Introduction

This blog is intended to sell you, the social studies educator, on why incorporating art history into the social studies classroom can enhance student understanding and help students draw visual connections to the curriculum. Here I will be reviewing parts of history or classic Social Studies textbooks that can be bolstered with the study of fine art.

If you have anything to contribute to this blog concerning Art and Social Studies, please forward anything to keli@uvic.ca .

 

Art vs. Photographs

 

As art is often made to transmit culture, feelings, or observations in a given time period, it is the perfect addition to any social studies curriculum. Because of the creative interpretation and skillful hand of the artist, art can be made with more intentional visual symbolism than photographs. It can also accompany bias intentionally added or subtracted by the artist, which is worthy of student inquiry.

However, this does not mean that photography is safe from creative manipulation. In A Handbook for History Teachers (written by a former socials teacher in Nanaimo, published in 2010), James Duthie states that one must also be wary of photographs, because they can also be staged or cropped to the desired effect. For example, “Mussolini was always careful to have photographers take his picture from below, in order to conceal his short stature” (p.95). However, some photographs such as the iconic photo of the Tiananmen Square protest, and the naked children running from their village in the Vietnam War, are genuine (p. 95). What students must take from this is that images are not a piece of evidence that should go unexamined and unquestioned. Furthermore, photographs do not always prove evidence of the whole. For example, as horrific as it may be, “a photograph of corpses at Dachau does not prove that six million Jews died in the Holocaust” (p. 96).

migrant_mother

The “Migrant Mother” photograph, taken by Dorothea Lange in 1936, does indeed show the life of a poor mother in the depression. However, the composition of this picture was staged. According to this website, the subject (Florence Owens) was never compensated for even after the picture became an icon.

It is not to say that photographs are completely useless to the social studies curriculum. After all, photographs are often our lens into the past and can be a helpful visual to accompany text, as long as they, too, are taken under the historical microscope. Here are some examples of photography resources you can use to enhance powerpoints or otherwise incorporate into your lessons.

 

first of all, check out http://royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/archives-collections/photographs-and-documentary-art/ and

http://aabc.ca/resources/historical-photographs/ for historical photographs relating to B.C.

http://ww2.glenbow.org/search/archivesPhotosSearch.aspx (mostly American but has many old photos and political cartoons)

www.reddit.com/r/historyporn (everything but the title is safe for work) or http://www.reddit.com/r/colorizedhistory. Popular and interesting historical photographs are posted here by internet users. Take these with a grain of salt as the descriptions that go along with the photo may not always be accurate.

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