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Quick Summary

Learn about cyanotypes, one of the oldest types of photography, with a brand-new Primary Source Set. The Minnesota Digital Library’s Primary Source Sets are designed to help students develop critical thinking skills by exploring historical and cultural artifacts like cyanotypes.

Cyanotype of Union Depot building in Duluth

The Minnesota Digital Library (MDL) Primary Source Sets are designed to help students develop critical thinking skills by exploring a variety of topics related to Minnesota’s history and culture. Using both primary and secondary sources, these sets help students better understand historic events and materials in their context.

Four Primary Source Sets highlight special photographic formats: Cabinet Cards, Cyanotypes, Postcards, and Stereographs. The four sets explore the history of these photographic techniques and provide examples from our digital collections for further exploration. 

Our most recent format set highlights cyanotypes, one of the oldest photographic processes in the history of photography. MDL contains nearly 200 of these blue-tinged photographs, including more than 130 views of the Mississippi River from the 1800s. Visit the set today to learn more about cyanotypes, analyze the images, and perhaps even try making your own cyanotype!

About Primary Source Sets

Drawing from libraries, archives, and museums across Minnesota, these sets include letters, photographs, advertisements, oral histories, postcards, newsletters, speeches, and more. Each set includes a topic overview, ten to twenty primary sources from MDL collections, links to related resources, discussion questions and classroom activities.

There are 32 Primary Source Sets available for free on MDL’s website. The topics are wide-ranging and include World War I on the Minnesota home front, natural disasters in Minnesota, Minnesota’s three major railroads, Temperance to Prohibition, the mechanization of farming, the lumber industry, and the Civilian Conservation Corps. 

We are continuing to develop more Primary Source Sets and welcome topic suggestions from the public. We also have a guest author program so please contact us if you would be interested in creating a set with MDL!

Image credit: Cyanotype of Union Depot in Duluth, c. 1900. Northeast Minnesota Historical Collections, 

Written by

Stephanie Hess
Digital Curator, Minnesota Digital Library
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Historical content from Minnesota's cultural heritage organizations, all in one place