William H. Prescott


William Hickling Prescott (1796‒1859) was a prominent American historian, best known for his major works History of the Conquest of Mexico (1843) and History of the Conquest of Peru (1847). From a prosperous New England family, he graduated from Harvard in 1814. He suffered poor health, including near-blindness, throughout his life, but he was able to carry out his research with the help of his wife, Susan Amory Prescott, and others who read for him. For his meticulous use of archival documents and rare books as original sources, he is often called America’s first scientific historian. He chose big, sweeping themes for his work, and wrote about them with grace and a narrative flair. His other books include History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic (1837) and A History of the Reign of Philip the Second, King of Spain (1855–58). The image is from an album of mostly Civil War-era portraits by the famous American photographer Matthew Brady (circa 1823‒96) that belonged to Emperor Pedro II of Brazil (1825‒91), a collector of photography as well as a photographer himself. The album was a gift to the emperor from Edward Anthony (1818‒88), another early American photographer who, in partnership with his brother, owned a company that in the 1850s became the leading seller of photographic supplies in the United States. Dom Pedro may have acquired the album during a trip to the United States in 1876 when he, along with President Ulysses S. Grant, opened the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Brady was born in upstate New York, the son of immigrants from Ireland. Best known for his photographs documenting the battles of the American Civil War, he began his career in 1844 when he opened a daguerreotype portrait studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Streets in New York City. Over the course of the next several decades, Brady produced portraits of leading American public figures, many of which were published as engravings in magazines and newspapers. In 1858 he opened a branch in Washington, DC. The album, which also contains a small number of non-photographic prints, is part of the Thereza Christina Maria Collection at the National Library of Brazil. The collection is composed of 21,742 photos assembled by Emperor Pedro II throughout his life and donated by him to the national library. The collection covers a wide variety of subjects. It documents the achievements of Brazil and Brazilians in the 19th century and also includes many photographs of Europe, Africa, and North America.

Last updated: March 22, 2016