Scrapbook versus Facebook

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April Mackey, BsN, RN


Mackey, A. (2013). Scrapbook versus Facebook,© Online Journal of Nursing Informatics (OJNI), 17 (2). Available at http://ojni.org/issues/?p=2647


MackeyThe origin of the photograph has evolved from pewter backdrops to flimsy paper images to digital stills and video. This paper provides a comparative analysis of photos taken and preserved in the 20th century as opposed to photos taken and stored through social networking sites in the 21st century. In the age of technology and social media, photographs are published and reproduced at an exponential rate, influencing a limitless number of people. There is an exorbitant amount of material available through these sites, but is there an efficient means to obtain this information? And ultimately who is responsible for the archiving of such photos considering the vastness of the World Wide Web? This paper discusses how the evolution of technology and the meaning of photography impacts historical nurse researchers. In addition, it examines a historical case study based on primary data obtained from a 1944 World War II scrapbook (Boyle, 1944).


digital preservation, social networking, 19th century photography, photographic scrapbooking, nursing history


In 1826, when Joseph Nicéphore Niépce succeeded in capturing the first permanent photograph, society marvelled at how a memory, which seemed so fleeting, could be preserved so precisely in the absence of drawing (Smitha, 2011). Today, the capturing and preserving of photos is evident in almost all aspects of our daily lives. Photography has evolved from dark rooms, to mobile phone uploads, and with this evolution, has changed the way in which we perceive the world around us.  The purpose of this discussion paper is to provide a comparative analysis of photos taken and preserved in the 20th century as opposed to photos taken and stored through social networking sites.  According to Hagedorn (1996), the sum of our lives is only that of separate moments in time and the keepsake of a photograph allows us the privilege to reflect on those moments. The persistent use of social networking sites as a way to share photos has irrevocably altered the way in which we reflect on these moments. An overview of the historical relevance and evolution of photography will be presented, along with a historical case study based on primary data obtained from a scrapbook created by World War II Nursing Sister Elsie Boyle. In addition, this paper discusses the importance of preserving nursing history as well as the various implications for historical nurse researchers and the nursing profession.

History of the Photograph

Since the time of pre-historic cave drawings, society has been captivated with reproducing and preserving still images of the world around them (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012). Before the first permanent photograph in 1826, it was both time consuming and challenging to reproduce a still image or exact moment in time.  The early Greeks and Romans began with reproducing works of art in the form of sculptures, bronze, and terra cotta figurines (Freitag, 1980). In the 4th and 5th centuries, paintings in the likeness of local scenes were found on public buildings, and in the homes of nobles; and with the creation of parchment, artists began to experiment and develop the art of painting. As early as the seventeenth century, many Aboriginal bands from the Canadian Plains preserved memorable events through pictorial calendars known as winter counts (Therrell & Trotter, 2011). The earliest winter counts were painted on animal hides with each year in the calendar named after a notable event (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, n.d.).  From this point forward, the development and transition from painting to photograph occurred gradually with continuous refinement across several centuries.

The first photograph, recognized by historians, was captured by Joseph-Nicephore Niépce in 1826 (Smitha, 2011). Contrary to today’s near instant technology, the photo taken from Niepce’s window took approximately eight hours to develop. At the same time as Niepce’s experiments were taking place, a man named Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre was also pursuing the quest for permanent photography. Eventually, these two pioneers crossed paths, and collaborated to develop a faster, more reliable method of capturing a photo. Niepce’s death left Daguerre to finish the efforts yielding what became known as the ‘Daguerreotype process’ – which consisted of treating silver-plated copper sheets with iodine then developing the images with warm mercury vapor (Nelson, 1996).  Louis Daguerre introduced the Daguerreotype process to the public on August 19, 1839 at a meeting of the French Academy of Sciences in Paris (Library of Congress, 2002). The chairman of this meeting promptly announced that painting was dead (Melin, 1986, p. 53), which was a highly controversial and anti-social statement, as paintings were collected and displayed by the wealthy in an effort to establish one’s social status.

With the refinement of the daguerreotype and the dissemination of photographic technology, by the late 1840s, upper class citizens were able to capture their own photos, without the wait and aid from an artist (Rosenblum, n.d.).  But what did photos mean to the average person in the 19th century? The ease of capturing a person or a landscape and seeing the visual confirmation just hours later meant that society no longer had to rely on hand drawings to capture and preserve moments in life. Paintings, by nature, were time consuming and subject to interpretation and compelled by any biases the artist may have possessed. Once a painting was commissioned and completed, there was little hope that an exact duplicate would ever be made (Freitag, 1980). Photography removed the need (and risk) of artist interpretation, and provided the means for reproduction, objectivity, and attention to detail (Freitag). At its simplest, early photography created memories; it provided the owner with the opportunity to objectively describe, analyze, and confirm his or her reality.   While it was not the quick, convenient photography identified by today’s standards, it was a profound paradigm shift.

