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History through Photos I


BEFORE you listen to the audio, write for seven minutes in response to this photo. Imagine yourself as the person in the photo, or one of the children or the photographer. Tell the story. Tell the backstory. Look at details; where might this be? What's going on? 

After you finish. Take a look at some of your classmate's responses. Give one of them -- someone who hasn't gotten a response -- a comment. 
 



ONCE you have done that, listen to the recording. The woman speaking is Florence Leona Owens Thompson, 1903-1983. She is the woman pictured in this 1936 iconic photograph by Dorothea Lange. Lange was working for the Resettlement Administration and Farm Security Administration documenting the Great Depression and happened upon Thompson, a migrant worker with seven children. Lange took six photographs without getting the woman's name and left. Both Lange and Thompson came to dislike the photograph for different reasons: Lange felt it became a symbol and no longer felt it was her work; Thompson said she felt ashamed -- but determined never to be that poor again. 

There is much more to Florence Thompson's story and to the story of this photograph (if you wish to find out more, see: https://mycommunity.ywpvt.org/node/285) which, among other things, was a catalyst for the writer John Steinbeck to write Grapes of Wrath a story focusing on the plight of migrant workers in the Depression.   The intention of this challenge, though, is to help you feel -- and understand -- the potential for narrative within historical research and interviews.
 


Potential follow-up projects:
  • Go to your local Historical Society and explore their archive of photographs. Do any particularly move you, interest you? If so, use that as a jumping off point for finding out about the people, situation or time period within the photograph. See what records your Historical Society has. Check with the library. Are their any living witnesses? Or elders who may have memories of their ancestors' stories.
  • Go to a relative or an elder in your community and ask if they'd be willing to share an old photo and tell stories about the photo and the times depicted in the photo.
  • Explore a particular historic event in your community -- something that happened that was significant such as a natural disaster or war or major achievement or change. Look for photos -- and even old audio recordings. 

In all of these, combine what you find -- photos and sound -- with text to create a compelling story. 

[Photo Credit: Dorothea Lange, Library of Congress]

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