Historical Content Best Practices

Colleagues within University Communications have had a number of discussions about the use of historical content such as photos showing life at UB in years or decades past. A recurring theme of these conversations is the need to place history into context when using these materials, which reflect a time when UB was much less diverse and inclusive.  

Questions to Ask

Here are a few questions that content producers might ask when deciding whether to use historical content such as photos:

  • Do the photos/materials reflect diversity? If not, can we seek out alternatives that reflect diversity?  
  • Should the photos/materials stand alone, or be placed into context alongside other materials? Examples include: 1. Using a photo of a school’s first graduating class in a timeline or video showing how the school has evolved, as opposed to as a stand-alone item on social media. 2. Sharing a collection of photos that together reflect diversity.  
  • How can we use captions or explainers to provide historical context for photos/materials? Example: A story celebrating a school’s anniversary could include a photograph of the first graduating class, with a caption or the text of the story discussing how the student population has become more diverse over time, and how diversity, equity and inclusion factor into the school’s future priorities. 
  • If a caption or explainer has a celebratory tone, is that warranted? Often, historical content is presented in a celebratory fashion. Sometimes this is appropriate. Other times, an explanatory tone may be more appropriate.  
  • How will the photos/materials we share be perceived by different people, and is the way we share historical content further marginalizing underrepresented groups? For example, when historical content is regularly shared in a series, such as timelines of university milestones or Throwback Thursdays on social media, care should be taken to select content that reflects the contributions of a diversity of people.
  • Do the photos/materials showcase diversity and the history of the university in an authentic way? We do not want to misrepresent our past or our present. 
  • Do we need to use these photos/materials, or should we pass on them? Just because a photo/document/other historical content exists does not mean it needs to be shared or celebrated.  


Below are some examples of communications that use historical content in a way that attempts to place the content into historical context. These examples were created by different units across UB, and can act as a starting point for future discussions on how we might share historical content in the future: 

Computer Science and Engineering’s 50th anniversary:

Video: This video features a diverse group of narrators who discuss the history, present and future of the department.

Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences’ 175th anniversary:

Press release: This story discusses both the history and future of the Jacobs School. A photograph of the medical faculty in 1861 is used, but in the context of the larger story, which talks about how the school has evolved.

Timeline: This timeline shows how the medical school has evolved over the years, using historical content in a way that demonstrates how the school has become more diverse. The text at the top of the web page has an explanatory tone.

Twitter: This Tweet uses an image of candles instead of a historical photo, and discusses both the university’s past and future.