Creation of Scrapbooks

Once photography became widespread, the creation of photos albums and scrapbooks was not far behind.  Photo albums differ from scrapbooks in that the former usually contains only photos, and the latter can include photos, clippings, mementos, and drawings. For the purpose of this discussion, the writer will use these terms interchangeably. The construction of the photo album represents a narrative of the self, a kind of amateur autobiography that records the passage of one’s life and those events around the individual’s life. The self, as depicted in a photo album, represents more than just the individual, it is the story individuals tell about themselves to others (Zussman, 2006, 28).  In the early years of photography, photo albums were intensely personal, not always on display, and only shown to those deemed worthy by the owner. Upper and middle class citizens placed photo albums in high esteem, second only to the family Bible (Miller, 2007). The presentation and structure of the photo album highlighted the originality of the individual who produced it, summarizing captured experiences thereby “guarantee[ing] longevity, if not immortality” (Sontag, 2001, p. 174).

The author recently had the privilege to review a scrapbook from World War II while participating in a historical research project (Boyle, 1944). The scrapbook was created and maintained by Canadian Nursing Sister Elsie Boyle, who served overseas during World War II. There are approximately 100 pages in the scrapbook, simply bound together with a shoelace and hole protectors; each photo includes a first or last name and a date. Nursing Sister Boyle carefully catalogued her time overseas with poems, drawings, newspaper clippings, and photographs of nurses, soldiers, and landscapes. “To collect photographs is to collect the world” (Sontag, 2001, p. 174); because of her records, and those who saw fit to preserve them, Ms Boyle has given us great insight to the history of the nursing profession and to those who pioneered it. Ms Boyle began this scrapbook over 65 years ago and probably never imagined its immense influence on today’s nurses and nursing students. Preserving a slice of one’s life is a selfish endeavor; today’s viewers  strive to apprehend the moments the individual wished to remember  but probably do not contemplate the effect of his/her  experiences  on those viewers in the future. Photography is about an individual’s perception of himself/herself and current events, as well as the preservation of a moment in time.  Whether it is a news clipping or a flippant pose, photographs can provide invaluable insight to those who are looking at it at some point in the future. What began as a self-serving endeavour eventually develops into a selfless act; giving those left behind the gift of perspective and insight. Ms Boyle’s thoughts, experiences, and lessons learned continue to impact the nursing profession simply – yet profoundly – because her thoughts and experiences survived in her creativity.


In the age of mobile technologies, where photos no longer are developed from film but are digitalized, the meaning of photography has changed. Sixty years ago, the concept of scrapbooking was about preserving people’s precious memories, thoughts, and feelings. In the 21st century, this concept is supplanted by a new concept known as social networking and sites such as Facebook© encourage individuals to post photos and stories about themselves online. Miller (2007) stated “every time someone logs into the Facebook website, they unknowingly enter a kind of nineteenth-century virtual reality simulator, charting and reveling in social taxonomies in a distinctly Victorian way” (p. 10). Facebook©, for those unfamiliar with the concept began as a photographic directory of individuals that highlights their social connections and links them with other people that they know by ‘friending’ them. To take a photograph and share it with all Facebook© friends, and potentially more internet users, all one needs to do is digitally upload it onto his/her Facebook© page; the whole process taking approximately three minutes.

The question then becomes, how has this fundamentally changed the way our society views the photograph? Has the frequency with which one can capture and post photos decreased the value of those photos? In the 19th century, when photos took hours to develop and the equipment used was the size of a small television, people chose their moments carefully. They captured only those instants that were meaningful and then preserved those photos as remembrance and insight into their reality. Now, photos can be taken from any angle, at home or on the go, and in an endless supply. According to Chris Putnam (2010) Facebook© users upload over two billion photos each month. Photography has evolved into a ubiquitous commodity with no boundaries for sharing that make the photograph meaningful. In the age of technology, human experience is impulsively lived, with little time to reflect the everyday moments.  Hagedorn (1996) stated, “Through the practice and analysis of photography, a new dimension of knowledge evolves those results in a sharpening of our visual senses. The images captured with photography invite human beings to speak about their experiences with reflective depth” (p. 522). Users are capturing photographs with spontaneity and speed as the ultimate end, instead of choosing moments that reflect their personality and reality. Hagedorn’s vision of photography in the age of technology are not being met by those utilizing Facebook© for photographic purposes.


Virtual Timeline

While the use of Facebook© is undeniably different from the use of scrapbooks, whether that difference is positive or negative, it is possible for the two ideas to meld together and create something extraordinary. Much of what photography previously has meant is lost in translation from film to digital galleries. What if one was to create a virtual scrapbook? What about creating a gallery of meaningfully selected photos that represent something more significant than the haste in which we live today? The concept of digital galleries, such as the Facebook© timeline is chronologically ordered and organized similar to that of a scrapbook or photo album. Users select photos from their lived experience and choose the ones to showcase to others, much like the original photo album. The evolution of the photograph in the age of technology is irrevocable; we need to discover alternative ways to bring the self-reflection back into the art of capturing images. With permission from the Saskatoon City Hospital School of Nursing, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where Ms Boyle graduated from, the author replicated a sample of the photos from Ms Boyle’s scrapbook to create a virtual photo album. It is important to consider that not all photos contained within the album have dates attached. The scrapbook is dated as having been maintained from February 22, 1944 to May 19, 1945. For the purposes of creating a virtual photo album, each photo presented has a date between this time span (Figure 1).


