figure out how to look at it without damaging it.
  • Figure out what it's of.
  • Figure out if it's of historical significance.
  • Figure out who owns it.
  • Get permission to display it online.

Many of those photographs are still under copyright, and finding out who owns it can be very hard. Displaying a photograph in a museum is one thing. Displaying it on the Internet where it can be easily copied is another.

Much of it will be in poor condition, or only as negatives. Simply handling and unrolling a roll of brittle old film might damage it.

Then you can go about digitizing them. This isn't a matter of going down to Best Buy and getting a consumer flatbed scanner. Doing this efficiently, at archival quality, and without damaging the photographs requires special equipment and training.

Then there's restoration. Most film from the 40s will have degraded. Again, this isn't a matter of hitting the "Auto Color Correct" button on your image software. Sharpening and color correction must be done in a way that retains historical accuracy.

Then you need to store them. Again, you don't just buy a consumer hard drive or dump it into cloud storage. You need reliable, future-proof, long-term storage with solid backups.

Then you need to tag, describe, and organize them into useful collections, this is labor intensive and must be done by historians.

Then you need a site they can be downloaded from. It needs to be cheap, ad-free, and of academic quality (ie. not YouTube). If you've looked at most museums, they don't have very good websites. Hosting them locally will mean big bandwidth bills.

Archive.org provides an archival service. They charge $3 (USD) to setup and $0.10 per image. You get non-destructive scanning, archival, OCR, and search. They also provide Archive-It. The Internet Archive works with the Open Content Alliance to "help build a permanent archive of multilingual digitized text and multimedia content".

And yes, they do have an archive of WWII photos and film.

  • Any thoughts on how the process might someday happen? Are there better ways of archiving old records? Are those rolls of film destined to decay or is there anything we can do? Great answer, and thanks for the sources.
    – matt_Vera
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 5:24
  • @matt_Vera I'd contact archive.org about that.
    – Schwern
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 6:26
  • Great answer. One additional point is that increasingly over the past 2 or 3 decades, archivists are declining to act on specific media when, in their professional judgement, the technology of doing so is advancing more rapidly than the deterioration of the media. This in line with current best practice in archaeology as well. Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 14:00

Nowadays is still less expensive to store or backup in tape or other offline media than in hard drive. Since information stored in offline media can't be reached through internet that data has to be reached on site. Besides, if you share information on the internet you also need to pay the internet connectivity and the digitalization process, which is still too expensive.

Summary, you need to pay more to get that data online. Because the incentive is to keep the files offline.


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    The price issue definitely makes sense, but it is in the government's best interest to keep the public well educated and a large part of understanding World War Two comes from seeing it on a personal level. People seeing only a few hundred glorified photos or learning about a few key battles takes away from the fact that virtually all of America, and much of the world, was involved in this war. The availability of more of these photos and videos that may not seem hugely important or artistic could let people understand it on a deeper level and learn about some of these human experiences.
    – matt_Vera
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 23:08
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    @matt_Vera: "It is in the government's best interest to keep the public well educated"... in history? You are kidding, right?
    – DevSolar
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 9:40

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