By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager
In December, many of us spend a lot of time at local stores perusing goods that we think would make great gifts for our loved ones. We spend hours trying to find the perfect gift, the item that shows how we think about those we care about, whether they are close to us or far away.
For this month’s “From the Archives,” we go one hundred years back in time, to December 1919, to find a University of Michigan staff member far from home but doing the same thing — going to shops and markets, perhaps to find souvenirs to send back home to Michigan. In 1919 and 1920, U-M photographer George R. Swain accompanied Francis Kelsey on an expedition through Europe and the Mediterranean region. Their goal was to document classical sites as well as to identify sites that might have potential for future excavations.
Here we present seven images taken by Swain in Istanbul — or Constantinople, as it was referred to then (some photo captions refer to the area of “Stamboul”). While traveling, Swain photographed not only archaeological artifacts, sites, and structures, nor did he focus solely on collections at other museums. Almost everywhere he went, Swain turned the camera around to his surroundings, to the people in the area, offering us a glimpse into life in those countries at that time.
The photos shown here cover a time period of 20 days, from 5 December to 24 December 1919. Swain captures life at several shops and businesses in Istanbul. We see a person fixing umbrellas. A cobbler’s shop. A busy corner at the bazaar. Bread and fruit for sale. All the shopping Swain chose to capture.
These photographs allow us to see what the city was like one hundred years ago. People who visit Istanbul now will notice many similarities, but also many differences. The bazaar, though altered, remains. Maybe some of those same shops are still there! And the sentiment is the same. People going about doing their shopping, purchasing items they need, or gifts for friends and family. Now in 2019, we continue doing the same.