Sharing Dominican History Through Photos

4458608838_0c0d078531_mThe CUNY Dominican Studies Institute at The City College of New York (CUNY DSI) announced today that it has made accessible on the Internet an extensive collection of photographs of places and monuments from early colonial times of the Dominican Republic.

The searchable collection, titled “First Blacks in the Americas,” contains more than 2,900 photographs, organized in 57 sets, of historic monuments built during the Dominican Republic’s colonial period. These buildings, churches, houses and sites of industrial and artisan production date to when what is today the Dominican nation began to develop as the first colony of the Spanish empire in the Americas.

I found the title of the collection to be especially interesting given the history of Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola /Quisqueya with the Dominican Republic and how many Dominicans have tried and continue to to attempt to distinguish themselves as non-black.

“These photographs constitute a valuable visual tool to understand what life was like for the forebears of today’s Dominicans during their first three centuries of history,” said Dr. Ramona Hernández, director of CUNY DSI. “At the time, these places constituted the diverse scenarios where generation after generation of inhabitants of La Española lived, worked and worshiped as they constructed, first, a colonial society and, then, an independent nation under the name of Dominican Republic.”

I found the images to be hauntingly beautiful and sad, especially the images of the sugar cane fields and cana machinery knowing the literal sweat and blood that was involved. It would be equally interesting and important for the CUNY DSI and others to attempt to include photographs that represents the history prior to 1492, however limited it may be, in order to provide a much more well rounded sense of the peoples from the island

CUNY DSI Assistant Director Anthony Stevens-Acevedo led the effort to shoot, compile and upload the photographic collection to, an online photo-sharing system. Two CUNY students, Xiomara Sandoval, a student in the M.A. program in education at CCNY, and Yuberkys Pietrera Nova, an undergraduate in the B.A. program in education at Lehman College, assisted him.

“We think this is the first collection online with this number of photos of Dominican historical sites that has been uploaded for public use so far,” said Dr. Hernández. “We have noticed the scarcity of images of this kind that exists online, and, in the face of this, we have decided to make ours available to the public interested in Dominican issues.”

This collection of images contributes to an increased public awareness about the rich monumental and material heritage Dominicans have, Dr. Hernández added. She noted that the Dominican heritage speaks of a historical and cultural continuity that runs from the time the first Europeans arrived in 1492 and began to interact with local aboriginals and Africans until the present day.

To view the images by thematic set, go to:, which leads the visitor directly to the CUNY DSI “photostream” page in Flickr. Click on the link to the “First Blacks in the Americas” collection. When the page for that collection opens as a mosaic photos, click on any of the thumbnail image buttons to open the respective set of photographs.  

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