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Dumbarton Oaks Archives Ephemera Collection

The Ephemera Collection consists of a variety of materials related to the Byzantine and Pre-Columbian cultures and to worldwide gardens and landscapes that provide an alternative, popular cultural perspective on the academic research fields at Dumbarton Oaks.

“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)

Piety and Pleasure: Western Travel to the Holy Land (April–October 2019)

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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)

Browse the Collection

Note about Rights & Reproductions

Dumbarton Oaks does not hold the copyright for any items in the Ephemera Collection and cannot grant permission for reuse.  Scholars who wish to publish or distribute images from the Ephemera Collection must seek permission directly from the institution that holds the rights. This is usually company that originally printed the postcard or the artist.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library does not provide assistance in acquiring images or permissions for publication from other institutions.

Scans can be requested for items outside of copyright. For more information about U.S. copyright law and especially the limits of “fair use,” please refer to United State Code, title 17, section 107.