In 1969, the Society recognized the importance of non-printed documentation and dedicated an entire division to the task of collecting, preserving and sharing Rhode Island’s visual and oral history. Today, the Graphics collection is one of only a few historical archives in New England dedicated solely to visual and oral documentation. Since the beginning of human existence, people have documented their experiences and communicated their ideas by means of the visual record.

Today, the Graphics collection holds approximately 125,000 iconographic and visual resource materials including the following formats: photographs, prints, drawings, architectural drawings, postcards, maps, broadsides and ephemera. The collection also holds 9 million feet of amateur and news film and thousands of oral history and musical recordings.

The Society offers researchers a wide range of visual and audio resource materials that reflect the lives and events of the American experience in Rhode Island. The visual collection is arranged primarily by geographic location (town/village) or by topic.


The Graphics collection contains approximately a quarter-million images depicting nearly three centuries of Rhode Island history, life and culture. The photographs represent the following subject areas.

  • Portrait Collection [1840 – present]: Represents familiar and not-so-familiar Rhode Island citizens. Men, women and children from diverse ethnic backgrounds as well as artistic, social, medical, religious, industrial and political figures can be found in the collection. The collection is arranged by surname.
  • Group Portrait Collection [1880 – present]: Includes assemblages of business, military, academic, social and political organizations and their members at social events, business meetings, graduations and conferences.
  • Family Collection [1860 – present]: Includes individual portraiture and family albums documenting family members and domestic and social activities.
  • Business Collection [1860 – present]: Includes images from the early days of Rhode Island manufacturing to today’s fast food chains. The images tend to document buildings, manufacturing production and labor relationships. Slater Mill, Gorham Manufacturing, Brown & Sharpe, Sayles Finishing Plant, Lorraine Manufacturing, Taft and Peirce Manufacturing, Rumford Chemical Works, Gallaudet Aircraft Company, Walsh Kaiser Company, Providence Institute of Savings, First National Food Chain Outlet Company and Gladding’s are among the Rhode Island retail and industrial enterprises that are represented in the collection.
  • Professional, Social, Academic, Political and Religious Organizations [1880 – present]: A wide variety of images illustrating organizational activities and members. Some of the collections represented are Rhode Island Women’s Club, Rhode Island Boy’s Club, Rumford Polo Club, Rhode Island’s Medical Society, Rhode Island Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, the Cool Moose Party and others.
  • Built and Natural Environment [1850 – present]: Perhaps the largest segments of the Society’s collection are photographs documenting Rhode Island’s rich architectural and natural resources. The collection represents public, industrial and domestic architecture; land use and development of Rhode Island’s thirty-nine urban and agrarian communities. It is accessible by geographic location starting with name of town and then village.
  • Sociological, Anthropological and Ethnological [1840 – present]: Includes a number of images depicting Rhode Island’s diverse communities and recording the daily domestic, social and work activities of its people. This collection may be retrieved topically using Library of Congress subject headings including: African-Americans, Automobiles, Diners, Immigrants, Natural Disasters, Processions, Steamboats, Social Life and Customs, Transportation, Women and U.S. History – Civil War.
  • Photographers [1839 – present]: Works from many professional and amateur Rhode Island photographers and photojournalist from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are included in the collection. Some notable photographers or studios are William Mills, Albertype Company, Frank Warren Marshall, John R. Hess, William B. Davison, Avery Lord, Raymond Ball, Charlotte Estey, Laurence Tilley, Jill Brody, Christine Corrigan, Jon Sharlin, David Witbeck, Sal Mancini, Stephan Brigidi, Carmel Vittulo and John Hopf, along with many others.

Postcard Collection and View Books [c. 1905 – 1950]

No other twentieth century visual documentation has consistently recorded the development of built and natural environments like postcards and view books. Our postcard collection includes more than 4,000 postcards representing Rhode Island’s thirty-nine cities and towns. The collection is arranged geographically by town and then subdivided by village. The strength of the collection is the urban and resort communities of Providence, Newport and Narragansett. Some of the more rural and urban communities located in the southern and western parts of the state are under-documented and the collection reflects this discrepancy. In recent years we have expanded our postcard collection and continue to do so thanks to generous contribution of the Rhode Island Postcard Society.

