Tuesday, January 28, 2014

HistoryMiami has lots of history...too bad you'll never see any of it

Stuart Chase, 
director, HistoryMiami. 
On its website, HistoryMiami describes its mission this way: "HistoryMiami is the premier cultural institution committed to gathering, organizing, preserving and celebrating Miami’s history as the unique crossroads of the Americas."

Another section of the museum's website boasts, "The picture archives contain 1.1 million images of southeast Florida, the entire state and the Caribbean. Photographs of Miami-Dade County date from 1883 to the present."

What HistoryMiami doesn't say on its website is that everyone who works at the museum is also committed to making sure you never see, much less get your hands on, any of those 1 million photographs or other images.

I know. I've tried.

Last October, I contacted Stuart Chase, the museum's director and chief operating officer.

I told Chase that I was looking to get some low resolution scans of photographs from their archives for use on my blog devoted to Miami history.

During our conversation I explained that I was retired and living on a fixed income, and that my blog was a labor of love and not a money making endeavor.

Bottom line, I told him that I had no money to pay for images. But, I added, I was trying to determine what to do with my personal archive of photographs and negatives that dated back to the mid-60s.

Should HistoryMiami help me with my needs, then I would consider donating my archives to the museum.

A few days later I spelled all this out in a detailed email.

Chase got back to me a few weeks later with this response...which he CC'd to four HistoryMiami staffers: "My colleagues and I will review your request and I will get back to you with a reply. Thanks for your consideration."

But he never got back to me.

Despite three or four folow-up phone calls, and an equal number of emails, Chase's response was always the same: Crickets.

Finally, three months after my initial contact, Chase emailed me this morning: "Bill: Please refer to our standing policies and fee structure for use of images from our collection. We’re happy to have you visit and select multiple images for your use in advance. Thank you, Stuart."

Chase, apparently, had neither absorbed nor retained any of what I had told him.

After three months of stonewalling, I've reached one conclusion: despite its name, the staff at HistoryMiami care nothing about the history of Miami. Chase, and his colleagues are incompetent.

Twenty-five years ago, after the Miami News ceased publication, the newspaper donated its entire archive of photographs to the museum. But a quarter century later, almost none of those images are available on HistoryMiami's website.

There are dozens of websites that do make their photographs available in some form to anyone with a computer.

The Library of Congress has an archive of more than 13 million photographs; and 95% of those can be viewed at the Library's online catalog.

Want to see what Flagler Street and Miami Avenue looked like in the early 1900s? There's an amazing photograph available on the Library's website.

If you're interested in more Florida history, the State Library and Archives of Florida has a website where you can view over 180,000 digitized photographs.

In the Florida Keys, the Monroe County Library maintains a Flickr page with more than 16,000 digitized images.

Elsewhere, the New York Public Library Digital Gallery "provides free and open access to over 800,000 images."

And from time to time, Shorpy.com posts some great old photos of Miami and Miami Beach.

So, if you'd like to learn more of Miami's history, my advice is simple: Steer clear of HistoryMiami.

The people who work there care nothing about Miami's history. They care about one thing: collecting a paycheck.


  1. ouch, what a burn.
    And I mean to the people of the area or those who love and want to explore its history. Is that a not-for profit?

    1. Yes, not for profit, and I'm sure they get grants from the county and the state. They really are clueless about the value of photos. Low res photos for the Internet should be cheaper than photographs for a Discovery Channel documentary.

  2. I've had the same problem. My city had a tour that started at the library where they had a nice display of historic brochures, maps, etc. However, no one was allowed to touch anything which made it difficult to read and understand their historical significance. I asked to see some of these items 16 years ago and they are still unavailable.


Feel free to comment on anything you read here.

All comments must first be approved. Spam and spam links will not be tolerated or approved.