Title Reviewed:
An Evansville Album: Perspectives on a River City, 1812–1988

Author Reviewed:
Darrel E. Bigham

Dwight W. Hoover


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 85, Issue 3, pp 269-271

Article Type:
Book Review

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An Evansville Album: Perspectives on a River City, 1812-1988. By Darrel E. Bigham. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, in association with the Evansville Courier, 1988. Pp. ix, 163. illustrations, bibliography, index. $25.00.)

This collection of images is, according to the author, "an attempt, through photographs, to chronicle the development of a city" (p. ix). To accomplish his goal Darrel E. Bigham has divided the book into four unequal sections. The first covers the years from 1812 to 1870 and is very short; the next two, from 1870 to 1915 and from 1915 to 1950, are approximately equal in size and are the



Reproduced from Darrel E. Bigham, An Evansville Album: Perspectives on a River City, 1819-1988 (Bloomington, 1988), 77. Courtesy University of Southern Indiana, Evansville.

largest; the last section, from 1950 to 1988, is significantly shorter, although it is more than twice the length of the first. The division reflects both the significance of the respective eras and the availability of images. Bigham organizes each section to emphasize the developmental theme. In all save the first one he groups the images under four headings: riverfront/downtown, the changing cityscape, workers and the economy, and people. The pictures follow a short three-to-six page essay that provides background and context.

In the first section Bigham has only two headings—riverfront/downtown and people—and he uses as many prints as photographs to present his story. The remaining sections are comprised primarily of photographs from a variety of sources, including a few images made by Lewis Hine. The images are well reproduced, making the book attractive to read.

Bigham does not, however, achieve his goal. Part of the reason for this lack of success rests with the nature of historic photographs, which rarely show unguarded moments but are more often posed portraits that do not convey a sense of the texture or social fabric of the past. Images of Evansville's physical landscape taken at different times are rarely exact duplicates, for example, and at times they portray human activities that distract from the theme of development. The images of workers and the economy and people often consist of group portraits in front of shops, businesses, factories, churches, and schools or at baseball parks. Such illustrations fail to discriminate in the way that Bigham intended and fail to sustain the theme that he imposes; nevertheless, An Evansville Album is an interesting collection of historic images.

DWIGHT W. HOOVER is professor of history and director of the Center for Middletown Studies, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana. He is author of Pictorial History of Indiana (1980) and Magic Middletown (1986), both of which use historic photographs. Hoover is currently working under an Indiana Humanties Council/Indiana Historical Society Heritage Grant to develop prints from the Otto Sellers glass plate negatives, which are housed at the Middletown Studies Center.

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.