In addition, the Society has a series of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century view books. These books typically were pictorial in format and illustrated notable buildings, parks and throughways located throughout the state. The books were designed often for tourists; therefore resort and urban areas are usually depicted.

Architectural Drawings [c. 1750 – 1960]

The architectural drawing collection represents public, government, religious and domestic architecture from the early 1800’s to the contemporary period. The collection includes renowned Rhode Island architectural firms and architects like Albert Harkness; Stone, Carpenter and Wilson; Monhan and Meikle; Thomas A. Tefft; Russell Warren; Bowerman Brothers and William Warner, among others. Works of architectural historians John Hutchins Cady and Norman Isham, who produced numerous drawings on the development and design of early colonial period architecture are also present. The collection is retrieved by the surname of architect or the name of the architectural firm. In the case of public buildings, the drawings may be accessed by building name.

Map Collection [1636 – present]

This collection is comprised of regional, state, county and town maps from the late seventeenth century through the twentieth century. The collection represents more than 3,500 individual maps, including Rhode Island surveyors Charles Blackowitz, Caleb Harris, Sabin Lewis, John Mumford, Henry F. Walling, Daniel Anthony and James Stevens; fire insurance atlases published by L.J. Richards, G.M. Hopkins, D.G. Beers and Everets and Richards; historic maps created by architectural historians John Hutchins Cady and Henry Chace and the Elisha Potter manuscript map collection, a group of early maps of areas in Washington County.

Oral History [1970 – present]

This collection represents more than 3,000 oral histories on reel-to- reel and cassette tape, some of which have been transcribed. Topics for the oral history projects include: Rhode Island Folklore, Rhode Island Working Women, Woonsocket Labor Activities, Rhode Island’s Islands and Temple Beth-El – Providence.

Music Recordings [1974 – 1991]

The collection of sound recordings, compiled by Gigi Burger, document the Rhode Island Jazz scene from 1974 – 1991. Ms. Burger spent more than two decades visiting concert halls, community halls and drinking establishments recording performances by Rhode Island jazz artists Jean McKenna, David McKenna, Bill Weston, Duke Belair and Vince Carmen.

Ephemera [1880 – present]

This Collection consists of local community business and organizational advertisements, social announcements and brochures, calling cards, ratio books, menus and brochures.

Prints, Drawings and Watercolors [early-19th – 20th centuries]

The collection includes 19th century drawings of South Kingstown, Providence and Newport. Many drawings are from Harper’s Weekly, Leslie and Currier & Ives publications, as well as original watercolors and sketches by 19th century artists Edward Lewis Peckham, Edward M. Bannister, Edward D. Lewis, Sydney Burleigh, Augustus Hoppin, William Hamlin and Kinsley C. Gladding, among others.

Broadsides [1727 – present]

The collection represents early Rhode Island imprints listed in John Eliot Alden’s 1949 publication Rhode Island Early Imprint 1727-1800 and continues through the present. The collection, comprised of political, social, theatrical, industrial and medical broadsides, documents events and activities throughout Rhode Island.

Moving Picture Film

The RIHS Film Collection consists of more than 9 million feet of moving image film from local news stations, home movies, and early Rhode Island film studios. Materials that have been cataloged, preserved and transferred to DVD or VHS may be viewed in the RIHS Library Reading Room by contacting

The film collection may be searched in our online catalog, The CABINET, by setting the Quick Limit to Film.

We are in the process of developing a preservation and access plan for the collection at this time, and therefore cannot provide research access to films that have not been transferred. Original, one of a kind, moving image films are fragile and every viewing poses a risk for permanent damage or possible loss of the film.

It is with regret that we have temporarily closed the un-transferred portion of the collection, but we believe that in time, with funding, we will be able to provide greater access to more films through preservation and enhanced cataloging.


National Film Preservation Foundation Grants

 (2006) Brown University Graduation, 1915.

 (2007) Calvary Baptist Church, 1914.

 (2009) Diamonds, 1915

 (2010) Inspiration, 1917

 Women’s Film Preservation Fund of New York Women in Film and Television

 (2004) Little Red Riding Hood, 1911