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Through the Camera’s Lens: The Civil War in Photographs

Posted under History Lab for Grades 5, 6, 7, 8

i07783This unit uses the work of the studio of Mathew Brady to explore the process of photography during the Civil War, discuss issues of early photojournalism, and interpret specific events and places of the Union experience of the Civil War. Students will analyze a variety of photographs depicting naval scenes, images of battlefields, and camp life and explore how our understanding of the Civil War is impacted by these famous images:

How are photographs different than artwork?
In what ways do they depict reality?
Do they represent the “truth”?
How do photographs affect public opinion and support of war?
Are these images journalistic or artistic?

Lesson 1: On Deck of a Union Warship
In this lesson, students will analyze an image of a Union warship. The lesson explores the purpose and effectiveness of naval blockades and the experience of serving on board a ship performing this type of duty. Students will analyze the photograph for detail, including parts of the ship and crewmembers’ leisure time, uniforms, and jobs. A class discussion will summarize small group findings about the photograph. The lesson culminates in a writing activity in which students place themselves in the photograph and write a letter as a crewmember of the ship to an imaginary friend or relative. This photograph can also be used as the inspiration for a geometry lesson. Download On Deck of a Union Warship.

Lesson 2: Civil War Photography
Students will work in small groups to analyze a variety of photographs from the studios of Mathew Brady. In a timed rotation, students will work together to complete an initial observation chart for each image. Each small group will present its findings to the class. As individuals, students will then take their analysis to a higher level by answering key questions about the images and expressing critical thinking about photography during the Civil War and today. Download Civil War Photography.

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