Historic photographs provide an excellent teaching tool for promoting primary source literacy. People like to look at photographs, we all take them, and they illustrate the strengths and limitations of analyzing and interpreting primary sources. In 2019 I spent six months on sabbatical taking a “deep dive” into the new primary source literacy standards as well as the literature for teaching with primary sources. I then created a lesson plan, “Exploring the West in the Golden Age of Photography,” that focused on teaching primary source literacy through historic images. While this lesson plan was aimed at instructors teaching U.S. West History or 19th Century Photographic History, the concepts could be useful as a template for anyone teaching with visual resources. In this article I detail how primary source literacy can be taught with visual resources, specifically 19th Century Western photographs, and how, in the fall of 2019 and Spring of 2020, I used the lesson plan (when modified as needed) in five different classes. The assessment tools I used were both subjective and objective, but in either way they provided positive feedback for students who gained comprehension and confidence in finding and analyzing primary sources.

Author Biography

Daniel Davis has been the photograph curator at the USU Special Collections in the Merrill-Cazier Library for 20 years. He is also the coordinator of instruction and he has extensive teaching experience to a wide variety of groups. He is the author of Across the Continent: The Union Pacific Railroad Photographs of Andrew J. Russell, and the co-author, with Ken Burns, of Race to Promontory.



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