Oil exploration in the Americas in the early twentieth century: a study of the Ralph Arnold photographic albums

  • Santana, Noeme (PI)

Project: Research

Project Details


The aim of this research proposal is to study a selection of uncatalogued photographic albums part of the Ralph Arnold collection at The Huntington Library to understand the relationship between photography, geology and capitalism in the exploration and industrialisation of oil in the 1900s.

Ralph Arnold was a geologist and petroleum engineer whose extensive geological surveys throughout the Americas were photographically documented. As Arnold, many geologists worked as consultants for oil companies, who were keen to discover uncharted and highly profitable regions rich in oil. In this sense, photographic records are more than a visual legacy of oil exploration in the Americas. More importantly, they are representative of the complex network of capitalist and scientific interests involved in oil exploration. By engaging with photographic albums, maps, reports and field books in the collection, I hope to understand the role played by photography in the industrialisation of oil in the Americas in the 1900s.

This research project is closely related to my current research on the business and photographic archive of the British civil engineering and oil conglomerate, S. Pearson & Son. The Pearson collection is stored at the Science Museum in London and comprises among others: business papers, ephemera and 150 photographic albums covering Pearson’s corporate and industrialist endeavours between 1880 and 1930. My research questions are concerned with institutional memory and the role photography played in the construction of Pearson’s identity as a multi-industry global conglomerate.
Effective start/end date31/08/1530/11/15