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Discovering the Industrial Revolution through Photographs

  • Author: Nancy Lewis
  • School: Stevens High School, Claremont, NH
  • Grade Level: 9-12
  • Length of lesson: The bulk of this lesson is completed by the student outside of class. Photographs and findings may be shared during class time or mounted by students and exhibited for a larger audience.
  • Download Lesson Plan

Historical Context

  • Theme: Economic and Technical changes and their Relation to Society, Ideas, and the Environment
  • Era: Development of Modern America (19th and 20th centuries)

Overview

Unlike much that is taught in history class, the tangible results of technological change can be discovered without ever opening a history textbook. Students in New England are fortunate to live within driving distance of places where the industrial revolution first began. Many small towns throughout the area were host to or even the product of this revolution. One way for students to discover the Industrial Revolution right where they live is by examining photographs. Fortunately, photography became a reasonably accessible technology at the height of American industrialization. Because they are often saved for posterity, photographs can still be found in attics and albums. Photographs were often taken in public places whose whereabouts can be identified through comparison with what remains. By examining photographs taken at different time periods in the same location, students recognize how the landscape of their town has been transformed. Using clues from the photos and the primary source logs, students learn to document primary sources, and assess the impact of industrialization on their own community over time.

Materials and Sources

  • At www.rootsweb.com/~usgenweb/special/ppcs/types.html a brief history of postcards may be found. Students may investigate and identify dates, messages and post office marks of postcards and share their information with the class.
  • Maps of the community may be found from a variety of sources, including local bookstores, Chambers of Commerce, libraries or on the internet. Historical societies and libraries often have historical maps of downtowns and communities.
  • Photographs may come from private collections, historical societies, libraries or town government offices. Old postcard collections are also ideal for this lesson and are available for reproduction or purchase through private collectors, online commercial sites and non-profit databases.

Procedures

Part I

  1. Have students locate at least two photographic images of a recognizable place in the town where they live or go to school. Photographs must come from two different time periods. The best photographs for this lesson are easily recognizable sites within a community with multiple images captured over different time periods. Though people are often the center of attention in the picture, it's the place that matters most. Have students fill out Photo Comparison Log and Photo Analysis worksheets.
  2. Extension: Broaden the comparison by having students locate as closely as possible where the old photographs were taken, then take their own shots. Using a digital camera, they can add to the series and evaluate the change. If you have access to global positioning tools, students can accurately identify location so that the photographic series may be updated or used for community projects or other educational purposes. Have students fill out a Contemporary Photo Worksheet.
  3. Extension: Have students predict changes in the future: Using the following scenarios, students determine what this location will look like in 50 years. Consider its function within the community in the past, present and future.
    • The population continues to dwindle as industry struggles and fails to adapt.
    • The population booms as new technologies locate in the area.
    • The population remains largely the same but the socio-economics change: If it is a relatively affluent community, it slips. If it is a poor community now, it will become a bedroom community for upper-middle class professionals.
    • New, more efficient technologies transform the way we travel, work, communicate, play and interact.
    • The centers of industry and continue to shift and expand as we become an increasingly mobile society.

Note: Postcards have a connection to the industrial revolution-as workers gained time, extra income and mobility, they took to the roads and bought postcards to share their travels with others.

Part II. Finding the Industrial Revolution in your home town

Students conduct primary research on the places where they live to determine how labor and technology changed the lives of people in their town.

  1. Have students use maps of the same area but over two different time periods to determine changes.
  2. Have students complete the following tasks:
    • Map businesses over a 20 year period—1890-1910 and 1925-1945.
    • Find original owners, map where they lived and worked.
    • Compare directories to see how business changed as technology changed.
    • Figure out who were the wealthiest members of the community and map where they lived. Compare to today.
    • Identify wages and hours for workers. Which of the manufacturers paid the best?
    • Find out if there was any union organizing. Did workers strike?
    • Who were hired? Did women work in the factories?
    • How did the wars affect industry in Claremont?
    • How transient was the worker population?

Standards

NH Social Studies Standards 9-12th Grade:
5.1.12.1 Geography- People, Places and Environment
5.4.12.1 Geography- Global Transformation
6.4.12.2 New Hampshire and United States History- Cultural
Development, Interaction and Change
7.4.12.2 World History- Science, Technology and Society

Worksheets

Photograph Comparison Log Worksheet (provided)
Photograph Analysis Worksheet (provided)
Contemporary Photo Worksheet (provided)

Assessments

Photograph Assessment Rubric (provided)

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