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Dumbarton Oaks Archives Ephemera Collection

The Dumbarton Oaks Archives Ephemera Collection comprises postcards, magazine pages, pamphlets, trade cards, and other materials that exemplify the experiences and perspectives of popular culture. These materials specifically relate to the research interests at Dumbarton Oaks: Byzantine, Pre-Columbian, and Garden and Landscape studies.

“Ephemera” are historical artifacts that were never meant to be preserved. In fact, they survive in many forms: postcards, stamps, playbills, flyers, catalogs, and more. These commonplace objects offer glimpses into everyday life and culture, revealing dimensions of the past that scholarly documents might overlook or otherwise ignore.

Since 2015, the Dumbarton Oaks Archives has been collecting historical ephemera relevant to the institution’s research interests in Byzantine, Pre-Columbian, and Garden and Landscape studies. Most of these items date to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and they offer insight as to how the general population encountered and learned about the Byzantine Empire, Pre-Columbian cultures, and garden landscape design and horticulture. The postcards reveal where people traveled to and, often, why; what they thought about the sites and locations that they encountered; and how they communicated these accounts to others. The trade cards, cigarette cards, stamps, and playbills graphically present topics of popular interest and give evidence of how these unassuming objects transmitted knowledge and facts. This collection of ephemera offers a treasury of information highlighting the nascent appreciation of the Dumbarton Oaks research areas in popular culture.


Imagining the Empress: Theodora in Popular Culture, 1882–1922 (April–October 2017)

Encountering Ancient America: Machu Picchu in Popular Culture, 1911–1965 (February–April 2018)

Transplanting the Renaissance: Italian Villa Gardens in America, 1900–1940 (May–August 2018)

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Preserving the Ephemeral” (Samuel Shapiro, summer intern, 2015)

Post(card)-Byzantium: The Nineteenth-Century Revival of an Empire” (Abby Westover, summer intern, 2016)

Ephemera: The Dumbarton Oaks Disciplines as Viewed in Popular Culture” (Lane Baker, postgraduate research fellow, ephemera)

‘Théodora’ Souvenir Booklet” (James Carder, Archivist)

Imagining the Empress” (Bailey Trela, postgraduate research fellow, writing and reporting)

A New Life for Forgotten Things

Posting Pictures” (Lane Baker, postgraduate research fellow, ephemera)