Figure 1: Nursing Sister Elsie Boyle’s Scrapbook
(click on image for full view)

Implications for the Nursing Profession

Since its inception, the nursing profession has undergone many trials and transitions. Nurses began as unregulated care providers, and have evolved into self-regulated health professionals with opportunities in various domains of nursing; direct care practice, education, administration, policy, and research. The emerging health issues and obstacles faced by nurses in 1944 are not the same issues in the 21st century. It is crucial to recognize that the challenges and triumphs of nursing history play an important role in the present, and future nursing profession. Photographs are one way for nurses and nursing students can appreciate the practice and contribution of nurses in the past to the present and future nurses. The Canadian Nurses Association (2004) has stated that it is the responsibility of individual nurses to share historical documents and experiences with others, and to preserve those documents that relate to nursing history. So how are we meeting this expectation?

Historically, there was a limited amount of information available to historical nurse researchers, with a limited number of ways to access it. People collected photographs, paintings, and documents and with limited copying capability, most were one of a kind; in this way, what we see from the distant past is almost surely authentic (Bouse, 2002). In today’s technology, there is no limitation or regulation on webpages and often creators post information that has no credible foundation or that has been altered or changed through online programs such as Photoshop©. While the World Wide Web provides researchers and historians with greater access to more information, there is no guarantee of authenticity. Using various programs, it is all too simple to alter the details of an original photograph; adding a person to the photograph who was not there in the initial moment, changing eye color, or even location backgrounds. With the advancement in technology who, then, is responsible for cataloguing and authenticating information contained on the World Wide Web? An inordinate amount of trust is placed in uploading photos to computers and websites without critically reflecting on this decision; computers crash, and websites so often “cannot be found.” It is still necessary to ensure organizations such as provincial and national bodies receive and retain hardcopies of digital photos. Nurse researchers have always relied on these types of organizations to provide the evidence needed to support historical nursing research.  In fifty years, if the computer technology of today is obsolete, will historical nurse researchers have any valid and authenticated photographic evidence left with which to analyze, recreate, and conceptualize the nursing profession as it was in 2012? If one does not begin to think about these questions now, in fifty years nothing will remain for future generations to learn from, reflect on and build upon.

Often times it is easy to believe that our contribution in the present moment is not worth saving; that nursing documents only 10 years old are outdated, so why bother keeping them? However, if this attitude prevails, nothing will remain for future generations. Sonya Grypma (2012), a nurse historian stated:

Recently, I stood waist deep with colleagues sorting through old textbooks as we tried to clear bookshelves of outdated material. “Too old for current students, not old enough for historians” was our guiding maxim. Most textbooks over 5 years old did not make the cut. Responding to my tongue-in-cheek assertion that as a historian I was only interested in books over 50 years old, a colleague noted that if we kept tossing there would be no books left for future historians (p.12).

Tosh (2010) asserted that “it is the recent past on which people draw most for historical analogies and prediction and their knowledge of it needs to be soundly based if they are to avoid serious error” ( p. 92).  Just as the average person in the nineteenth century did not think about how the camera would impact history, nor do we think about how Facebook© will affect the archives of the future. Photographing and archiving the events of the present is the surest way to ensure our viewpoints are correctly conveyed to those of the future. If we leave this task to others, those in forthcoming generations will be uncovering the past from a removed point of view. While this is a valuable quality to have in historical exploration, those living in the present have a unique view of events to contribute and those outlooks should preserved   Those within the nursing profession must realize the importance of documenting and photographing the present, and passing this tradition on to new generations of nurses. We must begin to think proactively and work together to create permanent online repositories for albums and photos so information exists for future generations.



The evolution from scrapbook to Facebook© is complex, creative and continuous, with no foreseeable or even imaginable end. Just as photography changed the meaning of art and paintings, social networking and the posting of online photographs have forever changed the meaning of photography. Technology in the 21st century has influenced every aspect of society, including the nursing profession. Social networking sites such as Facebook© have fundamentally altered both the way we preserve photos as well as the level of reflection inherent in them. It is each of our responsibilities to take notice of changes being made around us, for nursing history is the foundation of our professional identity.



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The authors wish to thank the Saskatoon City Hospital Alumnae Holdings for the permission to use the scrapbook from Nursing Sister Elsie Boyle as a resource for this article.


Author’s Bio

April Mackey, BsN, RN.

April Mackey is a recent graduate from the College of Nursing, University of Saskatchewan and is currently employed as a registered nurse at the Allan Blair Cancer Center.  She has been accepted into the Master’s of Nursing program at the University of Saskatchewan and will begin classes in September, 2013. April spent the last two years as a research assistant with Dr. Sandra Bassendowski, faculty member, focusing on nursing history and the integration of technology in nursing education and practice. She became very interested in how photos from the past were viewed as compared to the posting of photos using social media and wrote this article in response to her curiosity.  Her primary research interests include nursing history, obstetrics, and the integration of technology in nursing education and practice.


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