Looking at History

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New Madrid, Missouri, 1938. Sharecropper's son. Photo by Russell Lee. LC-USF33-011507-M5

Is this what the Great Depression looks like to you?

It doesn't to most people. To most Americans, "The Great Depression" conjures pictures of white men in breadlines. Or white men hopping freights. This seven-year-old black boy pushing a plow so that his family can have a garden to grow food is, if not surprising, at least unexpected.

Most of us have an internal visual history that resembles a kind of jumbled slide show. Say “American Revolution” and we see in our minds “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” From old text books and PBS specials, we have images for “The Dust Bowl,” and “World War II” and “The Civil Rights Movement.” They’re not always clear, but they’re effective. They make us believe we know what America once was and what it has been through.

However, the slide show of our past is distorted. Many specific faces were left out–the faces of children, women, people of color and many others. We believe that changing that slide show of history is one of the most powerful ways we have of changing our sense of who we are in this country. That's why we offer so many ways to help you learn about and access historical images.


How to look at a photograph
Depending on how you think about it, a photograph is a source of information, a mystery to be solved, or just something interesting to look at. Find out here how to look a little closer. (middle school and up)
How to talk about a photograph
These discussion questions for can help generate a lively and informative classroom conversation. (Teachers)
Get away from Google!
History fair projects with the same boring, low-resolution images are just part of the problem with relying on Google Images. Find out how to go beyond the search engine to a wealth of images on the Internet.
African American Image Sources
Find the institutions and exhibits that are collecting, preserving and disseminating images of the black past.
Printable posters
We've chosen some images that we have learned will provoke discussion in the classroom. They have good download quality and you can print them for your students. Each one has a list of discussion questions tailored to the image. They're free, of course.
The OneHistory founders do a variety of presentations of historical images. See if there is one that would interest your students. Free for Chicago Public Schools.
Photoessays and slide shows
Our first photo essay is up! Take a look.