Cline Library receives photographic treasure


When Tom Hanks, a USGS Seismologist, discovered a collection of original historic photographs of the Colorado Plateau taken by his father in the 1920s, he acted quickly to preserve this treasure and called Karen Underhill at Northern Arizona University’s Cline Library Special Collections and Archives.

“Cline Library is a ‘high octane’ place,” Tom explains. “I knew this would make a safe and permanent home because the people at NAU know what they are doing.” Additionally, he appreciated the university’s proximity to the location where the photographs were taken, some of which were in the more remote areas of the Navajo Nation. Originally, Tom donated just the pristine negatives, but that was just the beginning.


His father's footsteps

Tom was thrilled with the discovery of these photos, taken by James J. Hanks in 1927-28 when traveling with now-renowned 20th century anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn. The box of old photography his daughter Molly found in the attic of James Hanks’ home included many “onlys” and several “first-evers.” As a geologist, Tom was immediately intrigued at the opportunity to study the ecological history and evolution of the Colorado Plateau, and follow his father’s footsteps.

With the assistance of Bob Webb, retired colleague from USGS and a leading expert on repeat photography—where historic photos are compared to current photos in a “then and now” exhibition—Tom embarked on a thrilling expedition, visiting 30 sites and creating 150 pairs of photographs. Tom then worked with Todd Welch, Digital Archives Librarian, to make this collection of original photographs available online.

But again, for Tom, it wasn’t enough.

“It was amazing to do this sort of science on behalf of my family,” Tom explains. So, he and his brothers, John and Jim, founded the Dorothy T. and James J. Hanks Cline Library Endowment to honor their parents and support students working on repeat photography projects.   

The first Hanks Scholar

When Tyler Wade, ’12 BS Letters, ’15 MA, visited history professor Mike Amundson in spring 2012, he was simply searching for a topic for a class assignment. Instead, he walked away with the opportunity of a lifetime, becoming the first Hanks Scholar. His work is currently on display at Cline Library’s Special Collections and Archives exhibit, titled Time…and Time Again.

Tyler is hugely grateful that this award not only included an internship and independent study, but also the research opportunity to work closely with experts like Dr. Amundson and Todd Welch. “I was blown away by the working with the people from Cline Library,” Tyler says.

A history student and hobby photographer, Tyler created 70 repeat photographs from Cline’s archives, and the skills and technologies he learned from the project led to his current graduate assistantship in the history department.

“It is hard for me to express my immense gratitude and appreciation,” Tyler says. “This great historical project led to my opportunity to further the work. A chance like this makes it really hard to fail. It’s simply a win-win.”

“Cline Library is a ‘high octane’ place. I knew this would make a safe and permanent home because the people at NAU know what they are doing.” – Tom Hanks